Ok then – this is the last of this year’s workshop posts as I think the Redbridge session will fall into next year now.

We had an excellent day at Kirklees which also spent some time talking technology and trying to develop the fit with the existing 21st Century Councillor work which is being undertaken.  Lots of opportunities there we think which I will detail once we have firmed it up a bit.  We also then ran through some detailed project planning and ideas for how we connect the Virtual Town Hall to other agendas which was very useful for me in terms of seeing the project rather than from my socio-techno-evangelist bubble.

We then had a workshop session with officers which was great – they really engaged with the idea and we talked out some of the nuances of the relationship between this work and the way that they are already looking at innovating around the customer relationship.  As a group they managed to balance a proper appreciation for exactly how radical this idea potentially with a sense of how to move it forward in a managed risk kind of way.  No surprise then that we had an excellent ‘scenarios of doom’ session and we have a first draft of a really manageable risk register for the project – I will do a post of the project risk register once we have got it all agreed with the participants and I check which of the risks they are happy for me to talk about here.

We then met with a few of the members who are part of the 21st Century Councillor project.  We had a good debate here as well but I was very rightly pulled up on excessive use of jargon – I must find a way to talk about widgets which makes sense to people who are not into this stuff.

I think this really links to my thoughts after the North Lincs session and is a really timely reminder that we have to think through what this all means for people who are not digitally engaged as well as the people who are.  There is no point in a renegotiated citizen / government relationship with only part of the population.  It is all very well with a pilot project to look at the people who are already ‘opted in’ but we also need to be clear about the limits and boundaries of this approach in that you cannot expect everyone to want to engage in this way.

More academically I think this links to something that I need to be really careful of in my research work – it’s important that my enthusiasm for this idea and this approach does not effect what should be a neutral assessment of the factual outcomes of the pilot.  I need to ensure that I do not introduce bias into this process though my own (strongly held!) opinions.  I think this is one of the things which makes it much more difficult to be a practitioner / researcher than to be a more neutral academic – but I also think it can lead to a much richer understanding of  the results.  I have some driving time this week and I think it will be spent thinking about a bigger picture which encompasses online and offline and starts to look at this as one of the boundaries we are trying to effect along with the move from informal to formal participation.

I was in Ireland this week helping to run a Citizenscape workshop in Donegal (one of the pilot sites). We are looking to involve Youth Councillors and other young people as community moderators (Just as an aside – I really struggle with what to call these folks as a group – “young people” makes me feel like we are talking about them as an alien race but what else do you use? For now I will call them the folks at Donegal and you’ll have to remember that they are all under 25!). It was a really enjoyable session and I am looking forward to working with this lot as they campaign around getting government buildings using sustainable energy and getting more cycling lanes in Donegal.

Anyway – this post is really an action research note on the workshop to help improve the format etc for next time and then highlight points for future research so brace yourselves – its long.

The aim of the workshop was threefold:

  • Identify a topic that they wanted to work with

  • Make sure they were all comfortable using all the technology involved – including filming short pieces to camera

  • Get to a common agreement around how the site would be moderated and agree some immediate actions to get things moving

Overall the workshop was run very loosely as its difficult to know in advance where the participants would like to focus it. Next time I do this I will try and spend more time on the actual topic – we got rather carried away with the technology stuff which was fine with this group as they were interested but I will try and bring the balance back on the content. I think it would also be good to have a stand campaign template that people could start to complete in the workshop as a takeaway.

The first section of the day however was a discussion of current web tools that the team already use – so that we could then relate them to a citizenscape context. We organised the data in these catagories:

  • 1 to 1 tools where you know the person (or people) you are communicating with well. These tools include: SMS / MMS / Email / Skype

  • 1 to Many tools where you are is a shared space of people that you may not know in person. These broke down further into two groups: Social and Themed

  • The internet out in the wild with no really social aspect. General sites and services included:  Google,Music Download, Yahoo

I am doing a more detailed analysis on this as the catagorisation fits in with my wider theoretical framework that I am using for evaluation. However there are a few particular themes I wanted to pull out of this session which I will pick up on in my focus groups for the project evaluation:

  • Privacy / Safety – the group were reassuring aware of online safety and were careful about what details they revealed online.

  • Identity – they were also sophisticated about the need to have different personae online and were comfortable with the idea that you might have a specific persona for a specific purpose.

  • Space and place – in discussing the way in which we were catagorising the sites/services they had all listed there was clear agreement about the different social spheres that these worked for. There was a sense of appropriate spaces for different activities and when we started talking about campaigning we were able to talk about how we can use these different social spheres to contact different people.

  • This is stating the obvious perhaps but there was a huge difference in the level of online skills when compared to an older group. I would like to explore this more and look at doing more mixed age groups.

  • Also stating the obvious there was a big skills gap between the participants and the youth workers which would need to be addressed in future iterations. Happily the officers for this group were also really enthusiastic and used the event as a real chance to learn – but this could be a barrier with other sites and needs to be looked at

  • There were no gamers in this group – but they said this was not typical and we should keep an eye out on other groups.

The other thing to note is that the two of the main propositions around citizenscape – that you can use the Social Web to find people who are interested in stuff and that you need a specific place to talk about ‘civic’ issues both stood up to scrutiny here which is reassuring.

If anyone is interested I can share the workshop plan etc.

PS If anyone from the workshop is reading then I am very concious that I have not met the interesting blog criteria of having photos and I know this is too long – I promise I will try harder next time you you know know how I like to talk!!

As I write it occurs to me that I will be mentioning Citizenscape a great deal and so it will be useful to at least provide the basic overview of what it is.  Citizenscape is really three different things:

  • Its an EU funded project:  You can find out more at www.citizenscape.org.  The project involves teams in Bristol, Donegal, Genoa and Zilinia and the practical trials will be starting in January 2009
  • Its a project methodology that helps a host organisation to get citzens involved in a democratic debate.  Or more accurately this is what it aspires to be and the project and PHD are focused on finding out if there is an effective and repeatable approach to this kind of stakeholder engagement (though lets agree to try and avoid using the stakeholder word in the future)
  • Its a technology approach:  Though the main thrust of my research is around the emthodology and engagement process Citizenscape is also the product term being used for a new style of website.  I will post more on this at some point but at the moment think of it as a web .0 website approach will blends internal and exteral content and also frees content to travel to other websites while still trying to provide a link back to the citizenscape site.

And we shall see how much this definition changes over the next few months!

I found this useful sumamry of an action research diary (http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arr/arow/rdiary.html).  The first thing that struck me was the need for me to have more structure in my posts.  This suggests splitting posts under the following sections:

  • Reflection
  • Plan
  • Action
  • Observation

So I might give this a go.  I have at least added these as tags!