I was the Guardian’s Public Leaders Summit on Wednesday as well as at the NLGN’s Future Councillor event on Saturday and this post is reflection on both of those events. I’ve also been hearing back from some of the Police Officers I am working with on the Strategic Command Course and this has also influenced me – I’ll be interested to hear if other people feel the same themes emerging.

The Guardian event was excellent. Some amazing speakers and an introduction to the diagram of doom BEYOND Barnet’s graph of doom – who knew there were scissors of doom??? The content will be covered on the Guardian website so I’m not going to into it in detail here – instead I want to highlight themes and gaps.

There were two main themes for me:

  • The need to embed transparency at a cultural level. Most of the speakers mentioned it and the Chairman of John Lewis gave a really great description of the simple expediency of being more transparent with staff. I think transparency is one of the simplest (note simplest not easiest) cultural changes to bring about as we can do a lot by engineering change systemically rather than behaviourally and this could be a good place to get started – as long as you are ready and braced for the inevitable unexpected byproducts of this shift. We perhaps talk about this more than simply working through the system changes that would start the ball rolling. I know I can be accused of oversimplification here but I am thinking back to a recent conversation with Simon Cole which made me reflect on the pointlessness of over thinking the destination when you already know the first stage of the route you want to take. Perhaps one of the aspects of a more co-productive set of relationships is that we let go of the destination a little bit more.
  • Collaboration as the new norm. Everyone said this – and a brief discussion on twitter afterwards highlighted the fact that this is more than partnership working. Partnership can be argued to be a structural response where collaboration is a cultural one. Michael Coughlin expressed this as the difference between salad and soup (I liked this analogy but on reflection and as I have a visceral dislike of lettuce soup – so slimy – I will not be using it – sorry Michael!). It was good to hear this repeated so many times but personally I feel as if we have a really long way to go on this and perhaps the biggest shift we need to make is to accept that until we embed collaboration in the culture then we are going to be overly dependent on key individuals who currently make this happen. We will need to work on how we highlight and incentivise these behaviours before this will be a systemic shift. Part of this should be supporting people to collaborate internally as well as externally and also looking outside of the public sector.

Its impossible to talk about collaboration without also talking about power – and I think you can argue that more collaborative working shows a shift from established hierarchical power to more networked power.  One final reflection is that the room ‘felt’ like old power not new power to me.

And now we move onto to what I felt were the elephants in the room – things we didn’t talk about.

The first of these was any kind of real discussion about the political process and the fact that our adversarial political culture, and perhaps our politicians, are the one of the biggest barriers we have both to radical change and in particular to more radical collaboration. Now – I am at the radical end of change with respect to democratic reform but I think we have to deeply consider how we might reinvent politics to make it relevant for a networked and digital world with a far more participatory culture. This is a tall order for a one day event but I hope that this is a discussion which goes ‘mainstream’ this year as I don’t think its reasonable to have public sector workers fight to manage radical disruption with one hand tied behind their backs as the politics fails to change. The kinds of question we could get started with are:

  • Do we need to make political reform a priority? Or at least a high profile narrative to give people confidence to innovate?
  • Does our political process facilitate collaboration?
  • Are we ready for staff to be citizens?

This doesn’t apply to all politicians by any stretch – I work with many exceptional ones – but the system as a whole needs a rethink.

I also felt that we didn’t touch enough on the potential of digital to support and even accelerate behaviour change. This is perhaps partly a result of my own ‘lens’ on the world but its absence concerned me as it perhaps indicates something that I have seen about the place which is an absence of someone who can articulate digital strategy at the top table. We need to treat technology as a driver of long term change and not just leave it hidden in the ICT department. This discussion of technology needs to be from the perspective of how the public and industry are using it not from an internal prospective as we need to understand the world as it is in order to reform how we deliver services.

This leads me to another observation which is driven by a number if conversations I have had recently about the role of technology and the laziness with which we come back to using twitter as ‘the’ example of what is possible. As I have said before, Twitter is not the network. Its of immense relevance to the media and also beloved by many professionals for its immediate access to information but its not representative and it is just one tool with a business model that will only last as long as it has our attention. There will be many highly effective networked representatives and organisations who don’t choose to use it because people are creating all kinds of alternative networked and collaborative tools and applying these to civic issues. We need to look beyond twitter firstly to build strategies that take advantage of the full disruptive power of social technologies in a positive way but secondly because you can’t build a strategy on the back of a commercial platform over which you have no control and who might change the rules of engagement at any time.

And this leads me to my final point. If we all think that procurement is so central to driving real change and collaboration then we really do need to get together and fix it – delegating this down will not get this done. Anyone for #commissioningcamp ??

 

This is going to be one of those annoying posts which strays between research stuff and more practical things. I’m writing it to tease out an inconsistency in my thinking around both the thesis and also our design work for Citizenscape. It really is thinking in public so please feel free to look away and leave me quietly muttering to myself……

I am just neurotically tweaking (with heroic help from the amazing @GeorgeJulian and others) my thesis which does two main things:

  • Describes and describes a method for reliably finding informal civic activity online
  • Suggests some design criteria for creating Digital Civic Spaces which would enable this participation

I hasten to add that at 90000 words I sincerely hope it does a few other things as well but we shall see…anyway

I define informal civic activity online as being content which is created with an intended primary audience of the wider community as opposed to informal social activity which has an intended primary audience of friends and/or family. I use the term ‘primary audience’ as the publicness of the online world means that this content will also have unintended secondary or further audiences as well. Community might refer to community of place or of interest but my work focuses on community of place. In more practical terms I am talking about community websites, hyperlocal sites, Facebook groups or active individuals who are using the Internet either to talk about or organise in their local area. One of the points I make is that we can’t just frame this content as being citizen journalism – while some content creators fit this description there are more who are using these tools without any intent that they are creating an authoritative record or commentary on events and are better described simply as community activists or active citizens.

This ambiguity about audience for informal civic activity creates a dilemma for policy makers and politicians. While this content is in the public domain it is not necessarily intended as part of any political or democratic process. We can argue that because we should all be aware of the publicness of the social and the possible existence of secondary audiences that this information is in the public domain but without the active intent to participate its role in public debate is – well – debatable.  This debate is around the nature of Social Media with respect to the concept of the public sphere and its role in political communication – will pick this up separately.

Its fairly standard practice for communications teams to monitor sentiment and significant influencers online and this is part of the advertising tax we all pay in different ways to keep social media free in the main part. I am amazed that more politicians don’t do the same thing. However this kind of monitoring, while useful, does not seem to me to be a solid foundation for a different and more co-productive relationship with the Public – something I would argue strongly that we need. (There are some interesting parallels with academic research ethics around social media here which I might pick up at a later date).
The existence of informal civic activity online speaks of the potential for a more meaningful role for this in the democratic process as it opens up a connection to community groups and networks which are often outside of the ‘usual suspects’ of community engagement and political campaigning. However on the other end of things we don’t as yet include social media content which has not been created in response to a specific question in consolation or engagement processes and this means we are closing down the potential for agenda setting and proactive engagement in the policy making process other than by traditional routes.

So, we have meaningful activity online and no clear route for how we actively rather than passively include it in the democratic process.

This is where the design criteria for digital civic space come in (sorry folks – this is repeat from other postings):

  • Design Criteria 1: The purpose of a digital civic space to is to provide an environment in which any citizen who chooses to can observe, audit and participate in democratic debate and decision making – it is a Public and open space that is available to any interested Citizen.
  • Design Criteria 2: The space should facilitate a co-productive relationship between Citizen and Government. This should extend to the content curation and management of the space
  • Design Criteria 3: The geographical reach of the space should be self-defined by users with administrative boundaries being subordinate to ‘natural place’ described by the Civic Creators.
  • Design Criteria 4: The space should support the principles of open government with respect to data, process and transparency
  • Design Criteria 5: The space should be able to authenticate the identity of participants to a standard which makes their contribution available to consultation and policy making processes.

The thesis will (I hope!) tell the story of where these all came from but we (at Public-i) have been working on creating Citizenscape on this basis (this is where the action comes into the action research!!). We are about to be ready to beta the next version of the platform and this post was triggered by a need to really think about the point of connection between the informal civic spaces created by citizens (as described above) and the more formal but still open space which is described by the criteria above. We will be testing this thinking as well as the UX in the beta tests so I will report back at some point.

We can (and do with Citizenscape) take a step forward from the surveillance scenario described above by making sure that anyone whose content is being used is informed and by ensuring that the platform ensures that platform shares the same metrics and measurement with both the audience and the administrators. However in terms of creating a democratic space the key is I think in active participation – which is linked to criteria 5 – identity. While a Digital Civic Space might draw on ambient or passive activity which has the wider world as a secondary audience some act of active participation is needed in order for this to be included in democratic debate. This might be a response to a specific questions (as is the case with online consultation) or it could be the sharing of identity with the Space in recognition that you want your content to be ‘counted’. I don’t see any issue at all with making it clear that democratic debate needs to understand how representative the participants are and also have a degree of accountability which is not possible without a sense of who is participating (note: this doesn’t mean your identity needs to be public – it just needs to be known).

So – I am proposing that the that missing connection between informal and formal digital civic activity must be a conscious act of participation. We cannot consider media monitoring to be a substitute for democratic participation – even though that is the more straightforward approach. In practical terms this means inviting people before including their content and being completely transparent about how its being used – I don’t think either of these points are either difficult or unreasonable.

Government can learn a lot from monitoring activity online – but it can gain a lot more by collaborating with the content creators.

One other thought – if therefore we are going to ask people to identify themselves to the Digital Civic Space in order to participate in the democratic process then we are going to have to ensure that there is some kind of democratic promise in place. If we want people to be actively participating then we need to be actively listening. The nature of that listening is another post – perhaps a discussion about Networked Councillors as well as a discussion about new forms of Policy Making.

This post is an outline of one of the policy question that we are discussing that the Master of Networks event (in Venice!!) next week. While not a proper paper as its an academic audience you may find this slightly more referenced than usual…its really lazy referencing with just signposts to literature rather than a proper review.

Master of Networks is “…. is a workshop that brings together cutting-edge policy makers and network scientists. We aim to come up with a specification in terms of networks of some public policy problems, and a viable strategy to address them in new ways.” The Policy question I’ve raised and will be putting to the group along with Ade Adewunmi  and Demsoc is:

WT3: Tracking a democratic conversation across different online media. How would you go about mapping democratic participation in a diverse media landscape?

What’s the problem?

My interest in this question is tracked here on the blog and is closely related to by PhD work (we’ll be using a subset of my research data) and is fueled by the question: “How can we connect the informal civic participation that we see online to the formal decision making process?”.

The contrast in behaviours in the Formal and Informal arenas is stark; Beyond the consistent growth in digital take up we see great growth in the use of digital technologies for civic purposes (Bruns, Wilson, & Saunders, 2008; Radcliffe, 2012; Wellman, 2001) in the context of a more Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 2008; Rheingold & Weeks, 2012). At the same time we are also seeing a concerning drop in participation in democratic participation (Brodie, Cowling, Nissen, Paine, & Warburton, 2009). In the UK this was illustrated with disastrously low levels of voter turnout in the recent policy and crime commissioner elections.

What’s the solution?

One possible route for addressing this dilemma is for the political decision making process to take on more of the cultural qualities and design affordances of the Social Web. I have suggested elsewhere that these should be; Openness, Agility, Co-production and Networked. If we are moving towards a “networked society” (Boyd, 2010; Castells, 2001, 2007; Hampton & Wellman, 2001) then what should our decision making processes look like?

With respect to the Policy Making process I am arguing that one vital way to bring the affordances of the Social Web into the design process is to provide greater levels of openness to the public both contributing to the policy agenda setting process but also making more timely contributions throughout the process (these contributions on the Open Policy Making blog make these points very well; the doctor is out , go where your audience is ) If we accept a description of Social Media as being a ‘Networked Public’ (Boyd, 2010) then understanding the networks that make up the informal civic conversation around either a topic or a geography is vital to ensure this more open contribution.  I also suggest we will also need to understand what are the limitations (if any) of commercial platforms which are currently available to us – do we need to consciously create digital civic space ((Blumler & Coleman, 2001; Cornwall, 2004; Howe, 2009; Parkinson, 2012)?

And the Policy Making question?

However – in order to make this manageable for a two day workshop I am posing only one other question: Simply tracking the conversation is important and informative but it is probably not enough – What is the standard of evidence that we need to meet in order to include content from the social web as part of the policy making process? And what standard is possible from the tools available?

And the data

The data set I have put forward to work on contains over 1000 informal civic websites (from 5 difference location). These represent a good (though not definitive) sample of the kind of informal conversations and networks that we might want to include in an open policy making process. The task is how might we turn these sites into networked data and how we might then understand who is participating. This is clearly a question that I have been working on for a while (civic spaces) but it is also something we have been working on in R&D commercially (Citizenscape Public beta). What we have not done is to consider what the Policy making needs are from these networked publics – we have focused more on finding and presenting them in a shared civic space.

What next

Is anyone has any questions about this then please shout – if not then I will post again with some outcomes from the event.

Bibliograph for those who like that kind of thing

Blumler, J., & Coleman, S. (2001). Realising Democracy Online : A Civic Commons in Cyberspace.

Boyd, D. (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics : Affordances , Dynamics , and Implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 1–18).

Brodie, E., Cowling, E., Nissen, N., Paine, A. E., & Warburton, D. (2009). Understanding participation : A literature review, (December).

Bruns, A., Wilson, J., & Saunders, B. (2008). Building Spaces for Hyperlocal Citizen Journalism. AoIR 2008 conference.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) (p. 304). OUP Oxford. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Internet-Galaxy-Reflections-Clarendon-Management/dp/0199241538

Castells, M. (2007). Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. International Journal of Communication, 1(238-266).

Cornwall, A. (2004). Introduction: New Democratic Spaces? The Politics and Dynamics of Institutionalised Participation. IDS Bulletin, 35(2), 1–10. doi:10.1111/j.1759-5436.2004.tb00115.x

Hampton, K., & Wellman, B. (2001). Behavioral Scientist Long Distance Community in the Network Society : Contact and Support Beyond Netville. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(476), 476–495. doi:10.1177/00027640121957303

Howe, C. (2009). Building the Virtual Town Hall: Civic Architecture for Cyberspace. 3rd Conference on Electronic Democracy EDEM.

Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYU Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Convergence-Culture-Where-Collide-ebook/dp/B002GEKJ5E

Parkinson, J. (2012). Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Democracy-Public-Space-Performance-ebook/dp/B007JRS72A

Radcliffe, D. (2012). Here and Now.

Rheingold, H., & Weeks, A. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (p. 272). MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Net-Smart-How-Thrive-Online/dp/0262017458

Wellman, B. (2001). Physical Place and Cyberplace: The Rise of Personalized Networking. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(2), 227–252. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00309

I usually spend the first week of the New Year hibernating and this year was no different.  I like to spend the time at home doing various forms of domestic organisation and getting projects started and ready for the year.  This year I have been spending most of the time of the edits of the final version of my thesis as I seem to be nearly ready to submit it (whoop!) which I can hardly believe.  In fact I won’t until it’s done so no more of that.

As part of my mental spring cleaning I have been thinking about some of the things I want to help make happen this year and this sort of leads into thoughts about UKGovCamp  and also Councillor Camp  – both of which I’m looking forward to being in the next few weeks.  It also feeds into the prep for the Master of Networks event   I’m off to with @Demsoc and some folks from GDS later in the month.

There are four main themes that are buzzing around in my head at the moment:

  • Collaborating as the new normal – not just when its easy:  I touched on this with the post I wrote before Christmas (Networks and Culture Change) but I want to spend some energy thinking about how both internal and external collaboration can work better.  Part of this is the old chestnut of breaking down silos – but I think we need to understand this in terms of dismantling and amending mental models and changing people’s relationships with their colleagues – not just blowing up the storm shelter.  We also need to think of this in terms of mutual respect.  If we are moving to an asset based model for community engagement then we need to do the same with colleagues and respect what people do know rather than criticising them from the POV of our own expertise – we need to be open.  Is also involves having the ability to be both single minded at the same time as being authentically open and inclusive.  Tricky.
  • Being clear that we do expect our politicians to be effective online:  I also want to spend time developing the work we are doing in the east of England researching what a networked councillor might look like and how we can better support them.  It ties in with the councillor camp event next week but also with the work we have been doing on PCCs (I’m off to catch up with some of the new PCCs in the next couple of months so I will report back!).  I think we have to be more demanding of our democratic relationships but that means supporting them more effectively.
  • Using networks to effect behaviour change:  I am fascinated by the work we are doing with Leicestershire Police and others to look at how we move social media from a communication to a more operational basis within the force and I can’t wait to get into some of the ideas that we came up with the workshop before Christmas and also to see how these might translate for other parts of government.  Once you have started to use network effects then looking at their ability to influence behaviour is the next step as long as we remember that that influence has to be two way – we have to be open to being influenced.
  • Digital as culture change: These all link to a bigger theme which is the framing of the digital channel shift as a cultural rather than simply a technological one.  We’ve just started a couple of projects which I think get right to the heart of this so more on that later this month.

Digital Civic Spaces

I’m really excited about the fact that we have been making huge progress with Citizenscape over the last few months and we have some exciting things planned to push this further.  I also want to circulate my research findings around Digital Civic Spaces a bit more (now they are finished!) and start to connect this to some of the conversations we see happening about Smart Cities – I want to make sure we are building a social element into this thinking.  And more generally research wise – once I actually push the submit button and start stressing about my viva – I want to look at two different areas.  One is to pick up on some of the thinking about digital identity and to poke how ‘fit for purpose’ some of the thinking/doing is when we consider democratic not just transactional needs.  Happily we are part of an EU research project on this so lots of opportunity to get into this.  Secondly I want to expand some of the network theory work I have started in the thesis and see if it can be operationalised more systematically   This connects both to the @Leicspolice work but also to the Master of Networks event where we are going to be looking at how you model content ingress from multiple civic sources.
So – interested in hearing if other people think these themes resonate with them as well – and also if anyone thinks these look like a #ukgov13 session – or not!

Happy New Year folks

PS  Re-reading this is seems like a set of New Year’s Resolutions – we’ll have to see how that goes!

Open Spaces South West

This is a short write up from #OpenSSW event last week. I will be using the famous @danslee 10 points format but first here is a link to the presentation I would have given if I could have made the tech work.

Instead I just talked and though the main points were covered apologies if this doesn’t seem to have much resemblance to what I actually said!! What I wanted to get over was the sense that we are living through a period of social change and that though we need to be mindful of the technology its equally important that we learn to appreciate the emergent social values and behaviours and learn to adjust to them. I chose to focus of the quality of openness which I think is central to the digital culture and tried to explore this in terms of open practice and behaviours not just about data and information. I also touched on my personal passion for digital civic spaces and ran a session on this afterwards – will blog that separately.

I also went on a fair amount about what disintermediation might mean for democracy – more on that here.

I hugely enjoyed the event and I think one of the things I noticed was the fact that though we were talking about general issues there was a #properjob West Country feel to the event. I think this is down to our host @carlhaggerty which did a brilliant job. It was also helped by the finest public sector sandwich lunch I have ever had – it even had tiny tiny scones with clotted cream #legend.

Anyway…my 10 points to remember are:

1. I really enjoyed meeting @Georgejulian and I took loads away from her work on connecting research and practice – can’t wait to talk more to her on all this
2. I love the way that Carrie Bishop’s mind works – she bring s fresh and human perspective to the potential of technology to solve problems for real people and I always learn something
3. The ShapedbyUs work in Cornwall presented by @designcomedy is fascinating and shows massive potential for whole system innovation – well worth checking out
4. @Carlhaggerty ‘s session on isolation within organisations was really interesting – I think we can all ask if we are giving people the opportunity to connect to the people who can help/challenge/support them
5. Part of this is helping people find their point of entry to this whole agenda and by implication into this social change. We are past the point were we can be exclusive about it and we have to find simple ways to help people find their equilibrium with a rapidly changing world
6. The issue of how we create Civic Space online is interesting to people who aren’t me! phew
7. Politicians are in very different places with respect to how we might create a more digital democracy – we cannot afford not to have them in the debate.
8. We are in a state and process of cultural change where we have to learn to learn – digtial culture is still really malleable and we perhaps have to think about how we help shape it
9. On that note – do we talk enough about our values? We won’t build trust unless we do and we won’t create places we will want to inhabit online without understanding how we feel
10. Are we able to create networks? Do we have the skills and the self-efficacy to think about power in terms of influence and relevance rather than hierarchy?
One final thought – when we helped Carl cook up this event the idea was that we wanted to offer an unconference to people as a mainstream event. To blend speakers who would get you thinking with the chance for the participants to create part of the agenda. I think from the buzz in the room that this blended approach went down well and also managed to appeal to people at different stages of immersion in this new way of working. I’d be interested to hear what other people thought of this but personally I think the format is really worth repeating.

By co-incidence we did something similar yesterday with a CityCamp Brighton event on digital inclusion which I know @demsoc is going to write up but once again the flexible one day format worked well so one to consider if you are planning an event.

This is one of those posts that my PHD supervisor charmingly refers to as throat clearing – its the piece you have to write before you can write the piece you want to write.

I have been doing a lot of internal mulling about the nature of collaboration and leadership in networked organisations. This is all mixed in with more thinking around how we create open practice in our organisation. I have written a bit about this here.

I think at the centre of these threads is a discussion about what data you should share about your organisation when the shareholders are private individuals rather than taxpayers and where accountability is delivered via the board room not the ballot box.

“Should” – as ever there is a mix here of moral imperative and practical necessity. As I’ve said before I know that my own belief in the importance of open practice is partly an ethical one but I also think that its the way in which we will make business fit for purpose as we start to operate in a more digital and networked environment.

I am impatient for the open data discussion to start addressing the cultural effects of a more open environment as I think that only by looking at this are we going to unlock the really transformative potential of open data and also how we will put more pressure on corporates to open up the data which will form an important part of the overall picture and ultimately the business case.

However there is something in this discussion of information sharing which also relates to how you go about working in a more networked and collaborative way.

At Public-i we are starting to properly work in networked collaboration with a couple of other organisations (more on that later) and this is working because we have a lot of trust, respect and openness with each other. We are all small organisations and so it is possible to form working relationships throughout all three organisations to make sure that this works. Its really exciting actually doing this networked organisation thing and not just talking about it.

Open data should be the basis on which Government organisations are able to collaborate more effectively but if we want this to extend this to more effective collaboration with the private sector (ad I think we do) then there needs to be some reciprocity in this openness.

The elephant in the room here may be a conversation about acceptable levels of value exchange and profit but I will keep my mind open on this point. Wrapped within this is the a need for an increase in levels of balance sheet literacy in the audience in the same way that participatory budgeting requires an increase in budget literacy. We know from the debacle of so many outsourcing arrangements that if you get this wrong you get terrible services and terrible value – a more open conversation and agreement of what’s acceptable may help avoid this in the future.

At this stage I am just trying to form good questions to help find good answers. I think the questions I need to ask are around understanding the levels of reciprocity in terms of openness that is needed to effect strong working relationships between the public and private sector – and how do we make these robust enough to create organisational rather than individual trust. I’ll be asking these questions of some of our clients and discussing it internally – as well as with collaborators – and I will also need to talk to shareholders about this as its important not to forget that they are a vital part of this discussion. As ever though I would really value comments here as well – so let me know what you think if you have time.

I am going to try and make this short as it will be cross-posted to the Public-i blog and that means the talented Mr Brightwell will edit it down anyway….

I wanted to talk about the Open Spaces South West  and also a bit of a comment on Carl Haggerty’s post here.

I have am a huge fan of Open Spaces in their many forms. I am a regular at UK Govcamp and LocalGovCamp and also a co-producer of CityCamp Brighton. I have also part of some explorations about what these kind of open spaces approaches might mean for community engagement with CRIF and also We Live Here. I repeatedly see people being inspired, excited and engergised by events which enable the participants to take responsibility for their own experience and learn from this and from each other – and its fun – I always enjoy myself and I see other people do as well. Whoever said that important stuff had to be dull?

But I do think we need to see if we can make this kind of event work a bit harder and accomodate not just the new people who get so much from being exposed to a different way of working but also to create the space for longer standing ideas and projects to be worked on and extended. I also think we need to try and ensure that we expose more senior decision makers to this kind of event. The need for social innovation in the public sector is huge – and we have to start working together more effectively acrosss sectors and across organisations if we are going to start putting together some of the bigger projects that we will need to make signifincant change happen. So, Open Spaces South West will happen on a Friday because we think this should be part of your day job and not an added extra, we have some pre-programmed speakers to stimulate debate (as we do with CityCamp) and we are making active efforts to invite decision makers and non-usual suspects to this kind of event. We’ll keep you posted.

This question of working across boundaries is something which I think is critical to creating change and to the way in which we start to develop new kinds of relationships between citizens and state. I think this blurring of boundaries is a defintive element of the network society. At Public-i we talk about this as open practice and as part of this we are ‘sharing’ Carl with Devon County Council. Now – anyone who knows Carl will know he’s brilliant and you would have to be an idiot not to want to work with him – plus there is a hhuge amount of shared learning from this kind of thing – so thats one reason for the arrangement from our point of view. However the wider point about the blurring of boundaries I think is really important as Carl expresses here:

“In a number of ways and this also makes me think that actually this whole opportunity should be more widely available to other public sector folk…what i mean from this is that I think people and organisations on both sides would benefit if those people who wished to seek new challenges and experiences were allowed to temporarily take development opportunities with a private sector organisations. You see and read all too often now that there is a massive brain drain happening within the sector and all the best people are leaving…yes some great people are leaving, but lets not forget and lets not underestimate the huge amount of latent talent that remains, waiting to be unlocked and let free…this is where events like open space south west come in for me, opening up new connections and opportunities for new people to be the leaders.”

Events like Open Spaces South West should help to break down boundaries and create spaces for people to lead. I was inspired by hearing Jim Diers speak last week (blogged about it here) and I was hugely struck by his incitment to build networks and relationships rather than structures – I really hope Open Spaces South West can instigate some new network and as Carl says provide opportunities for new people to be the leaders. On a slightly less lofty note – I really hope its fun.

I find myself using the phrase ‘open by default’ more and more frequently. This post is an attempt to explore what I mean.

We use so many of these terms so rather loosely so that they start to lose their meaning – engage, participate, innovate, open – if we want to keep the power in the language we need to drill down and be clear on what the meaning is and why the term is important. With a phrase like open by default this is even more important as it has that special quality of elusive meaning that means it is perilously close to being spin doctor jargon rather than being something that is making a difference to people’s lives.

I think the meaning breaks down into 4 different aspects:

Open information – not just data
Open data – the idea that government originated data should be in the public domain in an accessible and useable way is now a fairly established idea even if its implementation is as yet rather patchy (Have a look at LinkedGov to understand the work involved in getting this right). There are two motivations behind open data, the first is a desire to make government more accountable. This would be enough of a reason in its own right as without transparency its very difficult to imagine how we will rebuild trust in the democratic process without a shift away from the idea that information is something that needs to be controlled in its contact with the public.

More than that – there is an injustice in the idea that we pay for the creation of this data, its data about us and yet we don’t have access to it all because the systems assume that information is in a sealed file in a dusty drawer in the basement. I feel this point very strongly with respect to research data – we pay for our higher education system through taxation and then we pay through the nose to read the results of the research process (There is an interesting debate about this on the LSE Politics Blog).

Secondly, the motivation is the growing understanding that if we are going to reboot the economy we will need knowledge based businesses to pay a major role in this. In addition to the specialist manufacturing and design innovation that the UK can provide we need to create a new kind of Digital economy that goes beyond using the internet to sell stuff and uses it to create real value. The raw material for this value creation is information – and a lot of it is locked up in government data silos.

There is a movement building behind the idea of open data, brilliant stuff from CountCulture, innovation from the London Data Store and the first OpenData Cities conference in Brighton.  I would argue however that open data is only part of what open by default really means.

Open process
Again, there are two sense this is important firstly with respect to trust in the democratic process and secondly with respect to the benefits of more open processes generally.

Trust in process is created by being clear about what the process is. A good democratic experience is one where you are happy that the outcome is fair even if it isn’t your preferred outcome. At present many of our decision making processes do not feel open to the public as they assume that the public have access to the only through their representatives and the public do not feel connected to politicians. We have a choice – amend the process or improve connections between citizens and politicians. The answer may be a combination of the two.

More generally, open processes enable far wider participation and also build in the possibility of creativity and innovation far more effectively than a process which assumes that the process managers have all the answers in advance. Look at events like CityCamp Brighton  to see what happens when you bring interested people together with no agenda and some basic resources. Personally – I don’t ever want to see a community meeting agenda again which has more than 50% of the time taken up with speakers as opposed to participants.

Open access
Open access is really about making sure that Government is ‘available’ to the public – as are politicians. This means taking the conversation, and the decision making process, to the places where people are and having the debate on their terms not at the convenience of government. Its also about using new channels to make it possible for far more people to connect directly to politicians. There are some things which need a face to face conversation but new technologies and the social shift around the way in which we use them means that we should insist that politicians and government actively engages with us using these channels – this is an entirely solvable problem.

Open standards
Technical standards allow interoperability and ultimately support collaborative behaviour online. By adopting an open, by implication shared, standard the developer is open to the idea of wider connection and cooperation between their work and others. Quite apart from the practical benefits this is a cultural statement. Taking this further and adopting open source licence models which encourage reuse and further development the use of open standards is a power – if technically sent – message. The Public Sector often talks of open source as being a cost saving measure with very limited understanding of the whole open source lifecycle and the real costs for making it successful. The real benefit of open source and open standards in my mind is the design signal that it sends in creating online experience.

If we want to be “open by default” then we need use open standards to build our civic architecture.

Open mind
There is a final sense in which I think we need to consider ‘open’ and ask ourselves how open we are to new ideas. One of the side effects I believe, of living a more digital and as a result public life is that your thinking is exposed. This blog is an active attempt to explore this – as an action researcher I am documenting my explorations and you can find numerous influences and contradictions in this. If we are open by default we have to be open to external influences as well as being open with our thought processes.

Is there a choice?
I am not sure that there is. The data and the content is all out there and I have no confidence that the people holding it – government and corporate – are going to keep it locked up properly even if they want to. I think the world is changing and that it is far better to move towards this actively rather than letting it happen.

Open by default doesn’t and shouldn’t mean completely open. I believe very strongly in our right and the importance of privacy and also in the importance of discretion and privacy within some conversations. However if we don’t start to redraw some of the legal and behavioural frameworks around these issues then the important elements that we want to preserve risk being overwhelmed as people just set data free. We need a proper conversation about this that accepts, the new reality, the risks and the opportunities and starts to shape what being open really means – we need to recalibrate our privacy machine.

I sometimes ask myself to what extent this is this a moral rather than a practical position for me. I am increasingly drawn to greater openness and transparency as I think that people function better with all the information and that people are able to make reasonable judgements about what they learn. I also think its easier – to be open means that you don’t have to remember who you have said what to and also minimises internal politics and builds trust. Ultimately I think its the right thing to do – the fact I have logical reasoning for believing this does not make it less of a moral position.

Being ‘open for by default’ – in the rich sense that I have outlined here – is what open practice means to me. Its more than just opening up the data or the standards and more than just being open minded. It is an effect of the publicness of a digital life but also a practice that allows you function well in open networks where there are not fixed and contained boundaries.

I have been speaking to people about the new Police and Crime Commissioners recently and asking questions about how we can build a good democratic experience into these new roles. I am advocating the use of open practice – of being open by default – and it feels risky and bold to the people I speak to. But I keep asking – because I want politicians to be risky and bold – and I want them to be open by default – and I think this is both a moral and a practical belief to hold.

So – it turns out that my inability to fix my research methods chapter had the effect of rendering me unable to write anything else – who can understand the workings of the human mind??? Chapter 4 now dispatched I am now trying to catch up on backlog (this includes 3 UKGC12 posts – oh how I rue the day I pitched so many…). Anyway. This post is jumping the queue because I have been doing a lot of mulling recently, for various reasons, about organisational culture – its an attempt to synthesise these thoughts and organise them a bit.

The first thing that brought this on is that fact that Carl Haggerty is going to be joining Public-i 2 days per week to work as Product Manager for Citizenscape. Carl has written about this here so this is my turn….I’m delighted Carl is joining us for all kinds of different reasons.

The first is the simple fact that Carl is great to work with – having worked with him on the Virtual Town Hall pilot, as a client at Devon County Council and also in various GovCamp sessions I know that he combines expertise and forward thinking with the ability to challenge your thinking in a really positive and constructive way.

This ability to issue constructive challenge is going to be crucial to someone who is coming into a project – Citizenscape – which has been very a huge amount of work for a lot of people for the last couple of years. The product has developed hugely from the initial EU project and then Virtual Town Hall pilots and has now been deployed across our core Connect sites as well – but we still it can go a lot further. Its live, stable and useful but so much of the functionality is lying below the waterline – in the code, locked into the UX and in the admin functionality. We are hoping that a fresh pair of eyes – from someone who understands what we are trying to achieve with Citizenscape – will help push it forward.

The second reason I am delighted to have Carl join is about the blurring of boundaries. The fact that we will be sharing him with Devon County Council makes this a fairly unusual arrangement but one which I think reflects the new ways in which public and private sectors need to be working together. I hope that we will learn a lot from working with Carl but I also hope he will learn from us. I am very grateful to Devon CC for being willing to support this kind of working and I hope that the institutional learning goes both ways as well.

There is a lot of talk about the Public Sector needing to be more business-like, to behave more like the private sector, but we don’t often reflect on what this actually means. This kind of shared working is a way of exploring the cultural qualities that might flow in both directions. I am hoping that Carl will have a positive experience of working a small business which is able to be far more agile and innovative than a local authority just by dint of its size but that also needs to be constantly thinking about selling as an essential part of its lifecycle.

There. I’ve said it. The ‘S’ word. Doesn’t it send a shiver down the spine?

Dan Slee posted a very pithy piece which explained very clearly why the public sector is right to have a poor impression of the private sector sales process and, as someone running a company, made me cringe. However I believe its possible – and perhaps even advantageous – to build innovative and useful projects that are sold and then co-created between public and private sector organisations. I also think that discussing value exchange – money – upfront in a project is one way to ensure that you keep the attention of all the project participants. In my experience doing stuff for free doesn’t really convince anyone that they need to take what you are doing very seriously – though on the other hand you do need to be sure that the value exchange is fair and defensible. I don’t want to public sector wasting money and I don’t want to be part of helping it waste money.  This point of view has taken me a while to come to which is perhaps another story.

Its possible that the only way that we will substantively shift government practice is with these kinds of co-created projects and relationships. If this is the case then we need to learn how to work together – systemically – and the kind of cultural exchange that we are starting with Carl could form a valuable part of this learning. As we are both avid bloggers I am imagining you will hear more about this whether you want to or not.

There is a lot of challenge in the idea of opening up your organisation to have a client working with you as part of the team – not just on one specific project where they can be contained. Any organisation will have a degree of paddling below the water going on and it takes confidence in what you do to open this up to scrutiny. One of the reasons we are doing this, apart from the fact that you can’t learn without risk, is because we think that any business that works closely with the public sector needs to be setting itself at least the standard of openness that we demand of our government organisations. Projects like Chris Taggert’s Open Corporate is part of this but I think the blurring of organisational boundaries to create the most effective project teams is another. We have all worked closely with other organisations but this blurring of boundaries is something else.

I also think these qualities of confidence and openness are essential in a networked organisation but I will come back to that thought another time.

The second reason I have been mulling organisational culture was as a result of a twitter conversation discussing whether or not context is significant in terms of defining and understanding innovation. The consensus was a strongly felt ‘yes’ – you can’t describe something as innovative without understanding the context in which the work is done and projects which are innovative in one context may be fairly mundane in others. @Pubstrat has excellent things to say on this subject.

This got me thinking about how you might more actively set the context for a future project. We are I hope – subject to various practicalities – about to kick off another Citizenscape pilot in the fairly near future. How can we set the right context for this project? The first and obvious point will be creating the right project team and relationships but I think the critical element of this is in creating a shared context between ourselves and the client. Creating this initial shared understanding and actively discussing the fact that project which is focused on ‘doing things differently’ means that the project itself needs to…well….do things differently.

I am trying to put together a more organised set of thoughts around the question of ‘agile project management‘ which I keep coming back to. I think this idea of setting the new, shared, context for a project – or an organisation – is part of that but I also think its part of what it means to participate in a ‘networked’ project which takes place across organisational boundaries. It is more and more frequently the case that we are working in loose coalitions or temporary teams and partnerships and that our different work contexts are colliding. This is happening across internal and external organisational. I think we probably need to be thinking about what this means and trying to capture some of the approaches that make it all work more smoothly – capturing the context is one part of this.

The final reason I am thinking about organisational culture is because I find that so many of the conversations that I have with clients that start of talking about social media, engagement and democracy end up really being about organisational change. I increasingly come to the conclusion that we – practitioners – can’t continue to make incremental progress to unlock the real potential of the social web if we don’t start to actively discuss the way in which our organisations will change as a result. This is not saying anything new – we all know this to be true – but how many people are just below the parapet in terms of really talking about this fact within their organisations? How many senior teams are thinking in these terms? Time for a more public discussion and a lot more mulling I think.