Friday, 16 August 2013

LocalGov Digital Hangouts

A hangout is a video chat room, integrated into Google+. Isn't that a dead platform you might ask? I used to think that too, but I wrote about why I changed my mind, here.

Back in February 2013 I ran the first LocalGov Digital hangout, an evening event for those with an interest in local government and digital; Kate Sahota ran the next one in March. Since then I've taken part in a few of Shane Dillion's excellent hangouts, Jerome's Turners Out Of Hours Hyperlocal and set up what we hope to be regular hangout for local government officers in Berkshire.

Now seems like a good time to make LocalGov Digital hangouts a regular event and to start with I'll be running them from 2pm to 3pm on the third Thursday of every month. Whilst the hangouts will focus on a topic, the overall aim will be to share ideas, promote collaboration and highlight local government best practice in delivering services and information digitally.

Like unconferences and camps, hangouts for the public sector tend to be held in the evening or at weekends. Sharing to improve the service one provides shouldn't be an add on to one's role, it should be part of it, so I've taken the decision to run the hangouts during the day.

I understand that some may have trouble accessing social media from their workplace, but Google+ runs from a smartphone and tablet too, so those wanting to take part could use their own device. If you're building a case to allow professional networking using social media at your organisation it'll be another reason to add to the list.

I anticipate a slow start. More than ever there seems to be a desire to share and collaborate in the public sector but many are still unsure as to how. Add to this that some still are unaware of Google+.

I'll review the progress of the LocalGov Digital hangouts in six months, or sooner in the unlikely event they become a runaway success, running them more often if this is the case.

If you have an interest in improving digital in local government I hope you can find time to join in. Not only will you be making what you do better, you'll be helping to improve what local governments across the country do.

You can sign up to the first hangout here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Kick starting collaboration in Local Government

A while ago, at a LocalGov Digital Steering Group I suggested the idea of a "dating site" or Kickstarter for Local Government. This week I was discussing Nesta's new Creative Commons Europe site with Carl Haggerty and Paul Mackay; it seemed like a good idea to re-visit the subject.

When it comes to digital services, councils often tend to buy off-the-shelf solutions with a customised look and feel. This means that essentially, some suppliers are selling the same thing over and over again with a different paint job. It's production line development and sales in digital services, or IT systems as they're often seen as, which are treated as a purchased product with a limited shelf-life. When the shelf-life expires the procurement process starts again.

Producing digital services should be an iterative process, as documented in the Government Service Design Manual. People's expectations of digital services are constantly evolving and Local Government is not immune to this. Ongoing change in what Local Government does also affects what needs to be offered online.

Factors like newer and different types of device, improved connection speed and improved availability of connection are altering what people expect they can do digitally and where they can do it. The flip-side to this change is what can be done online is always expanding and many councils have a channel shift programme to exploit the potential savings of using digital services to a greater extent.

If you're not developing and continuing to improve a digital service with the customer in mind you're probably not meeting their expectation fully nor are you getting the full benefit of channel shift. This is where something like a council "Appstarter" could come in.

So let's say I'm looking to create new digital service and I have a limited development resource with which to create it. I'd go to Appstarter, write a brief description of what I wanted and break the work down into chunks. The author could specify which resources they had and what they needed. A extremely basic version of this could look like:

Digital service for residents to report missed bin collections.

Have: C# development.
Need: Database development, Graphic design, Web design , UX design.

Those interested in collaborating to produce something could then pledge their skills and time to fulfil one of the roles in creating and continuing to improve the service. Yes, this would make the project more complex than buying something off-the-shelf, but it wouldn't need project managers for each participating authority, as each council buying and implementing (or developing) their own system most likely would.

There are more possibilities if the proposed solution has a budget. Appstarter could be open to SMEs who don't have all the skills but could work on some aspects of the creation and iterative improvement. It could be that the entire solution is supplied by SMEs, facilitated through Appstarter.

Obviously there would need to be some sort of qualification criteria for SMEs, but this would be a one off task and sharing out work amongst a number of different smaller suppliers eliminates the risk of having a single point of failure.

There will be situations when this approach might not be appropriate, Problems to resolve with it will be identified, but Appstarter might save money on procurement, enable collaboration and save work, provide a better service to customers which in turn could save money through more channel shift.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Trolls, vigilantes and vigilante trolls.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the creation of a "Report Abuse" button on Twitter. There's already a procedure to report abuse and you're able to block users from tweeting @ you, but this would make it easier to do so. When launched, in my opinion the Report Abuse button will help create two new groups on Twitter.


It's always been possible to seek out and join in the conversation of others on Twitter, it's one of the great things about the medium. The Report Abuse button will make it much easier for people to try to stop conversations happening.

It goes without saying that everyone has different views and that expends to what constitutes abuse too. Journalist Caitlin Moran seems to dislike misogynistic language but has usesd phrases like "bum boy", "tranny", "mong" and "spaz" which others might find offensive, for example.

One person's humour is another's abusive language and being able to find and then report what one might deem as offensive a lot easier will lead to vigilantes, looking for things they dislike and reporting them.

Imagine an army of cyber Mary Whitehouses trawling Twitter, seeking out content to be offended by and you'll not be too far off what might happen.

 Vigilantes Trolls
Though designed to combat trolling, the Report Abuse button will become another weapon in the armoury of the troll. Trolling is seen as something new but it's not, flaming, bashing and trolling have been around for as long as one has been able to talk converse with someone else on the internet.

The recent spate of disgusting tweets directed at a number of media celebrities has come from not one or two sources but tens, perhaps even hundreds. Given the nature of the perception of abuse it would be quite easy to invent a spurious reason for offence and for hundreds of people to then report this "abuse" silencing the very people calling for the trolls to be removed from Twitter.

If a hundred people phoned me up and used threatening language, I wouldn't be expected to report every call to the phone company. There's only way to stop real abuse on Twitter, don't shoot the messenger and demand Twitter fix the problem, report it to the Police.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.