February 28, 2012

In November I mentioned ‘Tell Us How’ as the latest attempt at ‘crowdsourcing’ by central government to save money in public services by asking those who help to deliver them. The project has apparently completed its first phase and it appears there are 266 ideas up there. How many people have been involved is difficult to say but it would appear that it’s a few hundred – with more than 8000 people employed in central government IT alone, the representation factor is pretty low. Whilst a few of the more rational ideas may offer some savings, overall they tend to represent confirmed prejudices.

In a similar mode I reported the recently launched ‘GeniUS York’ project in Ninging Up York. So far it would appear to have achieved nominal public attention, whilst the key ideas on there are foisted upon it from a higher authority, which was one of my concerns. Along with some other members of a Forum who felt their proposals were being sidelined or dropped, I raised the matter publicly. The following is the question as phrased by a Council Officer and the response from the person leading the project:

Forum members questioned the transparency of the decision-making process that went on to decide the 4 major challenges. How and who decided the final 4 challenges in the end?

“The four challenges were chosen based on a number of factors which aim to develop the culture change required to implement the Open Innovation Process within the city. In order to implement an organisation-wide change in the council, challenges had to span many departments and involve specialists in a number of areas and through developing an innovation team based on competencies not job titles, we aim to embed the process in council working for the future. These pilot challenges had to fit the NESTA parameters of solving ‘medium to long term issues’, to be ‘scalable to other areas’, to ‘open up the conversations with diverse groups’ both within and outwith the council, and to ‘demonstrate in practice the process we are trying to implement’ through using 4 pilot case studies to work with. They were chosen after conversations with NESTA, Visit York, council members, SCY and were refined and developed and commented on at a senior management meeting last October. This last meeting is on the platform as a video for all to see (and comment on, although I don’t think anyone has). NESTA approved our challenges in December and gave us the go ahead (and the funding) to continue the pilot using these 4 as a starting point.”


“No ideas which have been posted on the platform have been ignored, but in order to manage such a colossal change, we can’t post a stack of challenges up there willy-nilly without the capacity to implement the ideas born from them, within a reasonable time frame with a reasonable amount of resource backing. The council has committed to implement solutions from all of the challenges and in order to do this effectively we need to manage our resource well, and stagger the challenges on the platform accordingly.”

 What effectively we have now is the exercise focusing on four ‘challenges’ that were decided by the University, the Council and NESTA back in December 2011 before all this went live. The initial Ning site had these as a part of a video, but when asking for challenges it was never made clear that they were already decided – ‘fait accompli’.

What the response does indicate is that public consultation, even online is a massive exercise, even when aided electronically and should not be undertaken lightly. It also, for me, indicates that if you have specific challenges spit them out in large letters and don’t pretend you really are asking open questions…