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…


Ninging up York

January 31, 2012

With all the recent debate about e-participation, tools to do it, along with the why’s and wherefore’s of whether it can actually work, it’s a coincidence that the local authority where I live has implemented Ning to do some consultation. In the sites own words “GeniUSYork is our chance to generate and develop lots of ideas around about how to make York a better place. Many brains generate more ideas.” The project is part of a nationwide project funded by NESTA, and the City of York was one of 17 councils to get to this stage. If they make it to stage 2 in April they receive support and funding to roll the best ideas out nationally.

I hope something comes of it. It’s not the only Ning community I’m a member of but like many such places they have a tendency to become talking shops with little practical resulting. It’s OK if you wish to spend your time looking into a computer rather than delivering practical change or if the suggestions made actually are implemented in some fashion, but how many times does that happen?

The operators, implementors or whatever need to consider the suggestions that were made following the discussions earlier about participating in a democracy i.e. for a start, how will the outcomes be measured, implemented or reported?

According to Heather Niven who is one of those behind it, the “main criteria are sustainable, scale able to other places, good for everyone involved, viable with resources we’ve got. Pilot length can be as long as it needs to be but a range of short-long term solutions would be good. We are flexible and open to all ideas and our forum section has a section on all things innovative. For other suggestions if people want to raise other ideas. Outcomes we want are 1. A culture change in the way the city solves its problems and develops/evolves through introducing a channel to communicate and develop relationships with the motivated creative problem solvers in our world who want to make a difference. 2. To use a series of challenges to focus our efforts and show ourselves how much better we can change things through working together and to try the process out. 3. To record and share the whole project including what didn’t work for others to learn from. All of that will be shared here too.”

My personal challenge to them is to rationalise the dark magic that is government bean-counting – if we could do away with all this cross-charging, recharging, offcharging and focus on customers, particularly where they aren’t able to deal with such bureaucracy the better! Avaunt thee CIPFA and all thy complications…

Social mediating

March 21, 2010

Whilst the local authority where I reside (City of York) has just published the reults of a survey of residents stating that 17% would find out council information through social media, another report has been issued by NESTA, The Lab and I&DeA promoting their use.

The new report, “Local by Social – How local authorities can use social media to achieve more for less“, is written by Andy Gibson and is a sort of follow-up to another report Social by Social, but this time focused upon local authorities. In reality, from a lot of the examples he provides, it’s actually as much about Web 1.0 as it is about Web 2.0.

Andy proposes the way around the digital exclusion factor of social media is for others to do it for those excluded, an idealistic dream reminiscent of those distant days when many people didn’t have a home telephone and bad news (and sometimes good) was delivered by telegram, and the lucky neighbour or business might prevailed upon in time of emergency for the use of the telephone!

He’s also misled, in these times of increasing austerity, if he thinks councils have the resources to experiment with social media. This maybe so in a lucky few, but many are looking for savings, and luxury items are a target. His argument that better service and savings will be presented is unlikely to be proved, if it was ever viable.

The report also focuses on London and big urgan authorities. On the occasions it does get out to the sticks by describing activities on Lichfield’s web site, he’s describing something that many web masters and mistresses have been doing for some time, which is signposting local services. This is also only information provision, and not really service delivery.

An admirable attempt by someone on the outside, to teach local authorities something they are already attempting to do, against formidable cultural, financial  and political barriers.

NESTA have also been optimistic and contrary in the recent past, when driving their Reboot Britain campaign.

Co-production again

December 20, 2009

Christmas greetings and thanks go out to Adrian Barker at the IDeA who, in his blog, pointed out the existence of “The Challenge of Co-production” from David Boyle and Michael Harris published by NESTA, in cooperation with The Lab and nef.

Co-production is no stranger to this blog with some nine mentions of it in the recent past and two particular posts about it from January 2009, the first of which was entitled Co-production.

It’s some 25 pages of tight small print but is  a useful introduction to what might be done, without offering any solutions, but it does clearly point out some of the existing issues:

P.6 – “The ‘choice’ agenda has been at the heart of policy towards public services for most of the past three decades, but there is increasing doubt about whether it has succeeded in delivering what people actually want.”

P.7 – “The increasing use of consumer language has encouraged people to behave towards public services as they would towards any commercial supplier. Equally, by focusing entirely on people’s needs – rather than what they can contribute – services have tended to dissempower their users and have  done little to prevent needs arising in the first place.

P.8 – Reproduces definition of co-production from: Parks, R. B., Baker, P.C., Kiser, L., Oakerson, R., Ostrom, E.,Ostrom, V., Percy, S.L.,Vandivort, M.B., Whitaker, G.P., Wilson, R., (1981). “CONSUMERS AS COPRODUCERS OF PUBLIC SERVICES: SOME ECONOMIC AND INSTITUTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS.” Policy Studies Journal 9(7): 1001-1011. which states – “process through which inputs used to produce a good or service are contributed by individuals who are not ‘in’ the same organisation.”

In general a useful addition to the literature on co-production.

Contrasting opinions

July 12, 2009

Two of this month’s reports seem to have diverse opinions, and one in particular, to much that has been reported recently!

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) when starting its Reboot Britian campaign, reported the results of a survey of a nationally-representative 1092 adults in the UK. The survey report concluded that 95 percent of people questioned are regularly using the web for everyday activities. if this were to be true we only have a digitally excluded minority of 5%, I presume? Their press release was entitled “Post Office queues to become a thing of the past.”  The Public Service web site picked up a different focus from the results, the fact that when asked the question “Do you think switching as many public services and facilities as possible online is a good thing?”, 57% replied maybe, 22% said yes and 21% said no – an interesting contrast to the spin from NESTA.

In marked contrast to NESTA wanting to shorten Post Office queues, Computing published  a piece about a report from the UK Parliamentary all-party Commons Business and Enterprise Committee which questioned the drive for e-government and accused Whitehall departments of undermining local Post Offices! The MP’s opinion was that the public should be encouraged online but not driven there, again rather in contrast to the government’s own Digital Britain report.

The NESTA report by picking up the public’s own restraint on government services cannot expect government to swallow the massively inflated figure of Internet usage it purports. Citizens have their own elderly or disabled friends and relatives for whom electronic services won’t work currently and so know its too early. Time for mediated services maybe, but purely online – not yet!