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…


Tell us how

November 10, 2011

As promised in the Open Public Services White Paper, Francis Maude has launched the Tell Us How website for public sector workers to tell their bosses how services can be improved. One has to register on the site and the home page of the site is the registration page, why isn’t actually very inviting, but the thought’s there. However if one tries to use your personal email address you are rejected with “To register for this site, you must use your Departmental email address”, which gives the impression that like much of central government it appears to be focused around the civil service. However, the Cabinet Office launch page welcomes “All public sector workers, from nurses, to those working in job centres, local Government, or vital back office functions”, so not quite sure… – It also then appeared to reject my valid local government email address, but it hadn’t as I soon found a ‘welcome’ email with my password in my work inbox.

A bit of stray code also appears on the site more than a fortnight after it went live “<!–[endif]–><!–[if !ppt]–><!–[endif]–>” above the conditions one has to agree to when signing on –

“We welcome all your suggestions on this site, but ask you to please bear in mind our guidelines when submitting ideas and commenting.


Ideas will remain on the site as long as they:

• are clearly an attempt to present a genuine idea to reduce burden in the public sector

•• respect other people. Comments should not be malicious or offensive in nature, and should not constitute or include a personal attack on a person’s character

• don’t incite hatred on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexuality or other personal characteristic

•• don’t include swearing, hate-speech or obscenity

•• don’t reveal personal details, such as private addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or other online contact details

••don’t break the law – this includes libel, condoning illegal activity, and breaking copyright

••are reasonably concise, and don’t constitute spamming of the site

••don’t impersonate or falsely claim to represent a person or organisation

••are in English – unfortunately, we do not currently have the resource to moderate comments in other languages

••are on-topic. Please don’t post messages that are unrelated to this site

If you are aged 16 or under, please get your parent/guardian’s permission before submitting an idea or commenting. Users without this consent are not allowed to participate or provide us with personal information.

The site moderators reserve the right to remove any ideas or comments that do not abide by these guidelines.”

I liked the one about being aged under 16. I wonder how many children are employed in government service? Is this a new cost saving scheme?

Good try guys and gals – anyone test it on the public sector first?

As of 9 November 2011 the site claims that there have been 775 registrations and 189 ideas, so get them coming in and start voting! However it wouldn’t appear to be something developed in the skunkworks, more a case of employing a known US tool, in this case Spigit, already used by some government entities in the US, along with the DWP in the UK.

I watch with interest…