“Two households, both alike in dignity,”

Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 1 William Shakespeare


While growing older may have given me a more considered view of life there are some things that even now will drive me into a rant. One such thing is people in responsible, public facing roles who grab a headline by stating the obvious. Take, for instance, Eddie Copeland Head of Technology Policy at Policy Exchange: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/people/research/item/eddie-copeland . I don’t know Eddie but he has a blog http://policybytes.org.uk and an impressive CV ranging from being a Parliamentary Researcher, a Congressional Intern, and Project Manager of large infrastructure projects and so on.

His offense on this occasion is his recommendation, widely publicised in the press and on the BBC last Tuesday, that the Government should offer the elderly lessons in the internet to encourage them to ‘discover life online’. I know that this is a sound bite from the Policy Exchange Manifesto which suggests that £875m is the figure required to get the final 17% online but aren’t we entering into a world of unreality here? Actually I would challenge the idea that we need £875m to tackle the problem of the final 17% (approximately 6.2 million people); that’s £141.13p per person more or less – what’s the 13p for I wonder?

It’s not that I would deny people working in the field of digital inclusion access to a slice £875m it’s an agenda that’s very close to my heart and I do not for one minute underestimate the importance of the work; it’s the approach and the short sighted attitude that makes me so cross. This is a technology manifesto intended to influence Government policy and the headline grabber is get older people online to help with problems of loneliness.

Contrast this with the interview on Giga Om with Usman Haque on May 20th just one week earlier: https://gigaom.com/2014/05/20/thingful-wants-to-crawl-the-internet-of-things-but-is-this-the-right-model/ . Usman Haque also has an impressive CV he is a founding partner of Umberellium http://www.umberellium.co.uk , founder of the Internet of Things data infrastructure and community platform Pachube.com. He is an architect, creates responsive environments and dozens of mass-participation initiatives in cities, festivals and galleries throughout the world.

His view is that being on line empowers people and gives them the opportunity to take control of their environment. He is interested in how cities can talk to people and how people can interact with where they live. While there is a view that you have to have the skills before you can interact – a little obvious – that view misses the point. If you are setting out policy you are driving something forward not focussing on remediation of the obvious problem. If the vision for the future is realistic and enticing then the means will be found to redress the issues but if the focus sets out that we have to do A before we can progress to B then we may never realise the vision never mind succeed in including the final 17%.

Policy Exchange also falls into the skills trap: teach the skills and surely the rest will follow. It is widely recognised today that skills only approaches have pretty much failed – which is why we still have the 17%, the long tail that grows ever longer. We have to address the issues of trust, confidence, and belief and benefit which means that skill is just one piece and it doesn’t follow that it has to come first.

Policy Exchange and Eddie Copeland are seeing people as passive participants in the digital world; consumers and employees. The trick is to see people as active participants who are taking control and realising value in a digital economy. In the digital world full time mono occupations have gone forever and we need to be agile, self reliant, just in time learners. Let us look at the means to achieve that as a headline.


Modernising the Third Sector – Echoes and Resonance

In my last post “A Tale of Two Cities” I made an assertion that:

“The sector, which is expected to take over the delivery of services as local authorities move to commissioning rather than delivery, is not ready for Digital by Default; ergo it is not ready for Assisted Digital. While the Government may point to the success of its digital champions and its one million UKOnline successes it has yet to address the principle client group of many Third Sector organisations, the final 20% who are the biggest users of services. The Third Sector is not ready of the impact of personalisation nor is it prepared for co-production.”

Hold that thought!

More recently excellent blog posts by Carl Haggerty and Martin Howitt on Local Government as a Platform moved me to comment first and then to think about how such a platform might work with the Third Sector as they become a key service provider.

Martin’s Diagram, reproduced here, places Service Providers as an arm linked into the Local Gov Hub along side People (in places with needs). My argument to both Martin and to Carl was that while we can identify why Local Government sits at the centre (fundholder, standards assurance, governance, political oversight) if you were designing a system to deliver services to people with needs you wouldn’t necessarily design it this way. There are additional issues around political oversight and democratic representation of the most excluded that I refer to in my response to Martin’s blog post so I won’t go into them here.

Val Lewis (AKA @otherhalf and the Val in Penval) was approached this week to do a short presentation on modernising and the role of ICTs in a Third Sector organisation where she is a member of the board. Given my opening statement and the questions posed by Martin and Carl it seemed an ideal opportunity to think about how that might look.

While this might fit into Martin’s “Service Provider” square hopefully I’m going to explain how it overlaps with that, the Local Gov Hub and the People in Places with Needs. The diagram has sections that are deliberately blurred; this is not a hierarchical organisation in the strictest sense. The curved lines represent the flow of information, from left to right and up and down the organisation. The organisation is “Social” in the sense that it uses social channels to engage with a wider stakeholder group as well as providing a direct service and receiving feed back. The organisation also uses “Social” in business; that might be a platform like “Yammer”.

The organisation uses ICTs to run its business processes, it has Customer Relationship Management, It monitors contracts, it invoices, it produces reports; it may even be big enough to have a resource management system, my point is that it uses business software along side its social software. Together they provide the Business Intelligence, intelligence that goes beyond raw figures and facts. Because the business is “Social” the opinions, the feedback, the ideas can all go into the mix. To this is added open data, the wider information that can both inform the bigger picture and can provide insights that impact on the lives of the client base. All of this informs strategy.

If knowledge and opinions are shared within an organisation then the organisation begins to resonate, ideas flow informed by formal and informal knowledge, the whole day can become a watercooler moment or a corridor conversation that oils the wheels of service delivery.

When we talk about modernising our Third Sector it’s not a question of Microsoft or Open Software; it’s not a choice between lap tops, desk tops and tablets; it’s not even about smart phones it’s about re-thinking the approach. The backdrop to all of this is Digital by Default and it’s shadow, Assisted Digital. The positioning of an organisation in a digital context begins to prepare it to support its client base in a digital by default world. This is about more than building the capacity to support ICTs, this is about how we work and what we do that constitutes work that enables us to create organisations that ultimately provide better outcomes for their clients – who are some of the biggest cost users of public services – so we all benefit.

Hopefully this post will contribute something to the discussion and I welcome people’s comments and thoughts. I would like to thank Martin Howit and Carl Haggerty for getting this discussion out into the wider world  – let’s see if it leads somewhere.

Rethinking Digital Inclusion

Somebody once wrote, or maybe I heard it on the radio, that if you put all of the world’s top eye surgeons in a room and told them to come up with the perfect surgical tool not one of them would think of the laser. The principle has been highlighted this week by the circulation of a piece by the “Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency” Project. The project has a web site  and there is an excellent Vimeo . There’s also an underpinning academic paper about the way the research is being done on the Open Research Online website. It’s interesting because it’s not about bandwidth, or latency for that matter it’s about how we generate innovation, particularly in the digital domain.

Amongst the other pieces that have surfaced this week is the study by Ellen J Helsper from the LSE: “The Emergence of a Digital Underclass, Digital Policies in the UK and Evidence for Inclusion” . The briefing emphasizes the emergence of a digital underclass and the “entrenched” exclusion of the most vulnerable groups with serious consequences:

“These individuals are those that rely most on the government services that are now becoming ‘digital by default’ and will continue to do so. Those who need access to services most, from where the biggest cost savings through the digitisation of services are supposed to come, are the least likely to take these up even when access is available.”

The shift of policy away from supporting the inclusion of the most excluded groups increases the risk for those groups and puts in jeopardy the potential for cost savings from the digitisation of services. The piece highlights the fact that the long tail of digitally excluded people is showing signs of the law of diminishing returns and while exclusion may be getting narrower, it is getting deeper and this is something that the current initiatives are not able to address. This is something I highlighted in a piece earlier this year.

There is a view at large that all we really need to do is get everybody on line and the problem will be solved; I’ve even heard it said that once the current generation has passed then the digital natives will be at home with the technology which they have experienced since birth. This is not the case, nor has it ever been. Andreas Whittam-Smith wrote a tantalising piece in the Independent last week in which he points out that the real promise of a knowledge economy will, in reality, only be realised by a few. The question is what do we do about it? While Whittam-Smith ponders the redistribution of wealth, perhaps through taxation and enforcement of the law he misses out some of the wider issues of social value that we will fail to realize if we don’t bring about a cultural change both in terms of policy and in terms of our expectations of what a knowledge society is able to bring. In short our knowledge economy is, once again, becoming divorced from our knowledge society.

I’ve said it before  and I’ll say it again, many times no doubt, unless you have a digital society then the impact of the digital economy will not be fully realized. William Gibson’s adage The future is already here it’s just not evenly distributed is becoming a metaphor for the British digital landscape and we ignore that prospect at our peril There was a time when content was king; I’ve used that phrase often enough myself but as with life the digital landscape moves on. A piece in The Guardian by Simon Jenkins; “Welcome to the post-digitalworld…” makes the point that “the web is not a destination in itself but a route map to somewhere real”. While I think this is a cynical piece it does have a positive message to it; just as in Gibson’s world society has literally moved on line we are seeing the potential for the web to bring us together off line. As Jaron Lanier says “You are not a gadget” you have choice.

All of this is important; why? I attended two distinctly different events this week but both concerned the same issue: healthcare. It’s no secret, we’re living longer and having to deal with everything that old age means in a world that has less resources. The first event was the Coprodnet North West in Stockport where I was able to listen to how the mental health support team together with Adult Social Care services is using co-production to support people in a challenging environment. The second was in my own local authority, Shropshire, where the emerging Health and Wellbeing Board brought together stakeholders in an appeal for ideas and information to inform the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment so that they could understand what was needed so that they could plan how to provide services. Behind these two approaches are two different cultures; the first seeks to empower the individual and to support them to support themselves; the second seeks to listen to the individual through support organisations and to help them by providing resources. It’s the difference between doing ‘with’ and doing ‘for’ and ‘to’.

Why is this relevant here? I have been encouraging interested people to look at a piece by Vidhya Alakeson and Simon Duffy called “Health Efficiencies, The Possible Impact of Personalisation in Healthcare”  in which they start to map the supply chains for social care into the future. It’s a powerful piece which stresses the importance of personal wealth, that which people have and which they can bring to bear in organizing their own care. The approach which depends on co-production improves quality of life and saves resources. It is the approach which is embedded in the mental health support team in Stockport. It is my belief that digital has a role to play for all of the reasons set out above. It has the power to inform, to connect, to crowd source, to provide monitoring and most of all to empower, to give people control.

In true James Burke Connections style  this takes us back to where we started; the innovations that will empower individuals in our knowledge society do not necessarily follow on from what we know now but in the world of infinite bandwidth and zero latency where we have faith in the empowerment of individuals who knows what we may find. In such a world where we recognise the potential of an empowered digital underclass to understand its own needs and to craft its own solutions then we start to realize to social value of a knowledge society and the benefits will accrue equitable to the many and not just the few.

It’s time to look again at the policies we have adopted and to un-tick some of the boxes in order to re-visit what we mean by digital inclusion, to understand the importance of a knowledge society and to think again about how we might realize the benefits.

Moving on or moving back?

The Guardian published a piece on the multiple deprivation indices available from the Office of National Statistics. While always keeping in mind the maxim of lies and damned lies plus the need to understand the quid pro quos that accompany any data set it gave me pause for thought.

One of the advantages of working cross sector is that you can see how applications in one can have a use in the other. Take Customer Relationship Management for instance. CRM is pretty  much a given in most private companies and in larger third sector organisations. I spent a lot of time in 2010 working with small to micro companies who were convinced that there IT issues were down to their lack of understanding of social media and, for reasons I could never quite fathom, a deep desire to learn to use Dreamweaver. Yet many of them hadn’t even got the most rudimentary CRM.

You would ask the same question repeatedly: who are your customers? The answer was often vague and involved gesticulations indicating a geographical area which sometimes involved areas of sky. The question that always focussed attention was: if you wanted to sell up tomorrow, what’s your business worth?  Once stock values and order book have been taken into account, what is it worth? Very often there was an accompanying discussion around why they needed to keep so much stock.

My point? One of the implications of personalised budgets and co-produced services is that front line organisations will need to get to know their customers. Was that a sharp intake of breath I heard? Was that a muttered chorus; “of course we know our customers, that’s the advantage of using service providers that are close to the community”. Well, yes it is but the days when there were block payments for fixed numbers of clients and performance measured in outputs have been going for a while, and now they’re well and truly gone.

The new world of “Big Society” and citizen choices is, in reality, one of fixed price interventions where individual clients are invoiced and performance is measured in outcomes. What does this mean in reality? It means that front line organisations will need to know which clients were marketed using which channels,  which clients responded to the marketing by accessing services, which clients were repeat customers and which were lost and why. What were the complimentary services delivered to those clients and what were the organisations that delivered them?

This is not going to reside in anybody’s head; if it does, then just like the small to micro businesses answers to questions will involve a vague waving of arms. The idea of going out to buy a copy of Sage CRM or subscribing to some cloud based service instead of using the Access database put together by someone’s nephew may seem anachronistic but the truth is that working smarter does not just mean spending an hour or two a day on a social media channel. It means leveraging the power of the data generated by an organisations activity to understand the client base.

Of course, as the Guardian piece demonstrated, there’s more data out there: there’s data published by national government, local government and other organisations and much of it is open. That means free to use if only we know what to do with it. I’ve speculated in the past about the kinds of interfaces that there need to be to enable third sector organisations and community groups to access open data and suggested that there needs to be an interface layer, a geek layer, that provided a new kind of expert; one that understood how to relate to communities and community groups but could apply a level of expertise to make open data available and relevant. A great post by Michelle Ide-Smith   inspired by work from Tim Davies, the Oxford based researcher who’s work I’ve followed for some time, speculated on the use of personae as a way of understanding the potential beneficiaries.

Slowly we are building a picture of how intelligent use of information technology can support the delivery of services in the new world of third sector commerce. Big Society thinking doesn’t just get us to focus on how we function as communities. The fact that it is underpinned by devastating public sector cuts that go as deep as traditional voluntary front line organisation means that those organisations that survive must work in a different way. They will have to learn not only how to think commercially but how to codify their knowledge in a way that enables the organisation to demonstrate its capacity at the same time as benefiting its clients. In the same way they will have to learn how to mine the publically available data to make themselves smarter and figure out ways in which they can make their own data open.

The world we live in is challenging the way we have done things for the a significant part of the last century, we can argue whether the pre Great War mentality is the right one for the 21st Century but that’s not going to get us through the here and now. Personally I think we’re heading in the wrong direction, backwards not forwards; but that’s for another blog another time.

Shropcamp Report

Shropcamp was a great success. It brought together people, not just of like minds but of shared curiosity and I am hopeful that the curiosity will spread. There is also a side benefit; for many this was their first ever unconference and I came away feeling that the format had found new friends. For those of us in a supporting role there was a great sense of anticipation at the start of the day. While a very busy Ben Proctor rushed around finalising everything from wifi login to coffee and biscuits we stood and wondered what people might make of things. We needn’t have worried, the room filled up, food was consumed, networking commenced and the unconference was underway.

My own session on The Geek Layer attracted a room full of curiosity. For some it was a maiden unconference session and it took a while for the idea to take hold, it’s not about the body at the front of the room – it’s about what the participants have to say. It didn’t take long and they were soon getting stuck into the issues. By lunchtime there wasn’t a maid to be found.

I went to three excellent sessions. Nicki Getgood and  Benjiw’s session on storytelling took an idea that’s close to my heart, personal stories and looked at how they can be cathartic but also a call to action. When we put real stories with open data we get new insights into the how people’s lives can be affected by what we do.

The session by Jon King on Open Data for Social Gaming was truly excellent; using QR tags and GIS data as part of the work of museums and archives in Shropshire as a way of enhancing experience was interesting but the possibilities of linking with things like bus routes and user generated content opened up all sorts of possibilities.

Dave Briggs talked about micro-participation how using the potential of the internet and social media could create a big impact from small contributions and hence make complexity manageable was a refreshing view of how local government could become accessible thus promoting participation – simples.

The whole day was brought together by Ben Proctor and Andy Mabbett who deserve a huge round of applause for a magnificent effort. The other big plus was meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. The experience of meeting people in the flesh whom you have only previously known through Twitter still amazes me; media is truly social in this way. So I have to finish by saying Hi to Jools Payne, Jan Minihane, Jennifer Deacon, Jane Edwards, Chris Pritchard, Fay Easton, Phil Oakley, Paul Masterman, Kevin Campbell-Wright, Roger Greenhalgh and Dawn O’Brien. There are those with whom I have had good conversations and haven’t listed here because you are too many but you all made it a great day.

I am hoping that this will become a vibrant community of interest which will drive the use of open data and social media in helping to engage and empower communities in rural areas such as Shropshire so that next year’s Shropcamp will be bigger yet and who knows, it may take on a wider rural participation.

A Holy Trinity


The Care Wrap


 On Friday Martha Lane-Fox Tweeted: “RT NewStatesman xmas issue: @Marthalanefox has agreed to be our celebrity subscriber of the week : HELP, not feeling v funny or inspired!”

Along with I have no idea how many others I put forward my suggestions: access to the knowledge society as a fundamental right not as a privilege and the imperative of including the most excluded as a principle of social justice and pragmatic sense. It’s easy for me. I’m not subject to a deadline, nor am I in the public eye and having to watch everything I say I just felt that the inspiration for what needed to be said was all around the digital inclusion champion.

In a time when the Neteratti have been debating the future of content accessed through pay walls the notion of an egalitarian knowledge society has seemed a long way away. I’ve never quite understood why it is that the proponents of a knowledge economy do not call for a knowledge society. There appears to be a deep seated belief that the knowledge economy can operate on the same model as the industrial economy and that the laws of scarcity and value will still apply. The truth is that individuals have the ability to add value to knowledge and it is from there that collaboration derives it economic and social power.

It’s very rare that I agree with Andrea Dimaio who writes a regular blog for Gartner on government. I have, on occasions, let off steam in response to some of the things he says but it’s just a rage against the storm. Last week he wrote about the short comings of President Obama’s Open Government Directive on transparency in government and highlighted that the citizen backchannel was missing from the plan. In his piece “US Open Government Directive is Disappointing”   he points out that the mechanism for agencies to listen to citizens is not only missing from the plan, it’s positively discouraged. How can government services learn if they aren’t listening?

Early in December I did a presentation to a Local Strategic Partnership on Digital Inclusion and its impact on the delivery of services to people who experience both social and digital exclusion. After the presentation I helped facilitate a short workshop so that participants could put forward points of view and a broad consensus of ideas could be taken forward and developed into potential project ideas. Everything was so disconnected. It was the same place, with the same clients and, broadly speaking, shared objectives; to improve lives and life chances, but there was no communication. This isn’t unusual, it happens and even when communications are in place it’s at such a strategic level that it still doesn’t join up the operational opportunities that could make a difference. This is not to say that it’s not happening somewhere, it just isn’t happening everywhere.

The context here is the biggest users of public sector provided services whether they’re provided direct or whether they’re commissioned from private sector companies, not for profits or voluntary sector providers. These are individuals experiencing long term worklessness, victims of domestic violence, children at risk, people not in education, employment or training, homeless individuals, addicts, ex-offenders, single parents under eighteen and older people, people with disabilities, adults with learning difficulties, adults using mental health services and let’s not forget carers – young and old. I’m  not talking about people who write to Members of Parliament or people who are concerned about street lights not working I’m probably not even talking about people who are likely to vote. I’m talking about a huge group of people who use public sector services more than any of us reading this blog.

Let us be clear. It’s not as if people in this group have the same choices. They cannot choose, they have to take what they are given. As the biggest users of public services they are also the greatest cost to the public sector both in terms of the amount of resource they need and in terms of their capacity to contribute; let alone the question of social equity or the value that people who are excluded might bring if they were included. So, it is in everybody’s interest to enable people in this group, to build capacity amongst the members of this group and to improve their lives and their life chances; which is what digital inclusion is supposed to help to do.

These groups of individuals experiencing difficulties are not, as some might think, disempowered. They have very potent personal networks which help them to survive and to meet many of their needs. These networks also help them to deal with officialdom, organise benefits and solve day to day problems of child care, debt, care and so on. Not all of them, not every individual or family but many of them. The network of friends and trusted agents is powerful and provides a lifeline. That’s why friends and trusted agents are the first layer of care around the individual. Then there are the neighbourhood groups, the voluntary organisations, the national charities and then the statutory bodies. They all form a care wrap around those individuals and families who experience the greatest levels of deprivation and the greatest levels of difficulty in our society.

All of these people have a story to tell. Stories about the way they experience the services that they receive and the ways in which they access those stories. This leads to what I call the holy trinity of service design. The local partnerships who commission services, the third sector who deliver some of those services and have the knowledge of the communities in which they work and finally, empowered communities who have the confidence and the channels to tell their stories.

Paul Webster from NAVCA highlighted this after the DDI09 conference stating that carers and trusted agents were a route to engagement and also a pathway to digital inclusion – YES. By enabling the individual and listening to their story we can improve the services we deliver and let individuals find their way to add value to the knowledge in society. As Leadbeater would say, we can do with and not do to.

This brings me back to something else Martha Lane-Fox said earlier this week

“@cyberdoyle i think govt shld be worrying abt making sure everyone has internet skills + access to proper quality 2mb 1st + superfast 2nd

I have to say, I disagreed. Next Generation Access should not be predicated on a universal service offering and an individual’s right to participate in the knowledge society. The two things are not related, well, at least they shouldn’t be. The right of the individual to participate should be fundamental; the infrastructure to support that participation should be incidental. With that thought I think that the digital inclusion champion will have lots to tell the readers of the New Statesman and I look forward to reading the result.