Six Months and What Has Changed?

Six months since I last published a post. It’s not that I haven’t been writing I’ve just been writing for other people. As times got harder and the 17% of excluded people became the preserve of JCP and Digital by Default I guess I gave up; there is a lot to be said for the mundane, it gives us time to stop being angry and to withdraw to a wider perspective.

A piece from the World Economic Forum caught my eye via Flipboard. Under the catchy title “How will the digital landscape evolve as laws, tech and people change?” You can watch it here:

Chaired by Robert F Smith of Vista Equity Partners the speakers were: John T Chambers of Cisco, Piere Nanterme of Accenture, Liu Jiren of Neusoft and Max Levchin of Paypal and Yelp fame now CEO of Affirm.

The discussion was lively and interesting so I do commend it to you: it covered ideas such as 100% digital homes and businesses, think digital first, digital skills, interactive education and digital security and trust. I don’t think I particularly disagreed with anything that they said although a lot of it was said from the perspective of the business bubble. What did become apparent was the acceptance that the world will be in two halves: the hyper well educated, engaged, skilled and employed then there will be the rest and the rest will consume.

I have written before about the assumptions that are associated with consumption in the digital arena. Because we consume in a digital domain we are assumed to be included and not to need any channels for production – of content, of opinion, of voice. This was the biggest flaw with the English government’s digital inclusion strategy: if we were consuming then we must be engaged and included.

Two particular comments stand out for me; the first from Max Levchin that “the person at the centre of the cloud knows more about people in the cloud than the people at the edge know”; for him this was a networking opportunity, there was a gap there that needs to be filled. To my mind technology always moves to the edge if the power resides at the centre doesn’t this create a tension rather than an opportunity? If I have the knowledge do I want to share it and compromise my trading position? For me it also generates a technology question: the cloud exists because processing and storage demands are too great to reside at the edge: what happens when edge storage, processing capacity and network connectivity drives the capability to the edge? Will we want to reclaim our identities and what will we have to do in order to make that happen?

The second from Pierre Nanterme who said that there was a need for skills in data analysis and that there should be a public private partnership in order to create the necessary skills in the workforce. I have a saying: never underestimate the importance of skills but they are not the answer. Think back to the visit of Eric Schmidt to England in 2010/11 where he convinced the coalition government that what we needed were people who could programme (not people who could communicate). The It curriculum was torn up over night, every child in full time education was presented with a Rasberry Pi and we set ourselves to programming. Now, when those children are making the transition from primary to secondary education or from secondary to higher we hear the demand is for analytical skills, it’s data scientists we want. I have had some association with education since 1974 one way or another and the complaints of lack of skills from the commercial world have existed for all of that time. It is a view of education that needs to change; education is for the individual not industry and the pathway to work needs to be such that the formation of the individual takes priority and the skills follow – not the other way around.

My comments alone will hopefully suggest that this is a session worth watching so give it a go and let’s see what you think.


“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: . I don’t know Eddie but he has a blog 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: . Usman Haque also has an impressive CV he is a founding partner of Umberellium , founder of the Internet of Things data infrastructure and community platform 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.

Penval’s Last Post

If you’re like me you probably have two, three or even more books on the go at any one time. It’s a character failing I guess; the inability to sustain concentration on a single thing for more than a short while. That said, I’m quite happy to flit from one to the other spending an hour or so on one then putting it to one side and spending half an hour on another. I have four on the go at the moment:

“Umbrella” by Will Self is like a babushka doll, it peels back history starting from a woman’s incarceration in a Victorian mental institution in the mid twentieth century. Having personal experience of caring for someone who spent time in such an institution during the early seventies this book triggers vivid memories and I have to put it down for a while and then go back to it; it is both disturbing and addictive.

I move from that to “Value & Worth: Creating New Markets in the Digital Economy” by Irene Ng. This is one of those books that provides multiple “light bulb” moments as it analyses the way in which the digital economy works; value is redefined and we begin to re-think what we mean by co-creation and co-production. It has led me to re-visit and re-evaluate the work of thinkers like Clay Shirky right back to E V Hippel and L Leydesdorff.

In similar vein I’m also reading “Who Owns the Future” by Jarond Lanier. I’m a big fan of Lanier even though I find his style irritating and “You Are Not a Gadget” should be essential reading for anybody in the digital inclusion arena. In his latest book he looks at how the Internet is becoming a driver of inequality by shifting power to a minority with the willing participation of the masses. This is the dark side of big data; it raises significant questions about the political forces that drive the Internet and highlights the shifting influence of the middle classes.

All of the above are e-books, the last one “Traces Remain” by Charles Nicholl is a hard back given to me by my son for Christmas. It’s a series of essays which examine the insights we can gain into some of the lesser known people in history (principally late Tudor and early Stuart) who had an influence on better known characters such as Shakespeare but whose record is contained in fragments. It’s a great book at bedtime and it provides a satisfying break from the digital world and yet it still has relevance because we all leave traces in our on line world it’s just that our information legacy doesn’t lie there to be discovered instead it’s farmed, in real time for the benefit of the owners of Lanier’s Siren Servers.

Why am I writing this down? I’m sure that those of you reading this will have a list of books equally as interesting, if not more so. Back in November 2012 I wrote a blog post which I called “Literacy, Coproduction and Sharing: It’s what digital inclusion should be”. In it I noted that I had written 57 Blog posts since 2008 – roughly one a month – and this in turn was my personal commentary on Digital Britain. I realised that I had changed; my views on the digital divide were not what they had been in 2008 when I had eschewed the value of skills and the need of the masses to get engaged for the sake of some sort of brave new world. Re-reading those 57 posts I detected a growing cynicism on my part because when I looked around the world appeared to be where it had been in 2008. We appeared to be using the same deficit models as our starting point and we were measuring outcomes in terms of people’s ability to consume rather than people’s ability to influence and organize.

When this deficit model of inclusion looked at against the views of Lanier and Ng has to be seen as, at best, well meaning but wrong. That doesn’t mean that skills and social and shopping don’t have a place; it means that we are failing to question why we are doing this in the first place. Peter Thiel from the Founders Fund said “We wanted flying cars and we got 140 characters”. We constantly hear that we don’t have enough innovators, we don’t have enough entrepreneurs and yet we encourage a society of passive consumption. Personally I don’t think it’s something to shout about when we in the UK are the biggest on line shoppers in the world. We should be worried, we should be looking to change that; instead we strive to get the final 17% of “digitally excluded” people into the same digital cul-de-sac as the rest of us.

So I, for one, decided to move on and I’m leaving Penval behind. In the future I will focus on those technologies that I think will make a difference: 3D printing, the cloud, everything in software, shifting production to the edge, the Internet of Things. I will also focus on the digital detriment: those things that I feel work against the common good and not for it, I want to highlight those technologies that empower people, which give a voice that has to be heard, that supports people and recognises their contribution. People are not a free data feed for the “fire hose”.

Hopefully my output will continue at one per month minimum and in another four year’s time I can look back with less cynicism and see a digitally included world  of producers, participants and activists.

Dear Don Tapscott

On Twitter @cyberdoyle recently re-tweeted a Chinese proverb; “The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” I’m pleased to say that as well as  @cyberdoyle  I have followed Don Tapscott @dtapscott on Twitter for some time. I like his speculative thinking and his willingness to consider as possible those things which make others roll their eyes and shake their heads. I don’t have to agree with everything he says, but I’m happy to explore the possibilities.

I was particularly struck by his recent piece on crowd sourced healthcare.  The piece took me back to the launch of NDS, Novell’s Directory Services when I was shown a system to let people control their own data; all of it, everything, from birth to the grave. Nothing belonged to the State, to the Health Services or to Education it was controlled by the individual. Of course, it was underpinned by NDS, Novell Directory Services.

Times have changed, technology is different but the desire for ownership of personal data remains and we’re still not there yet.  Don Tapscott’s video presentation goes one step further and envisages a situation where not only do we have access to our data but we can crowd source solutions for ourselves by sharing experiences.

Co-production of services is not a new idea in the UK but it’s relatively recent. CoProdnet is an academic network which brings together experts in coproduction  . Together with the National Endowment for Science and Technology and the Arts, NESTA  they ran a series of workshops early in 2011; I was privileged to attend the one in Manchester where I heard a compelling presentations by Anna Coote from the New Economics Foundation . Her message was clear; we can’t continue to grow the economy to meet the social and health needs of people because the economy is resource dependent and we don’t have limitless resources. So what do we do? We grow social capital; we build on the potential in the relationships and the capacity that exists within our communities.

Current legislation in England seeks to shift power from the core of national government down to the lowest, most appropriate level. The legislation in the form of the “Localism Bill” currently going through parliament and the Open Public Services White Paper currently out for consultation is part of a raft of measures aimed at letting communities take responsibility for their own services and their own environment. These measures underpin what the Government calls the “Big Society”. Depending on where you sit on the cynicism spectrum this could be seen as a way of cutting budgets behind a thin veil of token empowerment or a means of centralising power still further by removing all but the necessary vestiges of regional and local government. If we are to continue to find ways to meet the needs of our communities, whatever the motivation, then co-production will sit at the core of what we do.

My own interest is the role of digital inclusion and its potential to engage, empower and enable political participation. In the realm of co-production I can see the benefit of social networks as a means of connecting, sharing and collaborating. That is a necessary capacity to support social capital in a modern environment. I also have concerns about the exclusiveness of the digital world. Terms like “digital natives” and “silver surfers” hide a deepening exclusion that I fear encompasses those who are the biggest users of our social services and have the biggest needs in our communities. The programmes of digital engagement that have operated in England have had great success and we have learned much along the way about how to engage the hard to reach. However, we have to face up to the law of diminishing returns as the same amount of resource engages fewer and fewer people over time. While the digital exclusion gap gets narrower the exclusion grows deeper. I have a view, not yet tested, which I discussed in the European Journal epractice Volume 12_7_0 that there is a class element to digital exclusion that does not take into account the memes of the most excluded in society and that we seek to address that exclusion from our own perspective when we should be doing so from theirs. We should look to the roots of co-production in Brazil to understand what this means. Only when we see the world through their eyes and empower them to coproduce their own solutions will we finally see the digital divide disappear.

Which returns us to Don Tapscott’s thinking on improvements to health care through crowd sourcing. I recommend that you watch it, wherever in the world you are. Rather than consider the barriers, of which there are many, think about the potential and what we need to do to get there within our lifetime.

Place Based Social Innovation

On Wednesday 4th May 2011 @Coprodnet asked: What would a place-based social innovation infrastructure (people-relationships, places, processes tech) look like? For what they are worth these are my thoughts…..

I have been known to bang on and on about an article written in 2006 by John field who was Deputy Principal of the University of Stirling at the time where he worked as Director of the Division of Academic Innovation and Continuing Education. The piece in Observatory Pascal was entitled “Social Networks, Innovation and Learning: Can Policies for Social Capital Promote both Economic Dynamism and Social Justice?” It had a profound impact on my thinking that has lasted until today. Field describes a situation in which learning communities develop social capital and communities with social capital are innovative communities.

In traditional terms we could describe a community of place where people have shared values and an interest in the wider community. In 2006 I was working on a rural community broadband project and part of that was community learning. I presented a paper on it at a conference in 2006 which can still be found here: which has the inglorious title of “Testbed Learning Communities in Craven Arms. Building confidence through meeting locally expressed demand by aggregating need and sourcing local supply. A pre-requisite to digital literacy.”  The key argument of the piece was that bringing together people with shared needs and then sourcing local solutions made it possible to solve a problem, in this case the need for learning.

The other thing that is needed is a gathering place. A venue where people come together naturally and the majority will identify as being an accepted point of contact. Some communities will have more than one but in our experience it was often a community centre but sometimes a pub or a post office or a village shop, sometimes it was a church or a church hall the common feature was the broad acceptance by the community that this was a place where they were comfortable and where activity could take place.

The question of what brought people together and sourced supply to meet demand was an interesting one and we did work on the role of community brokers. These were trusted agents and not always the people that you would expect. Often they had no official role and frequently functioned outside of the official lines of supply, occasionally they functioned despite them. These were people who knew people, who had a friend of a friend; very often they had knowledge that was just one step ahead of the person seeking a solution. The key thing was that they could identify the source of answers or bring people together to affect a solution; they also had access to the gathering places.

With these elements it became possible to see Social Capital in action, bridging relationships and bringing people together with a common purpose. While this is a somewhat stylized view of community action, missing out the in-between steps which involved identifying the problem or need, the gossip leading to the conversation which leads to the introduction and then the negotiation, essentially these are the parts for place based social innovation. It would be wrong to underestimate the complexity of innovation processes. The classic identify, analyse, generate, test, implement and review cycle misses the mark and Leydesdorff’s triple helix model which includes geography, politics the economy and the knowledge infrastructure is probably closer to the reality.

Regarding technology this has to be pervasive: it has to be continuous, high speed and mobile. The Knight Foundation has produced some interesting work on the information needs of communities. McKinsey & Company has published interesting ideas on how informatics can engage citizens and nonprofits in problem solving . Most persuasive is the work of Institute for the Future on “The future of cities, information and inclusion” Where high level mapping impacts downwards to a realm where personal sensing informs decision making. The key messages here are that the “tech” should empower by giving people the information to solve problems from their perspective. Place based social innovation is done “by” the people “with” the people not “to” the people or “for” them.

So we end up with a list of sorts for what place based social innovation looks like:

  • Shared Values – knowledge
  • A gathering place – shared space
  • Community Brokers – shared information
  • Social Capital – shared capacity
  • A realistic expectation of innovation as a process
  • Pervasive, accessible, mobile infrastructure
  • A desire to empower – shared politics

The Clue Train Manifesto says “Human communities are based on discourse – on human speech about human concerns” That is as good a starting point as any.

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.

Democracy is Communal

When those of us engaged in the bottom up, democracy space complain bitterly about those in the top down democratic organisations perhaps we should remind ourselves about political mandate and statutory function. Hierarchical local government organisations will focus on those things for which they can be seriously held to account: a vulnerable youngster left outside a school because their transport didn’t arrive, an elderly patient left lying on the floor of their home because the care worker didn’t turn up or a child at risk not taken into care and being seriously harmed. While the day to day irritants of life that result from the inefficiencies or failures of local government cause the majority of us the maximum grief the local authority will focus its efforts on the biggest users of its services (with good reason) and we will be left raging against the storm.

None of this is to say that local government shouldn’t be responsive. Nor should it mean that those with the political mandate to deliver those services in a particular way should be allowed to hide behind the wall of officialdom. Far from it, but the conversations are taking place in different spaces. What then are the dynamics that change the spaces? Social Media should not be about instant referendums; precisely how they implement the “Public Reading” proposals outlined for the Conservative Conference will be interesting. Social Media should be about conversations between individuals in communities and the creation of consensus. A political understanding arises from the conversation and it is the consensus of the crowd that moves us to a place where we can influence government. We may have to use the other channels, the official ones, but we do so with the strength and conviction of a community. Once a consensus exists it also becomes a powerful vehicle for consultation and then the top down space starts to merge into the bottom up.

I finally had time recently to read some of “Rebooting America” the collection of essays put together by Allison Fine, Micah L. Sifry, Andrew Rasiej and Josh Levy. The very first piece by Zach Exley struck a chord with me; “Democracy is communal”, a theme taken up by David Weinberger in his piece on Echo Chambers where he says that conversation shapes democracy.

Social media exists in different conversational spaces. Where you are having the conversation will dictate the kind of response you get. Here, the conversations are where I think they exist, I hope that others will put them elsewhere and articulate their case for so doing.


Participation can be democratic or it can be subversive. It can be bottom up or it can be top down. Local government exists in the democratic, top down space. Social Media can exist in the democratic bottom up space. What matters is that we understand that the conversation spaces are more varied. We rarely think about astroturfing but in the political influencing stakes it’s a powerful weapon. In the on line world hackers can make their voice heard in very subversive ways. How should we consider the Googlearchy? If the voices of communities cannot be found, they cannot be heard, does this make the Googlearchy a subversive force? Where does the power really lie?

“Talk About Local 09” Unconference on Saturday 3rd October wasn’t Woodstock but it was an event. Excellent workshops and spontaneous presentations with lots of passion. Social Reporting is defining itself as a particular group that is demanding a status in respect of mainstream media. There are sound, practical reasons for this as well as an expressed desire for legitimacy. The day also reflected the other side of Social Media, the participatory, activist, cohesive communities side. The elements that make up these communities of practise can complain bitterly about the institutional deafness that local authorities exhibit when confronted with their failings. It may just be that the conversations are happening in the wrong place. The power of social software in a networked world to build social capital, articulate consensus and create innovative solutions means that this could, some would say should, become one of the means to achieve the duty to inform, involve and consult because through consensus it empowers communities. That being the case then the digital inclusion agenda becomes even more crucial if we are to involve the biggest users of locally delivered services.