Overcoming the 50 obstacles at #localgovcamp

LocalGovCampI spent a fantastic day yesterday in Birmingham Fazely Studios at #localgovcamp – an unConference exploring local government use of the internet. I offered to lead a session based around the ‘50 Obstacles to Open Government‘ which I jotted down a while back  – and to host a discussion sharing tips and ideas for overcoming these obstacles. The notes that I took during the session are on the 50 Obstacles wik (and if you took part – please do add your own notes…), and below are a few quick reflections on the session and where the 50 Obstacles list goes now…

Top down,  bottom up, sideways?

I wrote down the 50 Obstacles based on my experience of working with front-line youth service practitioners through action research and a recent action learning set on youth participation and social network sites. They are challenges as seen from perspective of staff wanting to engage with social media, but without neccessarily having responsibility for driving forward the use of social media across an organisation.

However, the #localgovcamp session drew a wider range of participants – including service managers, web teams and more. Quickly discussions turned to the need for vision from senior management and significant cultural change as key to driving social media adoption. Vision and leadership are important. The importance of styles of leadership in organisational change is something I’ve written about before. But when it comes to social media adoption – there is a strong case for recognising the many different possible approaches. And for recognising that local authorities are collections of diverse and different teams and services with ever more blurred boundaries – not monolithic entities with a single form, function or direction .

Not only is social media adoption something that can be driven by bottom up ‘nibbling’ away at problems (as David Wilcox put it), or by top down strategic programmes, but it is also enabled by social media moving sideways – from services that find ways to adopt and use social technology sharing their stories and experiences with the rest of an organisation.

Edit PagePractical Problem Solving

You can find many of the tips people shared for overcoming hurdles over here – but I was particularly struck by the dialogue around experimentation with social media – and sharing examples of social media use and success to help managers and teams make sense of what they might be able to do.

So – I took 15 minutes out later in the day at #localgovcamp to develop the wiki page for obstacle 48: “Managers do not support staff exploration and experimentation with Web 2.0” and to add a collection of links to sources of information about what other authorities have been doing with social media. And I quickly discovered  there are a lot of great examples out there. Take a look at the wiki page here and see if you can add to it…

We only had 15 minutes in our #localgovcamp session to share tips for overcoming the obstacles, and there are still at least 4o obstacle pages which right now only list the problems and no solutions. However, they are all wiki pages, which anyone is welcome to dive in and edit to share their learning, links and insights.

Where next?

I learnt a lot throughout #localgovcamp about organisational change and social media adoption – and I’ll be reflecting more on the insights gained over the coming weeks. However – hopefully there are also some strong next steps coming up to help turn 50 Obstacles, into ’50 things that use to give us trouble… but we’ve sorted them all out now’ – including a possible session at Reboot Britain. But more on that later…

Update: Just as I was about to post this, David Wilcox upload this clip he took just after the session…

Confidentiality and blogging as reflective practice?

Reflective PracticeLast year I wrote a blog post on ‘7 Reasons Why Youth Workers Should Blog’. Since then a few blogs from statutory sector youth workers have made it onto the web, but not all that many.

One of the strongest argument I can see for encouraging more youth blog blogging is the central role that ‘reflective practice’ should play in youth and community development work. In my own work I’ve found blogging to a key tool for my own reflective learning – with the added benefit of making it into shared learning – where I can benefit from the insights of others who read and comment on posts, either via blog comments, or face-to-face.

However, a recent e-mail from a youth worker about the ‘7 reasons why youth workers should blog’ post raised questions about what to do when online reflective practice runs up against issues of confidentiality:

[Blogging] is something we have thought about, for the reasons you listed, but have always come up against the concern over confidentiality. I don’t mean the obvious concern of revealing identities or specific case details, but the general concern of talking about real life young people without being able to check the content is OK with them, or even just simply running the risk that they may recognise themselves in what is being said and feel violated or unhappy about being talked about.

…one of the young people who sits on our advisory board made the point that someone thinking of coming to us, who went onto our website and saw us talking about the work done with other young people could be put off as they would think ‘they could talk about me or my case if i use this service’.

As most of the work I do is with groups, and not relating to very sensitive issues, this isn’t an issue I’ve often run up against directly in work with young people – but challenges of reflective learning and confidentiality are certainly something I’ve come up against as an independent consultant. Here are some of the principles I’ve tried to use:

Share general points of learning, not specifics
Whilst I often try and use a particular story to give context to a blog post, part of my reflective blogging is about drawing out general point from the experience. If I start writing a narrative blog post, and it strays into content which could be confidential, or which I’m not sure should be immediately public, then I’ll often change the headline to one more general, and rewrite the post to draw out the point of learning – rather than the origin of that learning.

No allusions
With a few exceptions (and only for organisations) I’m either writing explicitly about someone or something, confident that I either have consent or that I am happy for the subject to know about and read the blog post in question.

Allusions to people or situations so that people could work out what something is about with enough background information are out.

Wait a while

Sometimes even a general learning point can be problematic if people involved will be able to work out the situation it is drawn from – and if this reveals information that people involved may wish is not shared widely.

In these cases, sometimes a blog post may end up in the draft folder for a while, either for the point of learning to be combined in with another post, or to be posted in the future – when sharing it isn’t such a sensitive issue.

Some things stay in the drafts
There are some posts which it is useful to write for purposes of reflective learning. But which it is not right to share (in most cases on this blog because they’re just not interesting enough…!)

Respect & constructive comment
I try not to blog anything which I wouldn’t be happy discussing with the people involved in the blog post – and to blog on the spirit of constructive comment rather than ranting or criticism.

In the particular case of setting up a blog for a youth service – it may be worth asking whether an organisational public blog is the right platform for all the reflective learning of practitioners. There are of course, 6 other reasons at least for youth work blogging

How do you deal with the tensions between blogging on sensitive topics – and benefit from the shared learning potential of reflective blogging?

(Here endeth my blog post about blogging for 2009)

EU Kids Online – E-safety? Just get on with it! (And don’t forget opportunity)

[Summary: Notes and reflections from the launch conference of EU Kids Online research]

“Can we just get on with it”. Less talking and more action on child internet safety was the pretty clear message from Tanya Byron responding to the research recommendations at the launch of the EU Kids Online research today. But Tanya also made clear that the action should not be reactive, moral panic driven responses to internet use by young people – making the bold (but essential) statement that “We cannot and must-not build an environment for children to develop within which is built around what we see through the eyes of the most vulnerable child”.

There has been a lot of talk in sessions and coffee breaks today about the need for a more naunced approach to the often moral-panic driven debates about risk – not least with a great input from Janis Wolak reflecting on the different discourses that researchers are intentionally, or unintentionally constructing around the internet and young people. Crucially Janis highlighted the difference between the claim that

(a) The internet has risks

and the claim that:

(b) The internet promotes risks

The discourse often shifts from (a) to (b). But it’s hard to find research which backs this up. Janis encouraged us to consider whether the working hypothesis that appears to underly much work that “the internet amplifies risks” should have a priviledged place over alternative hypothesis such as “the internet can act as a buffer to young people experiencing harms”.

There have been many other insights shared today, most of which I’ve not managed to capture whilst taking notes, so I’ll mainly give a nod to the abstracts and papers from the conference available here – and share just one or two ideas or bits of intformation shared during sessions that I found particularly interesting…

  • In presenting recommendations from the EU Kids Online research, Sonia Livingstone made an interesting contribution to the media literacy debate – arguing that it’s important to keep ‘promoting safety’ as distinct from ‘media literacy building’.

    As I understood the point, Sonia suggested that media literacy programmes often arise because of a recognition that new technology is complex, tricky to regulate, and hard to legislate for when it is international and operating across borders. The new technologies create place new burdens on users to manage their own safety – and media literacy efforts similary ‘outsource’ safety to users.  Some users may not want to, or may not be able to, deal with these new burdens – and hence promoting safety as well as literacy becomes key.

  • Shirley Atkinson has explored how peer-education can play a role in e-safety education in schools in Plymouth and the South-West, with lots of lessons and learning that informal educators could draw upon.
  • The  Youth Protection Roundtable have been doing fascinating work to explore the need for systems that are ‘safer by design’ – and have a toolkit (that I’ve yet to read in depth I’ll admit) with an overview of techncal and process work on online youth protection.

And I thought it may be helpful to add links to few resources and other blog posts I’ve been working on which overlap with some of the focus in the EU Kids Online project:

And also – the Youth Work Online Network, Connected Generation unConference on the 11th July 2009, and the Network Particatipation space are all spaces of ongoing dialogue about positive work with young people online – which builds on safe-and-sound foundations.

One Page Guide to Google Groups E-mail Lists

One Page GuideEven with all the amazing social web tools available out there – e-mail remains a key communication tool for most people.

For many committees, projects and associations – an e-mail list has a lot to offer as a co-ordination and collaboration tool. This morning I’ve been working on preparing a web presence for the DFID Civil Society Organisations Youth Working Group (a group of development agencies and youth charities focussing working with the Department for International Development to promote youth engagement and the role of young people in development), who are currently only online via the Youth Guidance Project. Because the Youth Working Group is essentially a network of organisations and individuals, with no permenant secretariat or central body – we’re building the whole web presence around e-mail lists for the central group and it’s sub-groups – set up to be open to anyone who wants to get involved. Content from the e-mail lists will be fed via RSS ito a website based on DokuWiki (a fantastically flexible and easy to use wiki).

This set-up will involve the chair of each sub-group managing their own e-mail list, and all the members or associates of the Youth Working Group understanding how an e-mail list works.

So – I took the opportunity to create a ‘One Page Guide to E-mail Lists with Google Groups‘.

You can download the PDF here, view the full thing below or on Scribd, and get the original to adapt for your own use in it’s original Open Office format, or MS Word if you prefer.

P.S. A slight tweak in the design this time, copying an idea from Amanda‘s adapted versions of the One Page Guides for 2Morro festival (under ‘Get Involved’).

Trying to explain network effects & motivations for using social media tools

picture-101I’m putting together a series of short guides for different clients on how to use social media tools in shared learning and online outreach. These will be a mash-up of my existing practical One Page Guides with a bit more theory on effective use of social tools.

One of the important bits of theory I want to try and get across is around network effects. Often the reasons given for using a given social media tool focus on the ways they are used once a network effect has kicked in: once, for example, lots of people have started following a Twitter account, or once a network of residents has grown big. However, when you start using a social media tool – particularly if your interests are in sectors other than technology (community music for example) – there is often a slow lead in before the network effect starts generating dividends from the time spent using the tool. Thus, it can be important to offer a different motivations model for using new social media tools.

You will probably notice, from the paragraph above, that I’ve not found a great way to communicate this point.. and I would really value your input.

Below is what I’ve written for one of the guides so far, but it’s much in need of a re-write. How could this be better said? Or should I be saying something else entirely?

Being open to the network effect

Many social media tools have a network effect. For each extra person who starts using them they become more useful (for example, the first telephone landlines had a big network effect – when only one person had a fixed line, it wasn’t all that useful a thing to own!). When you start using a new tools you may not have a ready-made network to join in on. If you focus on making new social media tools work well for you in your existing day-to-day work, then when the network effect kicks in it’s an added bonus.

For example, with social bookmarking, you can switch from saving your favourite links on your own computer (or scribbling down websites you must go back to look at on little scraps of paper), to using delicious to save them in a public online space. This is useful to you – as it means you can find your favourite links from any computer.

But it also brings a possible network effect. You might find people with shared interests who have bookmarked the same links as you. Or you may start to find a shared ‘tag’ to add to your bookmarks which helps you share information with an informal network of other users of the service.

If you start using a new tool only for the network effect, and you expect to get instant benefit from it – you may be disappointed. Networks are like communities, they take time to develop and grow. However, if you use a new social tool and weave it into your day-to-day practice, then you are sure to find a new connections, ideas and opportunities emerge over time.