Category Archives: Innovation

Exploring the incentives for adopting ICT innovation in the fight against corruption

[Summary: Invite for comments on a new draft report exploring incentives for ICT use in the fight against corruption]

Back in January, in response to a blog post by Doug Hadden, I wrote down a few reflections on the incentives for technology for transparency in developing countries. That led to a conversation with Silvana Fumega and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre about a possible briefing note on the topic, which quickly turned into a full paper – designed to scope out issues for donors and governments to consider in looking at supporting ICT-based anti-corruption efforts, particularly in developing countries. Together with Silvana, I’ve been working on a draft over the last few months – and we’ve just placed a copy online for comments.

I’ll be blogging sections of the draft over the coming week, and you can find the full draft as a Google Document with comments enabled (until 18th November 2013) here.

Here’s the introduction, setting out the focus of the paper:

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) driven initiatives are playing an increasingly central role in discourses of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. The Internet and mobile phones are widely hailed as powerful tools in the fight against corruption. From mobile phone based corruption crowd-sourcing platforms, to open government data portals providing citizens with access to state datasets, technology-centric interventions are increasingly attracting both political attention and donor funding flows. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) declaration, launched in 2011, commits the 60 OGP member states to “…seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable” (Open Government Partnership, 2011). In an analysis of the first action plans published by OGP members (Global Integrity, 2012), e-government and open data related commitments were markedly the most common made, illustrating the prominence given to ICTs in creating more open and accountable government.

However, the ‘sales pitch’ for governments to adopt ICTs is far broader than their anti-corruption applications, and the fact that a government adopts some particular technology innovation does not necessarily mean that its potential corruption-reducing role will be realised. Criticisms have already been levelled at open data portals that give an initial appearance of government transparency, whilst either omitting any politically sensitive content, or remaining, in practice, inaccessible to the vast majority of the population; and there are numerous examples to be found of crowd-sourcing platforms designed to source citizen feedback on public services, or corruption reports, languishing with just a handful of reports, or no submissions made for months on end (Bailard et. al., 2012; Brown, 2013) Yet, as Strand argues, “while ICT is not a magic bullet when it comes to ensuring greater transparency and less corruption…it has a significant role to play as a tool in a number of important areas” (Strand, 2010). The challenge is neither to suppose that ICTs will inevitably drive positive change, nor to ignore them as merely high-tech distractions. Rather, there is a need to look in detail at the motivations for ICT adoption, and the context in which ICTs are being deployed, seeking to understand the ways in which strategic and sustainable investments can be made that promote the integrity of public services, and the capacity of officials, citizens and other stakeholders to secure effective and accountable governments.

In this issue paper we consider the reasons that may lead governments to adopt anti-corruption related ICT innovations, and we look at the evidence on how the uptake and use of these ICTs may affect their impacts. In doing so, we draw upon literature from a range of fields, including open government, transparency and anti-corruption, e-government and technology for transparency, and we draw in speculation from our observations of the open government field over the last five years. To ground our argument, we offer a range of illustrative case studies that show some of the different kinds of ICT interventions that governments are engaging with.

Comments? Questions? Add your notes on the Google Doc version of this draft here.

References

Bailard, C., Baker, R., Hindman, M., Livingston, S., & Meier, P. (2012). Mapping the Maps: A meta-level analysis of Ushahidi and Crowdmap.

Brown, G. (2013). Why Kenya’s open data portal is failing — and why it can still succeed | Opening Parliament Blog Post. Retrieved from http://blog.openingparliament.org/post/63629369190/why-kenyas-open-data-portal-is-failing-and-why-it

Global Integrity. (2012). So What’s In Those OGP Action Plans, Anyway? Global Integrity Blog. Retrieved from http://globalintegrity.org/blog/whats-in-OGP-action-plans

Open Government Partnership. (2011). Open Government Declaration (pp. 1–2).

Strand, C. (2010). Introduction. In C. Strand (Ed.), Increasing transparency and fighting corruption through ICT: empowering people and communities (Vol. 8). SPIDER. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(66)90013-4

The Digital Edge – Nominet Trust announce new funding challenge

[Summary: New funding opportunity from Nominet Trust, shaped by messages from the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration]

The Nominet Trust have just announced a new £2m funding challenge focussed on support for young people. Here is how they describe it:

Nominet Trust is launching a programme of social investment to address the challenges faced by young people in participating socially and economically with their communities. This call for applications aims to seek out new approaches to using digital technology that re-design ways of supporting young people. We’re looking to invest in partners and ideas that address the challenges we have identified, and look forward to working with you to do so

A number of the areas of interest in the challenge have been shaped through the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration which David Wilcox, Alex Farrow and I have been working on for Nominet Trust over April and May: seeking out key messages on opportunities and approaches for digital technology to be used supporting young people’s economic and social engagement in communities. The four areas the challenge looks to address (headings are from Nominet, reflections are my own) are:

  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes going beyond surface solutions to find new spaces for effective innovation. Our exploration highlighted the plural ‘causes’ is important: there is often not one root cause to be addressed, but a diversity of issues needing a diversity of approaches. Roots spread out underground, so as we dig we need to explore multiple pathways and many spaces for innovation.

  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagementMany of the models for youth engagement, or offering support to young adults, were developed in a pre-Internet era and haven’t really been updated, save from digitizing a few processes here and there. Looking at how digital technology has changed the context of young people’s lives (whilst many of the concerns of youth and young adulthood remain pretty consistent) can highlight opportunities for new forms of support and social and economic engagement for young people – not driven primarily by a desire to save money or streamline, but by an interest in making engagement more effective in an Internet age.

  • Renegotiating professional practiceI’m really happy to see this element in the challenge, as it provides a great opportunity for practitioners in Youth Work, Community Development and other youth-supporting professions to put forward projects that start from their professional values, but consider how these can be applied in new contexts. In a recent digital youth work workshop in Helsinki with Verke, CFDP and YouthPart, we started to sketch out a shared understanding of Digital Youth Work that started to consider what a renegotiation of youth work practice could involve, drafting the description below:

The Internet is playing a powerful role in shaping the lives of young people today: as a source of information, as a social space, and as a key part of everyday life. Youth work is a process of engagement with young people, supporting young people to make positive choices and shape their own futures, and to actively participate in communities and societies. Digital youth work is values-led practice working with young people that takes account of the digital dimensions of young people’s lives. It might be delivered through digital tools, using online environments or mobile communication; it might blend together physical and digital communication and collaboration; or it might take place face-to-face, but aware of and addressing issues raised by the digital world. 

The ethical values of digital youth work are rooted in voluntary engagement, empowering young people, and working from the interests, needs and concerns of young people. Digital youth work is necessarily a multi-professional field, involving a range of existing practitioners, and requiring us to develop new forms of practice and new roles. Digital youth work include specific online services (for example youth counseling delivered by professional adults), as well as facilitated peer-to-peer learning and engagement.

Digital youth work is a key part of supporting young people’s digital citizenship and securing the rights of everyone to participate fully in contemporary everyday life and its environments. 

The renegotiating professional practice element of the Nominet Trust challenge invites proposals that “support different professions… [to] test out and learn new approaches for engaging with young people?”, and there is real potential here for some action learning in different professional fields to feed back into scaleable change in the way support and engagement opportunities for young people work.

  • New forms of employment and rewardI like to think of this last element of the challenge as creating the space for some more radical rethinking of solutions to the current economic crisis. Although the challenge is a little narrower than the ‘Consider the livelihoods of the future’ message in the Provocation Paper (PDF), in getting beyond the idea that ‘economic engagement’ means getting into a full time job, and thinking about “ how we [prepare] young people to secure a decent living, and to be able to make positive choices about how they use their time, talents and resources”, there is hopefully space here for innovations that challenge a work-consumption treadmill, and explore with young people the social, as well as economic value, of work.

I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas and innovations that result from the challenge. The first deadline for Phase 1 proposals is 1st August, and support is available ranging from £2,500 up to over £250,000 for larger projects. So – head over to the Nominet Trust site to find out more and think about putting forward your project ideas…

 

Emerging messages on digital innovation to support youth engagement

Photo (C) David WilcoxAs part of the project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust to look on “how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities” we’ve been gathering input into an online document to develop some ‘key messages’ that will help projects spot the opportunities for digital innovation. This Thursday we brought together a fantastic crowd of 25 thinkers, social entrepreneurs, funders, youth workers and young people at the RSA in London to explore some of the messages that had been emerging and to explore which were most relevant to the social and economic challenges young people currently face.

David has put together a storify bringing together many of the discussions from the day, and has blogged a quick clip of me explaining the workshop process, which essentially involved taking some headline challenges (youth unemployment; lack of youth influence of local decision making), digging in to find the underlying challenges and unmet needs, and then looking at the messages identified so far which had been printed out as cards to discuss them and see how they might be relevant to the challenges.

Selection of cardsBy looking through all the cards (which people could rate for importance), looking at which messages were chosen as relevant, and looking at the messages which have had attention in the online document so far, I’ve pulled out what look like the top-10 themes for us to explore further. Each message includes a brief summary, and then a link off to more details where you can also directly add to our working document – adding key questions for us to address in our follow up explorations, or sharing links to examples we should explore and draw upon.

This list is not set in stone, and might still change quite a bit before the final write up (you can make the case for changes in the document too…), but here’s the list as it stands today (the numbers are from the original set of cards):

Emerging messages

Planning a project that will use digital technology to address key challenges that young people face? Think about how you might:

19. Blend online and offline
Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

6. Use games to engage
Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

7. Address innovations gaps in the back-office
Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.

17. Support young people to be creators, not consumers
Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

3. Encourage co-design/co-design with young people
The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.


4. Consider the livelihoods of the future
Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

18. Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

24. Use technology to personalise services
Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

30. Be network literate and create new connections
Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

30. Recognise the diversity of youth
Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

 

Look out for all the updates from the Digital Tech and Youth Engagement crowdsourced research project over the SocialReporters.net blog here.

Exploring how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities

[Summary: launching an open research project to find key messages for youth-focussed digital innovation]

Over the coming months I’ll be sharing a series of blog posts linked to a project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust, developing a number of key messages on how digital technologies can be used to support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities. It’s a project we would love to get your input into…

Here’s where we are starting from:

“The race is on to re-engage young people in building an inclusive, healthier, more equal and economically viable society.

But changing times need fresh thinking and new solutions.  It is essential that we find new, more effective approaches to addressing these persistent social and economic challenges.   

Digital technology offers all of us the opportunity to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.

We recognise that there is no single solution; many different strategies are needed to support young people. What is going to work?  ”

Between now and mid-May we’re going to be working up a series of key messages for innovators exploring the digital dimension of work with young people (you can input into this draft messages in this document before 12th April), and then taking a ‘social reporting’ approach to curate key social media and online content that helps unpack what those messages might mean in practice.

Digital dimensions of innovation

So many digital innovation projects essentially work by either taking a social challenge, and bolting a digital tool onto it; or taking a digital tool, and bolting on a social issue it might deal with. But digital innovation can be about more than tools and platforms: it can be about seeing how digital communication impacts upon the methods of organizing and the sorts of activities that make sense in contemporary communities. We’re looking for the messages that work from a recognition of the shared space between digital innovation and social change.

For example, back in the Youth Work and Social Networking report (PDF) we explored how, now that digital technologies means young people are in almost constant contact with peer-groups through SMS, social networking and instant messaging, ideas of informal education based solely on an isolated two or three hours a week of face-to-face contact seem outdated. But the solution isn’t just for youth workers to pick up and use social network sites as a venue for existing forms of practice (as a number of ‘virtual youth centre’ projects quickly discovered). Instead, by going back to youth work values, practitioners can identify the new forms of practice and interaction that are possible in the digital world.

And digital innovations to support youth engagement in employment, enterprise and community action might not just involve changing the way services are delivered to young people. A post from Jonathan Ward this morning on the Guardian’s Service Delivery Hub highlights how many of the institutions of localism such as local strategic partnerships, neighborhood planning groups, and localism forums are inaccessible to young people who “are often too busy with family and work commitments to take part in the business of localism”. We could take an approach of bolting-on digital technologies for young people to input into local fora: setting up Facebook groups or online spaces to discuss planning, with someone feeding this into regular face-to-face meetings. But on it’s own this isn’t terribly empowering. Instead, we might explore what tools what would make the processes of neighborhood in general planning more open to youth input, and look at how digital technology can not only allow consultation with young people, but can shift the structures of decision making so that online input is as valued and important as the input of those with the time to turn up to a face-to-face meeting.

Get involved

Between now and April 12th we’re inviting input into the key messages that we should develop further. You can drop ideas into the comments below, or direct into the open document where we’re drafting ideas here. After April 12th, we’ll start working up a selection of the messages and searching out the social media and other online content that can illuminate what these messages might mean in practice.

As we work through our exploration, we’ll be blogging and tweeting reflections, and all the replies and responses we get will be fed into the process.

At the start of June the results of the process will hopefully be published as a paper and online resource to support Nominet Trust’s latest call for proposals.

Digital innovations are not always digital (and other reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation lab design)

[Summary: assorted learning from participation and hack-days applied to ideas about a youth-focussed digital innovation lab.]

Right Here, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust have a really interesting tender out right now for someone to deliver two ‘Innovation Labs’ focussed on helping “young people to look after their mental health and to access appropriate help and support”.

They describe how the labs should provide young people with the opportunity to work with mental health, youth work and design professionals to design digital tools that will meet their needs.”  If it weren’t for the unknowns of the schedule for my PhD that starts in October, it’s exactly the sort of project Practical Participation would be putting in a proposal for*, but, with the freedom to adopt a more open innovation exchange style bit of sharing around a proposal, and having been unable to resist jotting a few notes about how I might approach the tender, here’s a few quick reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation labs, drawing on learning from previous participation projects.

Digital innovations are not always digital

In my experience working with youth services and mental health services exploring use of digital tools, the biggest gaps between the potential of digital tools and their use in practice is not down to a lack of Apps or widgets – but comes down to a lack of training, inadequate policies, or other small barriers.

The most effective outcomes of a digital innovation lab could be how to guides for practitioners, youth-led training for mental health workers in how to engage online, or new protocols that make sure mental health staff have a framework and incentives to make use of digital tools – as much as they might be new apps and websites.

Set up to succeed

I’ve experienced and observed a number of participation projects in the past that have, mostly unintentionally, set young people up to fail by asking them to redesign services or systems without reference to the staff who operate those systems day-to-day, or the realities of the budgetary and legal constraints the services operate under. Instead of empowering young people to bring their lived experience to real problems, whilst avoiding organisational agendas crushing the ideas and insights young people can bring, participation projects can end up asking young people to solve problems without giving them all the information they need to find viable solutions.

In innovation events with both young people and adults ideas often come up which, whilst great in principle, draw on mistaken assumptions about resources that might realistically be available, or about how digital tools might be adopted and used (it’s not uncommon to hear ‘innovators’ of any age suggesting they’ll build ‘the next Facebook’ to bring together people to discuss some particular issue). Finding the balance between free-flowing innovation, and realisable ideas is a challenge – and increased if, for the majority of participants, the event is their first innovation lab, or project teams don’t have people with experience of taking an project through from idea to implementation. Finding facilitators who can combine the right balance of technical realism, with a focus on youth-led innovation, is important, as is offering training for facilitators.

Projects like Young Rewired State offer an interesting model, where young people who have participated in past events, return as young mentors in future years. Finding a community of young mentors may also prove useful for an innovation lab.

Involving adults

It’s not only mentors and digital experts who have a role to play in the design process, but also mental health professionals and volunteer adults who work day-to-day with young people. In policy consultations in the past we’ve used a ‘fish bowl’ like approach to adults involvement, starting the day with adults as observers only on the outside of circles where young people are developing plans and ideas; moving to a stage (perhaps after an hour) when young people can invite adults into the discussion, but adults can’t ‘push in’; and then (another hour or so later) moving to a stage when adults and young people participate together. Whilst artificial, in a policy consultation, this sort of process helped address issues around the balance of power between young people and adults, without removing the benefits to be found from youth-adult dialogue. In an innovation and design situation, this exact model might not be appropriate – but thinking about lightweight processes or ‘rules’ to help the relationship between young people and adults may be useful.

An alternative approach we’ve taken at past participation events is to have a parallel track of activities for workers coming to the event with young people: could you set a team of adult innovators competing with young innovators to contrast the ideas they come up with?

There are no representative young people

I’m not a representative 26 year old. There aren’t representative 17 year olds. Or 15 year olds. Or any age for that matter. People often design innovations for themselves: that doesn’t mean they’re designing for all young people. Not all young people are technology experts. In fact, most aren’t. There is no such thing as a digital native. Bringing the lived experiences of young people with experience of mental health services and challenges to the design of services is still a very very good thing. It can mean massive improvements in services. But often there’s a risk of implicitly or explicitly thinking of service-user or youth participants as ‘representatives’ – and that tends to be an unhelpful framing. Understanding participants as individuals with particular skills and insights to bring tends to work better.

Freedom and frameworks

I’ve spent most of this afternoon at the Guardian offices in London as a mentor for young hackers at Young Rewired State. Young Rewired State is a week-long event taking place across the country for young people interested in building things with open data and digital platforms. Young Rewired State centres have varied in how much structure they have had: some simply providing a room, and some mentors on hand, for young people to identify what they want to work on and get hacking. Others have supported the participants to work through a design process, offering more structured how-to guidance and support. Some young people thrive and innovate best with a framework and structure to work within. Others need the freedom from pre-planned programmes and tight agendas in order to innovate. Having no agenda at all can exclude those who need structure. But an agenda that is too tight, or a programme that is too prescriptive can miss innovation opportunities. Fortunately, the Innovation Labs tender that sparked this post highlights that the events themselves should be co-designed with young people – so there’s space to negotiate and work this one out.

Keep out of the dragons den

I’ve sat on a few ‘dragons den’ style panels recently – responding to presentations about young people’s project ideas. And I’ve yet to be convinced that they really make a useful contribution.

 

This post has been in the spirit of reclaiming reflective space, and has no neat ending. 

*Although I’m not putting in a proposal around the labs, I’d still be really interested to get involved should a youth-engagement and effective technology focussed facilitator/action researcher/data-wrangler be useful to whoever does end up running the labs.

Reflections: Blended facilitation at Commonwealth Young Professionals Forum

[Summary: Reflective learning from an experience of blended facilitation at Commonwealth Local Government Young Professionals Forum]

I spent two fascinating days yesterday and Sunday with the Commonwealth Local Government Young Professionals Forum. It’s the first time that an event focussed on engaging under 35s (youth in Commonwealth contexts has a slightly broader definition than most contexts I’m used to working in…) has been organized alongside the main Commwealth Local Government Forum, which brings together 100s of delegates from local politics and government administrations. The main focus of the smaller (about 60 of us) Young Professionals Forum (#cypf11 on Twitter) was to draw out from discussions a series of recommendations to make to the main forum, sharing a young adult voice on issues of local economic development and on youth participation.

Below are some brief reflections on two parts of the process I was involved in working on…

1) Social media orientation & encouraging social reporting

On the Sunday afternoon at the start of the forum we ran a short session introducing the Ning network set up for the event, and offering people quick opportunities to think about different social media tools that could be used for social reporting the event. I ran through posting blog posts and photos to the online network; gave an overview of how twitter could be used at events; and talked about vox-pop style video interviews. Everyone was encouraged to use their own equipment for social reporting; although as not everyone had devices available in the session we had a few practice/interactive activities that didn’t need technology there.

The first, asking people to think about the headline of a blog post they might write during or after the forum, generated some really good ideas – and the suggested headlines that delegates shared revealed a lot about their interests and aims for the event (e.g. ‘Best practices in youth entrepreneurship’, or imagining the post they would like to write after the forum ‘Local Government Forum accepts youth recommendations’).

The second activity, inviting people to practice vox-pop style interviewing of a partner sitting with them, also got people talking and sharing ideas for the event (and felt very similar to a standard ice-breaker, albeit with the addition of getting people’s permission to record them, and trying to manage a camera whilst talking).

On reflection:

  • A number of delegates commented on the usefulness of a social media introduction. Whilst almost all the young professionals taking part were familiar with blogging, and many had twitter accounts etc., many had not considered how to use these effectively in a conference context (for example, the use of tagging or hash-tags on Twitter was new to a number of people). Given digital communication and sharing messages online can be a key advocacy tool for the messages coming from the forum, a half-hour spent pointing to how digital tools could be used seemed to be useful investment of time.
  • Even with a good introduction, social reporting still needs facilitating. I switched my attention to the real-time collaboration, and running an afternoon workshop on open data in the commonwealth, and hadn’t formed a dedicated social reporting team. As delegates also got more involved in recommendations drafting, social media activity started to drop off and potentially a lot of stories and case studies that would have been useful to digitally share may have been missed.
  • My main take-away is to explore how the social media introduction could be integrated with ice-breakers and introductions. The blog post activity could be combined effectively with an expectation or aim-setting activity; and the vox-pop practice with an ice-breaker. Sometime to try next time…

2) Real-time collaboration for statement drafting

The process of drafting a text (statements or recommendations) from an international youth fora is an interesting one. Delegates vary in their experience of political processes, in the backgrounds they come from, and in the degree to which they are present representing a specific group or constituency – either by virtue of a formal mandate (e.g. elected youth representatives; leaders of organizations or networks), or informally adopting a representative role – or to which they solely represent and feed their own views into the process. Bringing together diverse views and voices into a text which can potentially influence policy making, and be used as an advocacy tool, is practically challenging.

There are all sorts of general process issues to be addressed in statement drafting (for example, the way in which processes generally start with a blank sheet of paper, rather than seeking to build on past statements), but one practical one we tried to address at CLGF was the process of typing up the statement itself. I’ve sat in a youth hostel late into the night before along with about 20 other people crowded round a laptop quibbling over phrases and wordings, all whilst one person: the person at the keyboard, acts as facilitator and gatekeeper of the document. At CLGF, instead of typing into documents on individual laptops, we took advantage of Cardiff City Hall’s free Wifi to get everyone typing into Google Documents – made public for anyone to edit – but with a rapporteur in each working group taking main responsibility for typing up their notes. As we moved from individual thematic working groups generating ideas, to the process of drafting a final statement, we moved into one single shared document to edit.

It might be a bit premature to assess how the process has worked, as I’m writing this as the second day of CYPF is starting (alas I’ve had to leave early) and there is still work to be done on the statement – but the process raised a number of interesting learning points.

Some reflections:

  • From one laptop the facilitation team were able to get an overview of the points emerging from different groups by looking at all the different docs, and to point out overlaps – either adding notes into the Google documents – or going to talk to specific groups (spread out in different parts of the room / different rooms) to suggest making connections with another group on a particular point.
  • We could use that access to the developing drafts to visualise emerging themes. For example, at lunchtime I put together Wordles of the drafts which a number of delegates noted were useful in getting a sense of the discussions and record being generated. http://network.cyec.org.uk/profiles/blogs/drafting-recommendations
  • Whilst allowing multiple editors changes the power dynamic associated with one person at a keyboard – by allowing anyone with an Internet access device in a group to directly clarify and update notes – one delegate pointed out that it can lead to (a) some people being left out, as screens become personal again rather than shared; (b) people making edits direct without discussing them – missing on opportunities for dialogue across the table (this matches my experience of sitting in silence at IGF10 drafting a statement in etherpad with a number of other delegates – all the interaction taking place in chat and on the text directly).One practice way to address some of this may be to try and project each document up on a shared screen as well – and to think about having different ‘editing policies’ (possibly enforced with the document sharing settings) for different stages of the process (e.g. during initial idea creation anyone can add anything; during refining thematic papers edits should be discussed; during final changes to a statement, all changes should be approved by the group before being made to the text).
  • The documents we were using were set so that anyone in theory could access, read and edit them – even if not at the forum. This was mainly for ease (no need to get people’s e-mail addresses to share the document with them), but also seems to me to be a good thing – potentially enabling more enhanced participation and allowing expertise and ideas to be brought in from across the world – regardless of people’s ability to travel to the conference. We didn’t exploit this possibility – and how it could fit into the general processes of statement drafting would need more thought – but it’s an exciting one.
  • The cost (or lack of) Internet access in hotels is still a big barrier to this process. I was able to set up a MiFi to allow a couple of people back at the hotel to carry on working on the draft, but a lack of affordable WiFi suddenly limited the breadth of possible collaboration.

Seeing how quickly and easily delegates adopted real-time collaborative documents for drafting in a general conference (I was wondering if the YCIG experience was unique to a technology conference), I’m keen to spend more time looking at effective and empowering facilitation techniques in this space – and to see how the process could be developed more.

Diplomacy labs

We’ve only scratched the surface of how digital tools can transform youth fora, and other international gatherings. However, the ingredients of a transformed way of doing business are coming together: remote (or enhanced) participation; understanding the digital record as a fundamental vehicle for driving outcomes of an event and real-time collaboration tools. I certainly hope institutions like CLGF, CYPG and the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Forum in Australia in October take up the challenge of innovating and living out the common conference platform claim that “we need to change the way politics is done”.

 

Update: Photo Credit to Dan from A-Leap (fab participation, youth and learning people in Wales) for the picture in this post.

Digital Futures – Trends in Technology, Youth and Policy

[Summary: What technologies will affect services for young people in 2011? Presentation, worksheet and reflections on a workshop]

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and watched a lot of presentations about technology trends, and future technologies that everyone needs to be aware of – but they can often feel pretty distant from the reality of frontline public services trying to make sense of how new technologies affect their work. So when I was offered the opportunity to run a workshop on ‘digital futures’ at the children’s services conference of a national children’s charity, right at the start of 2011, I thought it would provide an interesting opportunity to explore different ways of talking about and making sense of technology trends.

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Political Innovation Essays: Towards Interactive Government

A few months back Paul Evans asked me to write a short essay/blog post for the Political Innovation project – taking a series of posts about how politics could be done better – and cross-posting them on political blogs from different places on the political spectrum. I managed to escape dissertation writing long enough to draft the below, which has been posted today as the first post in the series and is featured on the Political Innovation site; Left Foot Forward and Local Democracy blog so far. Comments, if any, should all go to the main Political Innovation site…

Here’s the post:

The communication revolution that we’ve undergone in recent years has two big impacts:

  • It changes what’s possible. It makes creating networks between people across organisations easier; it opens new ways for communication between citizens and state; it gives everyone who wants it a platform for global communication; and it makes it possible to discover local online dialogue.
  • It changes citizen expectations of government. When I can follow news from my neighbour’s blog on my phone, why can’t I get updates on local services on the mobile-web? When I can e-mail someone across the world and be collaborating on a document in minutes, why is it so hard to have a conversation with the council down the road? And when brands and mainstream media are doing interactivity and engagement – why are government departments struggling with it so much?

Right now, government is missing out on significant cost saving and service-enhancing benefits from new forms of communication and collaboration. But the answers are not simply about introducing new technology – they are to be found in intentional culture change: in creating the will and the opportunity for interactive government.

There are three things we need to focus on:

  • Culture change. Although there are pockets of interactivity breaking out across the public sector, it’s often counter-cultural and ‘underground’. Most staff feel constrained to work with tools given to them by IT departments, and to focus on official lines more than open conversations. Creating a culture of interactivity needs leadership from the top, and values that everyone can sign up to.
  • Removing the barriers. There are literally hundreds of small daily frustrations and barriers that can get in the way of interactive government. It might be the inability of upload a photo to an online forum (interactive government has human faces…), or consent and moderation policies that cover everyone’s backs but don’t allow real voices to be heard. Instead of ignoring these barriers, we need to overcome them – to rethink them within an interactive culture that can make dialogue and change a top priority.
  • Solving tough problems. Public service is tough: it has to deal with political, democratic and social pressures that would make most social media start-ups struggle. We need to think hard about how interactive technology and interactive ways of working play out in the tough cases that the public sector deals in every day.

The Interactive Charter is a project to explore how exactly we go about making government into interactive government. It’s got three parts:

  • Creating a pledge – The ‘Interactive Charter’ will be a clear statement that any organization (or senior manager within an organization) can sign up to say something along the lines of “I want my organization to get interactivity; and I’ll commit to overcoming the barriers to interactive ways of working”. With a promise and commitment from the top removing the barriers should get a lot easierOf course to just hand down a pledge wouldn’t be very interactive, so we’re drafting it on Mixed Ink.
  • Naming the problems…and overcoming them – We’ve already made a start over on the Interactive Charter wiki, but we would love you to join in suggesting practical challenges, and practical solutions, to interactive and digital working in government.
  • Putting it into practice – We want to pilot the approach: getting top-level support, and removing the barriers to interactivity from the ground up. Could your organization be part of that?

So, if you’ve got a vision for more interactive government, you can share it by redrafting the current pledge. And if you’ve faced or solved problems around interactive government, help shape the body of knowledge around each of the barriers and their solutions on the wiki. Of course, you could also just drop in comments over on the Political Innovation blog…

Pareto Problems for Digital Innovation?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pigpencole/1264620687/

Going for the High Hanging Fruit?

[Summary: Local by Social author Andy Gibson is working on a new paper for NESTA on how digital innovation can save public services, and has asked for reflections on ‘obstacles and their solutions’ to adoption or more social technology. I’ve written on practical barriers to digital technology in government before, but here I’m exploring an economic argument that sets out a potential challenge to many digital-social innovation projects*.]

The Pareto Problem
The Pareto Principle (named after the famous Italian Economist, but often known just as the 80-20 rule) suggests that in many real-world situations 80% of the features required in a project can be gained with just 20% of the effort**.

In software development and much of the business world, focussing on the 80% of features you can build easily makes sense. For each bit of effort put in at the start there is a large marginal return and benefit; but as you get to the trickier bits of a project, the marginal benefit (the number of people who will use a feature; how much benefit each new feature will bring etc.) relative to effort put in falls. The last 20% of features might cost four times as much as the first 80%, and in many cases, implementing them simply isn’t cost effective. So, the rational developer or manager never provides them.

Public Services don’t work like that. The tricky 20% of a service to provide is often the service to the most in need. Into that tricky 20% might fall providing services in remote rural areas; educating children from more challenging backgrounds; providing transports services for the elderly; making sure education classes are accessible to those with additional needs and so-on. When social innovators hold up technology driven innovations – new ways of providing public services – we have to ask: are they just solving the easy 80% and ignoring the tough cases?

Is the promise of more efficient and cheaper digital services simply the result of a slight-of-hand – measuring the costs of a service based on it’s provision in the easy cases and bracketing out the tough cases which would require re-engineering systems and adding significant cost and effort if a digital service were to be a universal service?

Possible Solutions
The Pareto Problem isn’t an argument against digital innovation per se. Innovation can shift where the Pareto Problem kick’s in (e.g. Can we serve 90% of the people on 10% of the cost and make savings that way?) and innovation can help the public sector to challenge the frequent over-design of processes and systems around the tough cases. However, the Pareto Problem is significant. A few possible ways to address it in thinking about digital innovation are addressed below.

  • Account for a universal service – any digital innovation needs to show its cost and benefits not just in the easy pilot cases – but also if it were to provide a universal service. Or if it can’t provide a universal service it needs to explain it’s limitations, and allow the public sector to properly cost provision to those the innovation will not work for.
  • Take the tough cases into account – Conventional design of services in the public sector often starts with tough cases. Staff have in mind the cases they faced recently where a service user had complex needs – and they design from the tricky cases first – building all sorts of processes and systems to cope with the complexities. Agile developers often start with the easy cases – and far too often the tough cases get ignored. For example, how does your service work for young people who need additional privacy because of a custody battle currently taking place? Or how does your service work for people with learning difficulties and other additional needs? ??Find the balance between over-engineering processes, but having processes that work for those with the greatest needs, is the key challenge for social innovators.
  • Design with social justice in mind – digital innovation in the public sector shouldn’t just be about creating ‘better stuff’ and ‘better services’ for individuals to consume: it should be about creating a ‘better society’ – and that involves thinking about the distribution of benefits from innovation as well as the nature of the innovation itself.
  • Collaborate and listen – the most important way to make sure social innovations don’t fall into a Pareto Problem trap is to design with the people working at the frontline.

A metaphorical summary
I started writing this post a while back under the title ‘What happens when we’ve picked all the low hanging fruit?’. Many digital innovations come showing as basket full of the low hanging fruit and explain how easy it was to pick. The key is asking – how are you also planning to get the stuff from the top of the tree as well?



* I’m posting this very tentatively, not sure that I’ve quite managed to express the idea I’ve been reflecting on – but aware that Andy’s paper is currently in progress and that working on the last 20% of tweaks to get this blog post spot on is, um, well, going to take at least four times as long as what’s been written so far… (#paretopost)

** Pareto’s original observations concerned the distribution of wealth in Italy, but the principle has been applied much more widely since. The actual numbers don’t matter here. The 80-20 ratio is simply used because Pareto observed it as a ratio that applied in many real-world situation. Take any ratio in the region of 70-30 towards 99-1 and you will see the argument above still broadly holds.

NESTA seeking youth participation specialist

[Summary: Are you a youth participation specialist? Fancy a change in 2009? Details below of job ad from NESTA. (Deadline 12th Jan 2009)]

One of the project I had the pleasure of working on this year was helping NESTA to develop it’s strategy for Youth Innovation, building on the work future innovators programme.

The new programme, named ‘Innovation Generation‘ will be launched early next year, and is designed to be increasingly youth led: putting young people in the driving seat of determining, developing, evaluating and disseminating learning from projects that are all about unlocking the innovative potential of young people.

Not only will the programme be looking at how it can involve young people in innovation, but it will be exploring innovations in participation – supporting the development and evaluation of new approaches to youth participation.

And Benedict puts together his team to lead the programme forward, that means there is a job opening for an Innovation Generation Development Manager – Youth Participation Specialist.

If you know any youth participation specialists (or you happen to be one yourself) interested in a change in 2009 – please do forward on details. Closing date is the 12th Jan.