Category Archives: Social Media

Oxfordshire: open & interactive

[Summary: A local post about open data, interactive working and social media in Oxford & Oxfordshire - and some rough ideas for making stuff happen...]

There’s not all that much open data published by local authorities in Oxfordshire right now, and whilst there are some great pockets of social media use, and digital technology projects across the different local authorities in the County, online interactivity from councillors, digital engagement from local councils, and hyperlocal community websites seem pretty sparse round here. We’ve got some great geek gatherings and social media meets, but not much that I can find in the way of social media surgery type activities.

But, having met with quite a few people from different local authorities across the County in the last month  it seems clear that there is real potential for more online engagement and open working in Oxfordshire, just some gaps in the knowledge, networks and catalysts to make things happen.

Which got me wondering about how the knowledge, networks and catalysts could be brought together. What would help…

  • …local authorities in Oxfordshire to understand, explore and release more open data;
  • …local authorities and community groups to get the most out of social media and interactive technology;
  • …turn Oxfordshire from a bit of a laggard in the worlds of open data and online interactivity, into a leading light…

And I realised: I’m not sure. But, here’s two modest proposals:

  • An informal gathering some time in September of people interested in catalysing more online engagement and open data action in the county to explore possibilities. Could we set up a regular social media surgery? What about some hack-days with local open data? Or should we head out a build a better directory of the hyperlocal websites across Oxford? Interested? Let me know in the comments below – and suggest when might be a good time on this Doodle and I’ll try and find a suitable venue… (offers of venues welcome…)
  • Running a half-day event for Oxfordshire local authorities sometime in the Autumn to provide an introduction to open data; social media and ideas for more interactive ways of working. Sometime to be discussed at an informal gathering perhaps – but I’d also be interested to hear direct from anyone in Oxfordshire Councils about whether this would be useful / what would be most useful…. drop me an e-mail if you work with an Oxfordshire LA and you would be interested; or if you work with open data / social media locally and might be interested in helping organise something.

What do you think? If there is interest then I’d be up for spending a bit of time helping make something happen…

Of course – this may all already be happening? Or it might have been tried before? So comments / ideas on stuff already going / criticism / alternative ideas etc. welcome too…

Young Rewired State at Oxfam

Update: Postponedwe weren’t quite quick off the blocks enough to recruit young people to take part in an Oxfam hack-day during the main Youth Rewired State week: so the Oxfam YRS has been postponed. We’ll hopefully work out a new date / plan in the next few weeks. However, other Young Rewired State centres are still on the go…

What happens when you take 5 or 10 young coders and designers aged between 15 and 18; give them a room at the heart of Oxfam HQ; link them up with designers, campaigners and digital experts; and give them a week to create things with government data?

I’m not sure yet. But in few weeks hopefully we’ll find out.

I’m helping to organise a Young Rewired State event at Oxfam HQ in Oxford to do just that – and right now we’re looking for young people from the local area to apply to take part.

You can download a flyer with lots more information to share with any young people you think might be interested, and a sign-up form is here. Deadline for applications is 25th July – but the sooner applications come in the more chance they have. Young Rewired State events are also taking place across the UK, so if you know young people who might be interested but can’t make it to Oxfam HQ in Oxford every day during the first week of August, point them in the direction of the national Rewired State Website.

Shared Practice Through Video

[Summary: Handy guide to all the stages of creating a video of a youth project; from selecting equipment and sorting out consent; to planning, shooting and editing your film]

The Open University have been working on developing a new space in their  Practice Based Professional Learning (PBPL) environment for youth workers; and I was asked to put together a short guide on how youth practitioners can create video content to share insights into their own practice.

The result is ‘Shared Practice Through Video‘, which, in the spirit of sharing, is under a Creative Commons license and available for download as a PDF here.

You can also browse through it on Scribd over here. The guide won’t win any design awards (in fact, if anyone fancies taking advantage of the Creative Commons nature to remix it into a slightly more stylish design I’ll happily send you all the original material), but it does take you through all the stages of creating a video in the context of a youth project (or other project contexts for that matter).

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.

Guest post: Using data to highlight poverty and social justice issues in the World Cup

Today brings two firsts for this blog. The first ever guest post on the blog. And the first (and possibly only) instance of a post here dedicated to football. So, please welcome Pontus Westerberg from the World Development Movement, introducing this summer’s most essential data driven website…

Pontus WesterbergWho are you going to cheer for in the World Cup? Most people in the UK will probably support England, but what if you’re from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and your team didn’t qualify?

Even if your team did qualify, who do you cheer for when they’re not playing? Perhaps a team that plays attractive football, like Brazil or a team that contains players from the club team that you support.

At the World Development Movement we wanted to take this idea a bit further and get people to discuss issues of social injustice, poverty and unfairness that we care a lot about.

The result is the site www.whoshouldicheerfor.com which ranks the countries playing in the World Cup based on a range of development and social justice indicators such as maternal maternity rate, carbon emissions per capita and income inequality.

The statistics for the indicators have mostly been taken from the UN’s Human Development Report and place Ghana as the most supportable team. To get the ‘league table we ranked each team for each indicator, then worked out a mean position for each one.

We’ve had some questions about the rankings. ‘Why is Nigeria so high up?’, has been a common one. The answer is that Nigeria has comparatively low carbon emissions and military spending, but also that it is the poorest country playing in the world cup.

That’s right – to highlight the gross inequalities that exist in the world we’ve ranked teams with low GDP per capita higher than teams with high GDP per capita. In our view, the underdogs – teams such as Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria – from the poorest countries in the World Cup deserve our support more than richer countries.

Of course, the ranking does not represent the official view of WDM on the countries themselves. It’s meant to be a fun and interested way to think hard about serious issues. How come Nigeria is the poorest country in the World Cup, yet has one of the world’s largest oil reserves? Why does the United States – the richest country – give so little money in aid?

So, go ahead, get involved. Who are you going to cheer for?


Comment on government: How should I be interacting?

I’ve just been reading the commentable version of  the Coalition: our programme for government document, and, given some of the content, I couldn’t help but head for the comment box to drop in some reflections on different aspects of the proposed policies.

However, as I started to type in a comment or two, I quickly found I wasn’t certain what sort of interaction was being invited. The front page of the site states “This website gives you the opportunity to enter public discussion on the programme. We’ll take all your comments and suggestions on board and publish the Government’s response to those policy areas receiving the most feedback”, but it goes no further to explain who will be reading the comments, what sort of feedback to expect, and whether the goal is discussion between members of the public, or dialogue between the public and government.

Which makes writing a comment difficult.

Should I be constructively unpicking policy and pointing to useful resources that, in the hands of a Minister or policy official would be useful? Should I be replying to other posters, engaging in debate with them on the strengths or weakness of their argument? If so, are they getting e-mail updates about my replies, or can threaded discussions emerge? Should I be gaming the system and getting as many people to post on the topics I feel post passionate about, given the statement that only the “policy areas receiving the most feedback” are to get a response from the Government? Will track-backs to posts (so I can write a more considered comment on policy areas on this blog) be picked up and fed into the dialogue?

All these things affect the sort of dialogue that can take place – and the nature of relationship between citizen and government that can be established. Whilst it’s positive that the new government have opted for opening up comments on the coalition plan, and Simon Dickson’s work to turnaround a basic site for such comments in a short space of time is impressive, comment boxes alone do not a dialogue make. There are bit techno-social challenges to be solved to effective online participation, and we all need to get a lot smarter in solving them.

As the Government team behind this online document, and, hopefully future online documents, iterate the development of such spaces, it would be good to see a lot more attention paid to the forms of interaction between citizen and state that are to be facilitated. Personally, I’d like to see a clear statement about exactly who will be reading and summarising the comments; how that will take place; and who the summary will be shared with. And it would be good to have something more nuanced than simply a numbers game for knowing what will get considered.

What would you like to see to encourage effective dialogue on government hosted spaces around documents like the coalition agreement?

P.S. There’s one more big problem with the current commentable coalition agreement: the moderation policy suggests wants 16s to have parental consent before posting. There is no legal basis for this and its outrageous age discrimination. By all means encourage young people to discuss issues with parents before posting – but to exclude young people who are  from posting without parental consent cannot be justified.

Connected Generation 2010: The Conference

Lots of people have been starting to ask me when the next ‘Connected Generation’ event will be taking place. Well, thanks to the sterling work of Katie Bacon, we’ve just booked The Watershed in Bristol for 7th May 2010 to host Connected Generation 2010 – a one-day conference exploring youth engagement and technology in 2010. Based on feedback from participants at recent training events, and on the positive response to the Beyond Twitter event we ran up in Wrexham last year, we’re trying a mixed Conference and Open Space format again – with a morning of top-quality input from speakers and a range of pre-planned workshops, followed with an afternoon of curated unConference, where delegates can set the agenda and direct the conversations.

Bristol Watershed - the Venue

I’m delighted that key speakers at the event will include a gender balanced panel with:

We’re still in the process of confirming the workshop programme, but plans include:

  • Ethics and ICT – workshop with Andy Phippen from Plymouth University;
  • Promoting Positive Activities with Social Media with Steven Flower from Plings;
  • Safe and Sound Foundations – proactive approaches to safe social media engagement with young people, staff and volunteers;

If there is a workshop you would particularly like to see, drop in a comment and I’ll see what we can do…

Full details and online booking available here. (If you can’t order online because your organisation needs invoicing etc. just drop me a line…)

Fingers crossed, we’ll also be using the event to launch a new ‘Youth Engagement and Social Media’ resource which Katie and I are hard at work drafting, and, if you want, you can pre-order a copy when booking your place at the conference.

Curating a conference: young people in a digital world

This is a quick blog post to link to the videos and social reporting content from last week’s Young People in a Digital World conferences in Wales which are now available through the newly launched Digital Youth Wales network.

You can find over five hours content, including a fantastic panel discussion with young people from Swansea schools and colleges, insights from e-Moderation and Moshi Monster’s Chief Community & Safety Officer, my interview with Tanya Byron, and some great examples of digital youth work from Swansea. You might even find a clip of me trying to unpack how, through the lens of youth work values, the Internet provides an exciting opportunity space for youth work.

Curating social reporting

As well as the webcast recordings (created by the ever friendly and professional Richard Jolly and Diarmaid Lynch) the event was also comprehensively ‘socially reported’ with live-blogging, video interviews and more being co-ordinated by David Wilcox and Chie Elliott.

All of which, thanks to the kind support of Sangeet from WISE KIDS who organised the conference, gave me a chance to try out further exploration of curating content from social reporting. Building on the IGF09 Drupal+FeedAPI framework, I’ve put together a micro-site within the Digital Youth Wales site which links together a record of live-blogging, with the webcast video, and any informal social reporting videos for each session.

Take a look here to explore the individual sessions – and do let me know your ideas for how this sort of social reporting aggregation could be improved or further developed…

Two opportunities to explore social media & work with young people

[Summary: Two day course, and six-month action learning set on social media in youth work and youth participation]

Getting started with digital youth work, or with using digital tools in youth participation, can seem daunting to many. It’s not enough to just talk about how digital skills are essential assets needed in the youth-serving workforce, or to point to tools and approaches that professionals should be using. Training opportunities, capacity building, and ongoing action learning to inform that training are all needed. Which is why I’m really pleased that 2010 will see the return of two key opportunities.

1) Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

Building on the Action Learning Set I co-facilitated last year, this six-month (one meeting a month) action learning supports participants who are working to increase their own organizations engagement with social media. Through expert inputs, workshops and shared action learning projects with peers – the action learning set aims to develop the skills of individuals, and the capacity of organizations, to engage with social media in youth participation.

Last year’s set resulted in a printed and online guide; and supported a wide range of local projects – ranging from those focussing on social media and youth engagement around commissioning, to projects supporting the use of social networks to engage young people in care in decision making.

You can find out more about this year’s action learning set (first session taking place at the end of January) and details of how to book in this flyer: Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

2) Two-day training for Youth Work Professionals

After a successful pilot, Katie Bacon will be leading a number of two-day trainings in 2010, on ‘Social Media for Youth Work Professionals’. Katie & I have developed the course together, and initially we’ll be running a number of sessions in partnership with LECP Training.

This two-day training is designed to support youth professionals from a wide range of backgrounds to develop their understanding of social media and how to use it as a tool in their work. Including hands-on activities to learn to use different social media tools – it’s a practical training that grounds the use of social media tools in professional values and practices.

You can read about the pilot training day in this reflective blog post from trainer Katie Bacon, and keep an eye on the LECP Training network for details of when the public course dates are announced (join the network to get training alerts).

We’re also exploring how this training might be offered as in-service training in individual local authorities, or offered on a regional basis – so if you might be interested in having Katie and/or I come to train with your service/region, then do get in touch.


I’m also hopeful that 2010 will bring the completion of a couple more digital youth work resources I’ve been working on. More on that some other time…

Legacies of social reporting: an IGF09 example

[Summary: aggregating content from the Internet Governance Forum & exploring ways to develop the legacy of social reporting at events...]

Introducing social reporting to an event can bring many immediate benefits. From new skills for those participating in the social reporting, to increasing opportunities for conversation at the event, and building bridges between those present at an event, and those interested in the topic but unable to physically take part.

However, the wealth of content gathered through social reporting can also act as a resource ‘after the event’ – offering insights and narratives covering event themes, and offering contrasting and complementary perspectives to any ‘official’ event records that may exist.

Many of the tools I use when social reporting at an event have a certain ‘presentism’ about them. Newer content is prioritised over older content, and, in the case of dashboard aggregators like NetVibes, or services such as Twitter, good content can quickly disappear from the front page, or even altogether.

So, as we got towards the end of a frantic four days social reporting out at the Internet Governance Forum in Egypt earlier this year, I started thinking about how to make the most of the potential legacy impacts of the social reporting that was going on – both in the event-wide Twitterstream, and in the work of the young social reporters I was specifically working with.

Part of that legacy was about the skills and contacts gathered by the social reporters – so we quickly put together this handout for participants – but another part of that legacy was in the content. And gathering that together turned out to be trickier than I expected.

However, I now have a micro-site set up at http://igf2009.practicalparticipation.co.uk/ where you can find all the blog posts and blips created by our social reporters, as well as all the tagged tweets we could collect together. Over the coming weeks colleagues at Diplo will be tagging core content to make it easy to navigate and potentially use as part of online learning around Internet Governance. I’ve run the 3500+ twitter messages I managed to (eventually) aggregate through the Open Calais auto-tagging service as an experiment to see if this provide ways to identify insights within them – and I’ve been exploring different ways to present the information found in the site.

Learning: Next time set up the aggregator in advance
I didn’t start putting together the site (a quick bit of Drupal + FeedAPI, with the later addition of Views, Panels, Autotagging, Timeline and other handy modules) till the final day of IGF09, by which time over 50 blog posts had been added to our Ning website, and over 3000 twitter messages tagged #igf09.

Frustratingly, Ning only provides the last 20 items in any RSS feed, and, as far as I can tell, no way to page through past items; and the Twitter search API is limited to fetching just 1500 tweets.

Fortunately when it came to Twitter I had captured all the Tweets in Google Reader – but still had to scrape Twitter message IDs back out of there – and set up a slow script to spend a couple of days fetching original tweets (given the rate limiting again on the Twitter API).

For Ning, I ended up having to go through and find all the authors who had written on IGF09, and to fetch the feeds of their posts, run through a Yahoo Pipe to create an aggregate feed of only those items posted during the time of the IGF.

It would have been a lot easier if I set up the Drupal + FeedAPI aggregator beforehand, and added new feeds to it whenever I found them.

Discoveries: Language and noise
I’ve spent most of my time just getting the content into this aggregator, and setting up a basic interface for exploring it. I’ve not yet hand chance to dive in and really explore the content itself. However, two things I noticed:

1) There is mention of a francaphone hash-tag for IGF2009 in some of the tweets. Searching on that hash-tag now, over a month later, doesn’t turn up any results – but it’s quite possible that there were active conversations this aggregator fails to capture because we weren’t looking at the right tags.

Social Network Map of Tweets

Mapping Twitter @s with R and Iplot

2) A lot of the Twitter messages aggregated appear to be about the ‘censorship incident‘ that dominated external coverage of IGF09, but which was only a small part of all the goings on at IGF. Repeated tweeting and re-tweeting on one theme can drown out conversations on other themes unless there are effective ways to navigate and filter the content archives.

I’ve started to explore how @ messages, and RTs within Tweets could be used to visualise the structure, as well as content, of conversations – but have run up against the limitations of my meagre current skill set with R and iplot.

I’m now on the look out for good ways of potentially building some more intelligent analysis of tweets into future attempts to aggregate with Drupal – possibly by extracting information on @s and RTs at the time of import using the promising FeedAPI Scraper module from the great folk at Youth Agora.

Questions: Developing social reporting legacies
There is still a lot more to reflect upon when it comes to making the most of content from a socially reported event, not least:

1) How long should information be kept?

I’ve just been reading Delete, which very sensibly suggests that not all content should be online for ever – and particularly with conversational twitter messages or video clips, there may be a case for ensuring a social reporting archive only keeps content public for as long as there is a clear value in doing so.

2) Licensing issues

Aggregation on the model I’ve explored assumes licence to collect and share tweets and other content. Is this a fair assumption?

3) Repository or advocacy?

How actively should the legacy content from social reporting be used? Should managing the legacy of an event also involve setting up search and blog alerts, and pro-actively spreading content to other online spaces? If so – who should be responsible for that and how?


If you are interested in more exploration of Social Reporting, you may find the Social by Social network, and Social Reporters group there useful.