Digital inclusion and social capital

I’m going to be taking on the social reporter role at the RSA seminar on Digital Inclusion and Social Capital today – and trying to tweet, video and blog insights and ideas arising from the discussions on Will Davies working paper on The Social Value of Digital Networks in Deprived Communities (to be published after input from the seminar and online discussion have been incorporated…)

Social Reporting a seminar like this is a new one for me. I’ve almost-live blogged at conferences before, but this looks set to be a really in depth discussion in a concentrated couple of hours so I’ll be trying my best to draw out elements and weave them into the web of great experience and insight that will be outside the meeting room at the RSA as well as in it.

To help with that I’m trying out CoverItLive – which, if you’re viewing this blog post in an RSS Reader that supports it, or on the front page of the blog, should present you with a feed of conversation as the session unfold – and should give you a space to add your own comments.

Please do drop in between 10.30am and 12.30am to follow the discussions and to add your thoughts to the debate on digital inclusion and deprived communities…

OpenGov: One big challenge? Or a thousand small hurdles

Update – July 2009: This list of 50 Hurdles has evolved into the ‘Interactive Charter‘ (an attempt to create a clear statement of intent for open government) and ‘Social Strategy‘ (a toolkit of practical resources for sorting it out). Keep an eye on posts tagged ‘interactivecharter‘ on this blog for the latest updates.

The original post:

What’s the big challenge to using new technology for mobilisation / communication around social issues, where government or large existing organisations are to be players in creating change?

Working with front-line professionals in local government over the last couple of months, I’ve been coming to see that:

  • The big challenges are not about technology – they are about the content and the process of mobilisation and communication.
  • When it comes to technology we’ve not got one big challenge we’ve got 100s of small challenges – and we’ve got no systematic way of dealing with them.

When all these small challenges stack up – the chance of staff members or teams in local or national government organisations and agencies being able to effectively engage with online-enabled policy making shrinks and shrinks.

Of course – as small challenges – I’m sure they can all be overcome. And one of the first steps to overcoming a challenge is knowing it is there – so below are 50 of the challenges I’ve encountered since the start of this year.

50 Small Hurdles to Online Engagement in Government

(Update 4th May 2009: There is now a wiki set-up with all these hurdles listed, and space for you to read/add shared learning about overcoming them…)


  1. Access to Web 2.0 sites is blocked or filtered;
  2. Requesting that a website is unblocked requires a form to be filled in and the request may not be actioned for 24 hours or more;
  3. A site that has previously been unblocked is suddenly blocked again;
  4. A site is only unblocked for the computer a staff member usually sits at – and they are unable to access Web 2.0 Sites from another part of the office, or another desk;
  5. Web 2.0 Sites can only be accessed during lunch hours;
  6. Managers see abuse of ICT resources as an ICT issue rather than a management issue;
  7. ICT staff see access to Web 2.0 sites as an issue for ICT decision making, rather than for team leaders and managers;
  8. There is no capacity to provide staff with internet-enabled mobile phones, even if a business case can be made;
  9. Staff are not aware of the ICT, internet access and mobile phone/internet access resources they can legitimately ask for;
  10. Permission to use Web 2.0 is granted ad-hoc but not enshrined in policy, so a change in ICT manager could make access more difficult;


  1. Computer only have out-of-date Internet Browsers (E.g. IE6);
  2. Staff cannot change their browsers home-page;
  3. Staff cannot install browser plug-ins or add-ons, and key plug-ins like Flash are out-of-date versions;
  4. E-mail sign-up confirmations from Web 2.0 sites regularly get caught in spam filters;
  5. Staff cannot install desktop widgets and utility software (e.g. Twitter clients, RSS readers etc.)
  6. Office computers have no ability to play sound;
  7. There is no easy way to get a photo onto an office computer. For example, a personal photo to use as a profile picture online;
  8. Any customisations staff add to their computer log-in are regularly lost;
  9. There is no WiFi in meeting rooms, and guests cannot get access to the internet in the building;
  10. There is a one-size fits all IT policy;


  1. There are no finance procedures or company credit cards to pay for low-cost online subscription services;
  2. There are no systems in place for backing up content from Web 2.0 tools;
  3. There is no secure password vault that can be used to keep track of ‘corporate’ memberships of Web 2.0 sites;
  4. There is no agreed way of notifying other staff members of plans for using Web 2.0 tools;
  5. There are no policies or procedures for responding to positive or negative online comments;
  6. There is no processes for carrying out CRB or Independent Safeguarding Authority checks on staff or sub-contractors involved in the use of Social Media to engage with young people or vulnerable adults;


  1. There are no policies on personal use of Social Networks and Social Media sites;
  2. There is no accessible guidance available to staff on personal use of Social Networks and Social Media sites;
  3. There is no policy on Safeguarding and Child Protection in digital environments;
  4. There is no policy on Data Protection in digital environments – and no guidance on items of data which should not be shared in digital environments;
  5. There are no policies on appropriate levels for official staff engagement with Web 2.0
  6. Consent forms and model release forms make no mention of possibly sharing photos or videos from events and activities online;


  1. Senior managers see Web 2.0 and the Social Web as something to be scared of;
  2. Senior managers see Web 2.0 as a passing fad, or at best a persistent distraction and minority interest;
  3. Staff see Web 2.0 as an extra burden to add to already busy and pressured days;
  4. Ideas from outside the organisations are treated with suspicion;
  5. The organisation wants to be in control of any discussions that take place about it online;
  6. The organisation wants to moderate every discussion that it is any way responsible to convening or starting;
  7. The organisation wants to put it’s brand front-and-centre in every online engagement;
  8. Service-user engagement is not valued;


  1. Staff have never received basic training in how a web browser, web addresses and search engines work;
  2. Staff are not aware of tabbed web-browsing;
  3. Staff do not make use of search tools;
  4. Staff find it difficult to adapt to and remember new ways of working digitally;
  5. Staff are not able to download, edit and upload images in web formats;
  6. Staff do not know how to install new utility software or browser plug-ins;
  7. Staff have no opportunities to share skills and develop their understanding of digital environments;


  1. Managers do not support staff exploration and experimentation with Web 2.0;
  2. Managers take no ownership over exploration and experimentation with Web 2.0 and provide no support to their staff;
  3. Managers react to initial teething problems with Web 2.0 engagement by shutting it all down and banning further exploration of the potential;

Your Challenges & Your Solutions?
I know that not only can all these challenges be overcome – but they have been. Somewhere.

If you’ve overcome one of the challenges here – could you write 50 words on how you did it? Add it as a comment here or your own blog post including the tag ‘smallchallenges’.

Or perhaps you can add to the challenges list? Naming the challenges is the first step to overcoming them!

Digital engagement & organisational change

Next week I’ll be helping out David Wilcox, Dave Briggs and team with a bit of social reporting from the National Digital Inclusion Conference 2009.

We’ll be bringing together content on the Digital Engagement Blog and Network, a new project described by Helen Milner from UK Online Centres as

a collaborative space for all those interested in digital engagement to share ideas and agree priorities for action around digital engagement. Our first focus is developing a Manifesto for Digital Engagement, which you can read about here.

So – to join in that discussion before I’m in a social reporter role next week I jotted down a few reflections about Digital Engagement and Organisational Change posted originally on the Digital Engagement blog, and re-posted below.

Digital Engagement and Organisational Change

There are an amazing amount of elements that go into successful and sustainable engagement with social media – and there tend to be even more elements needed when we’re talking about engagement by public sector organisations.

Just to set up a fairly simple project using a blog, or a social network site profile, to engage service users might, in the long run, need:

  • up-to-date computer hardware & software;
  • internet access free of filters and blocks on social media sites;
  • sign-off from managers and support from senior management for experimentation with social media;
  • a clear policy sanctioning use of social media;
  • guidance to staff on how to use social media tools in line with the policy;
  • updates to related policies and strategies;
  • a procedure for responding to any problems that arise;
  • skills development within a whole team so the project can be sustained even if staff change;
  • research into potential approaches to using the blog / social network site;
  • copy written to clearly explain the project;
  • backup strategies in case anything goes wrong with the social media platforms being used;
  • an evaluation plan;
  • and a whole lot more.

When it comes to social media engagement with young people, then public sector organisations (and others) will need to add a whole host of further key elements around safeguarding policies and youth participation.

All these elements are important – and some are essential pre-requisites before any engagement can get underway. But if all these elements are seen as part of a big list of separate hurdles and barriers for each individual public sector project wanting to engage with social media to overcome we’re going to be waiting a long time for widespread digital engagement to become a reality.

Learning from youth participation
Embedding effective youth participation into the way an organisation works also involves many elements: from getting a clear commitment to participation in organisational values, through to developing staff skills and even making sure finance structures are set up able to cover the petty cash for young people’s travel expenses.

Over the past four or five years I’ve worked with the Hear by Right tool – a standards framework designed to support the organisational change needed for effective youth participation. This collection of 49 different indicators under 7 key standards has been instrumental in many organisations moving towards better and more sustainable youth engagement. Hear by Right divides it’s indicators into ‘Emerging’, ‘Established’ and ‘Advanced’ levels. <any of the organisations I’ve watched using Hear by Right over the last four years are still working at the ‘Emerging’ level (embedding participation is a long journey!) – but, the presence of the standards framework – turning a list of potential hurdles into a clear and achievable plan of action – means that they are able to move forward with their youth engagement rather than to get stuck in inaction.

In the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time working with organisations interested in taking their youth participation practice online and into social media spaces. However, in the absence of a framework like Hear by Right for digital engagement we’ve spent at least some of the time going round in circles – unable to develop staff skills until policies are in place, and unable to get policies without providing the benefit of engagement, and unable to do that without skilled staff able to engage etc.

An organisational change framework for digital engagement?
I’ve already started work on sketching out an organisational change tool for youth-sector organisations seeking to explore their engagement with social media (and I hope to be able to share an early version for others to contribute to in the next few months) – but the challenges exist not only in the worlds of youth work and youth participation.

Perhaps the digital engagement manifesto give rise to a widely applicable framework for digital engagement organisational change?

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