UKGovWeb barcamp event

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I’m looking forward to attending the UKGovWeb barcamp this coming Saturday 26th January – though  not quite sure what to expect, this being my first barcamp event. However, I’m encouraged by the fact that  the organisers (and primarily Jeremy Gould) have done this sort of thing before and have avoided getting bogged down with over-prescriptive planning at the expense of delivery. Judging from the list of  presenters and topics noted on the barcamp wiki and the very active forum discussions in the Google Group,  there is enough creative energy to carry the day and make it a worthwhile learning and sharing experience for everyone.

Time and scheduling permitting, I will be presenting and discussing the work I’ve been doing these past two years in introducing social networking and Web 2.0 technologies into local government in order to  improve inter-authority collaboration and provide learning and sharing opportunities. The ultimate objective being to improve council services through smarter ways of working. The following is a brief synopsis of what I will cover:

“Social tools and technologies are changing theKM landscape, making it far easier to connect with peers and experts,and facilitating far more effective knowledge sharing andcollaboration. We are moving beyond the factory model of ICT, whichfocussed on centralisation, standardisation and storage to a morediverse and less regulated environment.

For some, this provides the opportunity to break out of the siloworking practices so prevalent across the public sector, and encouragesa more productive and collaborative approach to online knowledgesharing. Others see this as undermining the integrity and quality ofestablished (and centralised) knowledge repositories and best practiceprocedures, and equate social networking with purely leisure andentertainment activities.

Early in 2006 I set about persuading the Improvement and Development  Agency (www.idea.gov.uk) to develop a  social networking/social media platform for local government. This was eventually launched (www.communities.idea.gov.uk)inSeptember 2006. The underlying purpose was to see if Web 2.0technologies and social media applications would encourage staffworking in local authorities to share ideas, best practice and policyinitiatives across the sector, without being inhibited or constrainedby geographical location or boundaries (e.g. the local council’sboundary). Given that most councils were being squeezed by lowerbudgets on the one side, and pressure to improve services on the other,the only way many of them could drive through any further efficiencieswas through smarter ways of working – which is how this overallinitiative was promoted.

Despite some resistance from the more senior tiers in localgovernment, who are still wedded to the traditional ‘command andcontrol’ methods for managing staff and services, the overall strategyhas been remarkably successful. The platform was launched in September2006, and membership has grown from nothing to over 7000registered members – and still growing. There are over 200 activecommunities on the platform (which is free to join for public sectoremployees) with representation from nearly all the 400+ councils inEngland and Wales.

The key challenges in developing the strategy (and still to be entirely overcome)  were:

1. moving from a culture of knowledge repositories(people-to-information) to one of knowledge collaboration(people-to-people),
2. introducing a sceptical and mature staff demographic to theconcept of virtual collaboration using social computing/Web 2.0facilities and
3. creating, developing and growing effective communities ofpractice in local government, where command and control systems areprevalent.” 

I would be interested in hearing from anyone at the barcamp who has tried asimilar approach for encouraging shared learning, or is consideringdoing so in the environment they work in. I’m happy to share thelessons I’ve learnt, and anxious to pick up any hints and tips fromthose who have already trodden this rocky path.

I’m particularly interested in any anecdotes from delegates on how they have addressed the three points mentioned above.

I’m also interested in hearing views about how important thetechnology is in encouraging communities of practice or interest todevelop.

You can follow the planning for this event (and presumably the outputs from the day) on the aggregated Pageflakes page that Dave Briggs – “the Web 2.0 dynamo” – has set up.

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