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Moving On…PLEASE READ January 11, 2009

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If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve come to the OLD Wesenwille Link or you have subscribed to the old RSS feed.

I’ve moved Wesenwille onto my own server at wesenwille.campbellwright.co.uk – please go there and use the subscriptions box to subscribe, either by RSS or email.

I hope you continue to read and enjoy WESENWILLE.

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Tweet You Later January 9, 2009

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.
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I’ve done a few blog entrys about Twitter, because I think microblogging offers such a simple and accessible way to access all kinds of services.

The great thing about Twitter is that its API allows you to do just about anything with it.  Dave Briggs has done a great blog called TwitterHack which examines some of these and it’s well worth a look.  (Bloomin’ Briggsy – I was just developing my own version and he beat me to it…nevermind!)  I thought I might add this as my own contribution to it:

There’s a lot to be said for Twitter NOT becoming an automated tool – Stephen Fry’s Twitter is better than Billy Bragg’s because it is so personal.  However, in a PR or Corporate environment, it is often useful to have an automated function.  I found TweetLater the other day and tried it out over Christmas, when I didn’t want to be online.  There are three basic functions:

  • Automatically Sent Tweets when you’re unable to
  • Send replies to people who follow you on Twitter
  • Automatically follow anyone who follows you

There’s other things it can do too, like tweet a daily digest of people who followed you and various tracking tools.

Time for mobile outlook? November 25, 2008

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(also reproduced on ADCOLOG)

We’re used to equipping ICT suites with PCs, especially public access suites.  Well, that’s what communities want, isn’t it, to access the internet.

Well, yes, but it seems more and more people are acessing the net using their mobile phone, as this BBC article shows.

I wonder if this could be the start of a shift in how communities, espcailly those in more deprived areas use the net.  When we’re putting together our capital funding bids, we need to seriously consider the equipping of community facillities with mobile access, and gearing our curriculum towards this.

The Risk of Not… November 25, 2008

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I just thought I’d draw attention to this news article from BBC Online.

There’s some interesting stuff in it later on about the Digital Divide, something that is increasingly becoming a theme on this, and other blogs.   However, it’s the initial headline I want to expand on.

Just under a year ago Dave Briggs came to speak at an event I was involved in organising where we were talking about risk.  His background in risk management meant we could have a very informed discussion around the dangers of not only access to inappropriate materials, but also the risk of NOT accessing them.  It’s an ongoing theme, that appears to be ignored by the strategists as this article shows.  I was really pleased to see it directly refer to blocks at school and opening times:

“The quality of access is what matters for some kids who have to just rely on the library and school to go online. It is often limited, has blocks put on access to certain sites and is only available when these institutions are open.”

So what’s going on?  Well, on the other side of the coin, we have articles like this one in MJ this week.   While employee time must be a consideration it is worries like this that stifle innovation.  In the same MJ, the editorial makes a point about the culture of blame stifling innovation (see previous post for link).  The only way to counter this is to really look at the risk, as Dave Briggs suggested and say: “Whats the risk of doing it AND what’s the risk of NOT doing it.?”  If research such as that cited by the BBC is to be believed, the latter will often win outright.

Public Sector Innovation Conference – Part 3 (NEETS) November 25, 2008

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This final post was prompted by the excellent workshop facilitated by Dr Richard Williams, the Chief Executive of Rathbone, on Engaging 16 – 18 year old NEETS using innovative methods.  It was based on some interesting research carried out partly by Rathbone amongst NEETs that found, amongst other things:

  • That young people who are NEETs ARE motivated about the things we (as a society) think they should be motivated in
  • That NEETs feel alienated from mainstream education because of needs that are often very individual.
  • That there were SIGNIFICANT unmet learner support needs in the education system
  • The the casualisation of the labour market has impacted on NEETs trying to find and maintain employment.

Nothing rocket science based, but good to see quantifiable research backing up what community workers are saying.  During the discussion that followed, I raised the theory that the classroom is not in line with modern children’s linked up, social media world.   I ventured the opinion that, despite technology and social media being used in education, the basic model has remained the same.

While I found broad agreement, there were some who definitely disagreed.  They argued that classrooms have moved too far from the old style lecture and that classrooms are now far more participative.  This may be true, but I still stand by the idea that the classroom is based on the hierarchical model, as are most local authority services.  Services provide for you, in very much the way that a Web 1.0 webpage informed.  However, young people live in a Web 2+ world, of linked up information and constant collection, reflection, aggregation and presentation.  Services need to move, I argue, in line with that.

An example for me would be some of the stories that came through during the conference.  For example, an innovative idea at Lewisham Council allowed staff at all levels to bid for small amounts of capital.  Some street wardens bid for mobile devices, that allowed them to report issues such as broken street lights while on the move.  This is a very simple idea, but could have a fundamental difference.  They key is, that a person who moans about a street light can now report it directly via the street warden, who can report it instantly without a whole string of people and papers that would take weeks.  There must be many more ideas like that.

To conclude, I want to examine this post in relation to the last one.  As I went off on my technology tangent, as I’m prone to do, someone rightly pointed out to me that many young people are not connected to the net.  However, it seems, almost all have mobile phones.  This shows to me how careful we need to be in imposing online services, when mobile services are what is called for and the array of different tariffs and bolt -ons may isolate people from, say, net usage or some mobile applications.  In order that we don’t extend that digital divide, we need to look at linked up, web 3-Esq services – but with the option that doesn’t rely on the use of technology.

Public Sector Innovation Conference – Part 2 (Service User Responsibility) November 25, 2008

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These next two posts are just going to focus on a couple of issues I came up with during my the conference.  It shouldn’t imply they were the best points, but the points I felt needed more exposure or reflection.

The first point was made very briefly during an excellent all round presentation by the leader of Barnett Council around the “Why Innovate? ” idea.  It was a good all round presentation and any local authority looking at innovation would do well to take a look at what Barnett have done – however this brief point was almost lost in the good work case studies.  It was one about the responsibilities of the service users.

When I worked in front line work, there was often talk about the fact that service users needed to accept responsibility in engaging with services.  There was only so much services could do.  I have heard this mentioned constantly in terms of care services, but never in terms of innovation.

This got me thinking – as the world becomes more tech savvy, is it fair to start expecting service users or customers or whatever they may be pidegonholed as, to start using technology, or any other innovative approaches, because they “make life easier”?  Where does this leave us ethically if, say, someone feels threatened by the online environment?   Does this simply expand the digital divide?

I doubt I’ll get any argument to the idea that literature and language is a good thing but I’m sure many would also agree that our insistence on communicating important information through complicated language has meant that the literacy divide has been an issue for years.  It’s not really possible or desirable to reverse hundreds of years of literacy reliance, but we need to be careful how we approach the digital divide.  Are we assuming that, in the future, information will be given out via microblogs and and virtual worlds and anyone who can’t use, or doesn’t want, an account will be left behind?  Already we’re seeing how digital banking is meaning the closure of local branches and Post Offices, much to the alarm of elderly people who are digitally illiterate.  That said, what’s the risk of keeping old, costly systems running because some people don’t like the internet.  If some people said they didn’t like reading, we wouldn’t send them picturegrams…maybe we should.

Another point made in this presentation that I intended to expand upon was the idea that the culture of blame springing up following cases like “Baby-P” will stifle local`government and community innovation. However, since then I’ve read this excellent editorial in MJ and think it makes any point I could.

Local Government Innovation Conference (Part 1) November 21, 2008

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I’m just coming back from two days at the Public Sector Innovation Conference in London.

I’m going to blog some of the ideas I came up with more fully over the next few days, however I thought now was possibly the time to write a bit about the conference generally. Dominic Campbell, from FutureGov, was there and has done an excellent write up day one already, so I won’t re-invent the wheel. For me, this was a great time to get back to my general local government roots (as opposed to community learning) and also a chance to see innovation that’s happening away from social media.

That said, I was disappointed by the low-key role social media seemed to play in the minds of many of the delegates (though not in the organisation of the conference, which I felt pitched it just right). I was worried how few people there had even heard of Twitter, Immersive Worlds, or even Web 2.0. What was encouraging was the willingness to learn…I feel it may be better late than never, but it is nevertheless something that is finally emerging.

My strategy was, from a works point of view, to see how, if at all possible, local government E-Learning Strategies could fit in with general local government innovation strategies. The answer was a very mixed….on the one hand, I saw very many areas where community learning overlapped, both in terms of technology and general practice. However, there seemed an over-caution from some at the idea of doing any innovation with the customers directly and, with a few notable exceptions, learning staff were not often considered in terms of front line services. I’m very keen to try and change this, as adult & community learning teams, alongside community development workers, youth workers and front line librarians are more important in terms of contact with the priority “customers” than many customer service staff. I’ll try and develop this theme from this blog over the next few months, to see if I explain myself more clearly. However, National Express Trains are not the best agents to get my creative juices flowing.

My personal strategy was to see what was out there – see if innovation was really making a difference, and in this regard the conference was a great success. There were very clear examples of how ideas are making real changes to people’s lives and this event acted as a showcase as a well as a policy debate and, in this regard, succeeded in achieving something many events fail at. There was a quiet enthusiasm underlying the event and many ideas for and from lots of people.

I hope it will run again next year so that we can get a feel of how much these seeds have sunk in….and to give some of the Twitter crowd a chance to come and show off some social media, a side of innovation that, while accepted readily, clearly hasn’t been demonstrated at the higher end of local government.

Nothing is free in a library October 23, 2008

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I went a library orientated day with work this week, so maybe libraries are on my mind.  You may have seen this story in the news earlier in the week.  Author Iain Sinclair started a debate about free speech in libraries after Hackney Council banned him from launching his book at their library because he had expressed anti-olympic and anti-regeneration views.  Onre comment I heard went along the lines of: “There are lots of books in the library that won’t quote council policy – who are the council to decide what books we can read?  A public library should be a place for freedom of knowledge”.

I’d like to take that question a step further and shamelessly jump on Iain’s bandwagon.  If we’re going to talk about freedom of press, do we not need to talk about freedom of search as well?  I know of many public libraires where MySpace, Facebook and even FriendsReunited are banned.  Is this not censorship in the same way?  If we are, in our public buildings, preventing access to the most powerfull tools communities possess, the freedom to freely communicate, are we failing them?

Answers on a postcard….or just via the comment box.

Poverty & Technology – An Obvious Mix October 15, 2008

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Today is an International Blogger Action Day on Poverty.  The great thing about his is that it can really get a disscussion going.  The bad news is, someone has almost certainly written the blog post you want to write already.  A good example of this is Neville Hobson’s post this morning about how technology has become so essential to people that children see not having a mobile phone as a sign of poverty.  In some ways, I think it’s really sad that materials are now so important….but another part of me is secretly delighted that we live in such a technologically enabled society that almost everyone has a mobile phone.  So what to write?  Ah, I’ve got it.  The key is in the phrase, almost everyone.

I think it comes down to a few posts I’ve noticed since the credit crunch hit.  I’ve seen a few messages now from people who are dropping their internet connections and, indeed, their phone lines in an attempt to make ends meet.  The local authority worker in me kicks in at this point and I patronisingly tell people that they can go to their local library to access the internet.  But, I was well and truly put in my place by one facebook friend who pointed out that her local library is six miles away.

I thought back to a hard hitting talk at the last E-Guides Conference from Dave Carter of the Manchester Digital Development Agency.  Dave drew to our attention the fact that, in many European countries, communities have got together and laid their own broadband.  Cities are wireless enabled.  EVERYONE can access the net.

But hold on – isn’t that happening here?  Not according to Dave’s speech.  He pointed out that the areas that get the broadband are the main city centres, often the financial centres.  Regulation on the laying of cables restricts farmers from digging a hole and laying some cable.  The regeneration areas are often the ones that simply are not wired up.

But let’s not worry.  Everyone has mobile phones.  You can use the internet on those now.  Of course that doesn’t wash either.  A great deal of my net communication is done via my mobile.  But then, I have, at my last check, a good enough credit rating to get a contract mobile phone with a free internet and text bolt on.  Sadly, on pay-as-you go, it isn’t that easy.  You then look at the services that link to SMS.  Twitter is good example here.  They recently cut their service of sending SMS to UK consumers because they could not negotiate a deal with the UK mobile suppliers.  I keep finding wonderful SMS-to-Net tools that don’t work in the UK.  If we’re going to open this to everyone, mobile operators need to be in on the game.

So, it’s back to the library.  But, as any public library assistant will tell you, there is some real tension in the library service about the use of libraries for “social” computer use.  Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s our litigious society, but either way even where you can access the web in libraries for social purposes a great deal of it is locked down.  I’ve heard many teachers level strong accusations of this against the NGFL systems in many areas too.

For me, the great thing about technology is that it removes the last barriers of class and education.  Technology can make the literary accessible to the illiterate, education available to the un-educated and, more importantly, highlight the issues vice versa.  Technology can make everything accessible.  However, there is still one barrier.  The access to technology.  The so called ‘digital divide’.  However, it isn’t so much that people are not skilled in using it.  It’s about access.  Not access to technology, but access to the infrastructures that let communities thrive, develop, upskill  and formulate themselves.

My discussion point, for blogger action day on poverty, is this:

“How do we work with the ISPs and Mobile providers, the wi-fi makers and the city planners, the local authorities and the public sector bodies and the existing geographic communities to bring about change that is accessible, unrestricted (within reason), and, most of all, affordable?  If we don’t acheive this, will those without the access will become the technologically impoverished?”

Community Safety & Hyperlocal Twitter Accounts October 7, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Community Safety, engagement, strategy.
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In my last post about Simon Wakeman’s blog I mentioned Community Safety.  Then, as I plodded through my RSS Feed I came across DaveFleet’s idea about Hyper-Local Twitter accounts.  Why shouldn’t a council break it’s news down by neighbourhood and feed it out through a Twitter account?  Additionally, as Twitter doesn’t do SMS in the UK any more, a Jaiku or SMS account might work better.

I was once doing a communtiy ICT course and it became apparent that a number of the partcipants didn’t feel safe in their neighbourhood and had no idea who their local communtiy support officer was.  As a result, we delayed a later session so the Nieghbourhood Manager could come in and talk to the community about what was going on.  The feedback was amazing.  While I often use this example of how learning is central to council’s consultation and communciation strategies, it also made me think – if hyperlocal Twitter accounts existed and feeds that promote safety, couldn’t the learning team get invovled?  Wouldn’t a course on how to use the computer or mobile device to make yourself feel safe and informed be a lot more beneficial than a CLAIT course?  There’s a potential for some good research there if anyone is in a position to do it…