Tag Archives: #lgcyh

#lgcyh1: Crowdsourcing

>Sorry that this has taken so long to emerge and you’ll have to forgive that it is no longer as directly attributed as I might have liked. So, it may be less a report of the session and drift into a discussion of the themes…

This session was hosted by Rob Wilmot who wanted to talk about how we could harness the wisdom of crowds in the work that we do. He showed off Nation Thinks which asks people to contribute their ideas to the budget and then to either vote up or vote down the responses. Sites like MyStarbucksIdea.com are the inspiration for it and this is that idea writ large for the very act of governance on a national level.

We started off with our doubts. Aren’t we all already over consulted? How on earth do you manage to differentiate between what is noise and what is of value? Isn’t encouraging the crowdsourcing of opinion dangerous? After all, newspaper polls generally suggest that the crowdsourcing of criminal justice policy would result in reintroducing capital punishment? And we forget Godwin’s law at our peril

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1

Emma Langman suggested that it was possible to crowdsource arguments and connect their dots to maintain credibility. She flagged up Cohere, a project from the Open University that helps to visualise the thread of an argument and cite wildly different sources in a way that allows cases to be assessed on their merits and sources to be verified. She argued that it is in the divergent opinions that crowdsourcing finds its beauty. Too often we are encouraged to fall in to a particular way of thinking and to follow the crowd. Can crowdsourcing present an opportunity to change that?

There’s probably a lot of us who went to LGCYH because we want to find those divergent opinions and get stuck into them. Understanding conflict is something that in general we don’t do very well and we try to hide from. Crowdsourcing has the potential to shine a giant light onto those disagreements and we don’t much like that so it’s inevitable that it isn’t coming to us naturally.

But crowd sourcing isn’t just about ideas, it’s about gathering data and information too as we saw in the way that The Guardian treated the expenses scandal. We shouldn’t forget that it’s also about being able to make a personal contribution to seeing change take place. Chris Taggart very wisely pointed out that the act of self-organising used to be really hard but the tools are there for people to get something off the ground very quickly.

Sites like What Do They Know simplify the act of making Freedom of Information requests whilst publishing them to give everyone access. The internet has changed our expectations: 28 days for a response used to be fine, but we find it possible to get almost instantaneous tweet. The pre-internet age restricted dialogue to letters, now rather than single, direct answers we offer open and transparent conversations that can be accessed by anybody. I think what the state of Texas has done with GetSatisfaction is excellent and the open discussion and publication of ideas, questions, problems and even praise it offers can build into an excellent resource for the public and a much cheaper access channel for the state.

So can the #opendata movement help local government to move beyond the numerical to seeing dramatic shifts in organisational culture? Emma Langman had seen her sister driven to ask her council for the process maps relating to a particular issue and that raised the question of why our default position isn’t to put those maps somewhere accessible for people to understand what exactly happens when they report a problem, or request a service. There’s very little to be gained by shrouding the act of doing local government in mystery.

There’s also very little point in just publishing data believing that it equates to transparency. The thirst for transparency needs us to think about how we use crowd sourcing tools and practice to make consultation, data providing, wisdom gathering and idea generating more meaningful. Successfully doing that necessitates it to be rooted in a culture that is open to the things it flags up, or that seeks to build on, or feed into, the personal contribution of others. It’s the implications, not the technology.

>LocalGovCamp Yorkshire & Humber: #lgcyh

>I spent last Saturday at the National Railway Museum but I wasn’t there to look at the trains. I was there with about 80 others for an unconference about local government.

Erm, what’s an unconference?

I’m sure there’s a full definition at Wikipedia but I think of them as being what you’d be left with if you turned the principals of participation on their head and removed keynote speakers and the cost from a traditional conference. There is a venue and there are organisers but the agenda and the structure are pitched over coffee and bacon sandwiches. Some come more prepared than others; the experts can be relied on to bring their insights, others collaborate before the event but equally things just bubble up as the day progresses.

Hold on, you gave up a Saturday during the World Cup to talk about work…are you mad?

I have some sympathy for those who looked at me like I’d lost the plot when I attempted to entice them along and I wonder whether it’s hard to see the value if you’ve never come face to face with the concept in the first place? I’m not sure of the conversion rate but it always seems to find people singing their praises afterwards.

Twitter eavesdropping had given me my exposure to these events as well as connecting to some of the main protagonists but I did get to LocalGovCamp Lincoln where I put real human people to @s and avatars and found the unconference format to be really enjoyable (Andy is talking of hosting another). And Saturday was another opportunity to rub actual shoulders with some of the people pioneering new ideas in local authorities around the country. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to collar all those I follow and sadly I was the only person from Hull City Council to make it (obviously I was more irritating than persuasive in my efforts to encourage people to come!)

One of the other disappointments of the day was the absence of the movers and the shakers. I work in a very hierarchical environment and it seems that across the country there’s a real disconnect between the influential and the innovative. Of course there are notable exceptions and it’s clear that some of the places represented at #lgcyh have achieved significant victories. Their trailblazing can help to further the debate but, for now, those paid to provide leadership in facing down the challenges we face are conspicuous in their absence from the discussions and these events.

In many ways perhaps there was little point in my having gone on Saturday given my role at work. However, from a completely selfish perspective it was fantastic to spend the day surrounded by a group of people who are passionate enough about the work they do and the public they serve to give up a Saturday and travel significant distances to share ideas and talk about the challenges they are overcoming. I took plenty from the four sessions I attended (blogs coming soon) and it was great to meet new people as well as those I already knew.

Last week saw the start of the formal process of the Graduate Scheme coming to an end. When I applied for this job I was excited by the hope of transformation that shone through the city’s rhetoric. That excitement has been dulled by the discovery that much of it was just words and the apparent lack of value or strategic thought given to our futures. However, it’s great to know that elsewhere in the region real value is placed on innovation and that there’s a real ambition to transform public services.

An event like #lgcyh fits snugly with the excellent parts of the Graduate Scheme. Our flitting from service to service has offered a wide experience of local government. Our studying in Birmingham has exposed us to new ideas and encouraged us to explore innovation on an equal footing to men and women with varied experience and varied responsibility. Saturday was an opportunity for the story of local government to be told from a variety of angles and provide a fertile environment for new ideas. It was inspiring, exciting and challenging.

Huge thanks to Ken Eastwood, Kev Campbell-Wright and Melanie Reed who were the ringleaders in organising the day and kudos too to the National Railway Museum which was a cracking venue and put on a good spread (I judge most things on the quality of the cake).

Picture credits:
‘The Programme’ by London Looks (@ingridk)