UKGovWeb barcamp event

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 the
KM landscape, making it far easier to connect with peers and experts,
and facilitating far more effective knowledge sharing and
collaboration. We are moving beyond the factory model of ICT, which
focussed on centralisation, standardisation and storage to a more
diverse and less regulated environment.

For some, this provides the opportunity to break out of the silo
working practices so prevalent across the public sector, and encourages
a more productive and collaborative approach to online knowledge
sharing. Others see this as undermining the integrity and quality of
established (and centralised) knowledge repositories and best practice
procedures, and equate social networking with purely leisure and
entertainment 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)in
September 2006. The underlying purpose was to see if Web 2.0
technologies and social media applications would encourage staff
working in local authorities to share ideas, best practice and policy
initiatives across the sector, without being inhibited or constrained
by geographical location or boundaries (e.g. the local council’s
boundary). Given that most councils were being squeezed by lower
budgets on the one side, and pressure to improve services on the other,
the only way many of them could drive through any further efficiencies
was through smarter ways of working – which is how this overall
initiative was promoted.

Despite some resistance from the more senior tiers in local
government, who are still wedded to the traditional ‘command and
control’ methods for managing staff and services, the overall strategy
has been remarkably successful. The platform was launched in September
2006, and membership has grown from nothing to over 7000
registered members – and still growing. There are over 200 active
communities on the platform (which is free to join for public sector
employees) with representation from nearly all the 400+ councils in
England 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 the
concept of virtual collaboration using social computing/Web 2.0
facilities and

3. creating, developing and growing effective communities of
practice in local government, where command and control systems are
prevalent." 

I would be interested in hearing from anyone at the barcamp who has tried a
similar approach for encouraging shared learning, or is considering
doing so in the environment they work in. I’m happy to share the
lessons I’ve learnt, and anxious to pick up any hints and tips from
those 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 the
technology is in encouraging communities of practice or interest to
develop.

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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