Category Archives: UK government

11 Million Takeover Day

Friday 07 November is the second annual Takeover Day – a chance for children and young people to takeover from adults. Last year the event had over 10,000 young people and 500 organisations taking part. Young people took over schools, newspapers, TV stations, shops and some even took over MPs and football clubs.

I think the Dudley Decision Making Kids, who also helped build the 11million.org.uk website, explain it better than I can:

The initiative is being championed by the Childrens Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley Green. He’s even blogging about it.

There are some pretty interesting ideas for Takeover Day. My favourite is the idea of taking over Harrods for the day and giving the money from the store to charity. It’s just a bit of shame the content isn’t current, that or one of the kids needs to be told Gordon Brown is now the Prime Minister (2.55 into the video)

The bebo site also looks like it could do with a few more members. Still these aren’t insurmountable problems, and if the participation rates are as high as last year, I imagine there will be an increase in how these tools are used.

It sounds like a good idea that’s worth supporting and I’ll be interested to see what this years takeover day will bring.

You can find more information about the project on the 11million.org.uk website.

Google Policy Fellowships

The team at Google have announced the details of the Summer 2009 Google Policy Fellowships.

Designed for undergraduates, graduates, or law students that are interested in the world of ‘tech policy’ the Google Policy Fellowship programme is an:

…effort to replicate the success of our Summer of Code program in the public policy sphere and to support students and organizations doing work that is important to the future of Internet users everywhere

Unfortunately everywhere is the US and Canada at the moment – I really wish there was a similar programme for Europe. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity:

Those selected as fellows for the 2009 summer will receive a stipend to spend ten weeks contributing to the public debate on technology policy issues – ranging from broadband policy to copyright reform to open government.

This sounds like something our friends in the Power of Information Task Force could help facilitate, perhaps with some help from the National School of Government?

If you are in North America and want to apply, you can find more details on the Google Policy Fellowship site.  Applications close December 12, 2008.

Show us a better way…

How about letting the community decide which idea has the most relevance to them? If that isn’t possible, why not try letting the community decide on a shortlist from the PoI taskforce? The facility to vote on an idea exists on the OPSI data unlocking service, it should with the show us a better way competition as well.

Show us a better way and make citizens rise to the challenge (and obligation) of deciding what they’d like to see achieved.

We can suggest the solution to a problem fairly easily – make us own it as well.

The HM Gov channel, brought to you by RSS Mixer

There are a lot of ways RSS and Atom feeds can make a difference to your audience. For me it meant being able to take .gov.uk news releases and display them in Twitter. For others it makes life a little easier, enabling them to get the content they need so users can tell people what they think about  consultation activity.

I find that being able to aggregate UK government feeds (when you can find them) is one of the more attractive aspects of being able to subscribe to content. I can take the content that is relevant to me and then read/watch/listen to what I want, when I want. 

Aside from the fairly ridiculous situation of finding government sites without a feed, the other thing I’ve had some issues with is working out how to aggregate them.

Aggregating feeds the easy way

I’ve been playing around with RSS Mixer over the last couple of days and it looks like it could be a simple and easy to use tool for people that have little or no technical expertise. The process for aggregating feeds is much easier than services like Yahoo pipes or, the slightly complicated way I pulled things together for HM Gov news: Google reader and Twitterfeed.

I pulled together an example that aggregates several government youtube channels (if I’ve missed any, let me know). You can export the aggregated feed into a variety of formats and there’s also a Firefox extension to make collecting your feeds easier.

This isn’t rocket science, which is precisely why I like it. After all, whilst RSS/ATOM may still be an emerging idea for some parts of government, centralising content in one place isn’t.

Happy aggregating.

H/T Jukesie for the heads-up.

At least they’re listening

This is easily one of the best examples I have seen recently of a company (EA) listening to web based conversation.

Dave Fleet’s post last week made me wonder if it was possible for government could do something similar – and then I realised we already have. Downing Street recently responded to a petition (almost 50,000 signatories) to make Jeremy Clarkson PM. Despite the criticism associated with the video, it showed Number 10 was listening to the feedback they receive. It might not be the best of responses… but they’re listening all the same.

Now… about those subtitles…

A Second Life for government?

The Department of Innovation Universities and Skills Social Media Manager, Steph Gray, asked an interesting question the other day about second life and examples of government use. I have to admit, I’m not a particularly big fan of the platform. Whilst I think there are potential applications for government in virtual worlds, take-up is still in its infancy and there are a lot of other ‘social media’ applications that would benefit from government use.

Who am I talking to, and when?

To date, I haven’t been able to convincingly argue why we should use Second Life as an engagement or policy development tool.

Previously, one of the more heavily used arguments for not using second life had centered on discussions involving a lack of available or inflated statistics.  Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life still claim the virtual world is ‘inhabited by millions of residents from around the globe’. This is a strange contrast to their August 21 economic statistics which indicate a population base in excess of 14 million unique ‘resident avatars’ but an active user base over the last month of less than 850,000.

Whilst the semi-active user base would normally be enough for me to suggest a ‘pass’ on the platform, this isn’t necessarily always the case for government, and there are some existing examples of public sector deployment that are worth a look at.

Current examples

The majority of public sector examples seem to be justified through a ‘look aren’t we clever’ approach, presumably backed by a business case that seeks to capitalise on being seen as an innovative early adopter of new technologies.

Despite the decreasing PR punch of being an early adopter in Second Life, one area where this approach may remain viable is through a unified government ‘in-world’ presence. Public diplomacy would seem an obvious choice.

Embassies have a strong presence in second life – two good European examples are Sweden and Estonia (though both were beaten to the ‘first-in Second Life’ tag by the Maldives).  These European examples seek to promote cultural and linguistic attributes of their countries. Estonia has also incorporated some transactional attributes within their embassy and visitors are able to to commence the application process for a ‘real-world’ visa.

The Australian State of Victoria has also developed a second life presence, Melbourne Laneways, which is co-hosted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The three month trial was designed to gather information on the viability of Victorian business operators establishing a presence within second life.

Key risks

One of the key risks suggested in the Melbourne Laneways project evaluation was the resentment of some second life users of real world companies ‘invading’ their fantasy space. John Edwards and Toyota are among some fairly big names to have been victims of ‘griefing’ attacks, which normally occur on unsuspecting or novice users. Dr Iain Coyne of the University of Nottingham has researched the practice of greifing:

…In Second Life it appears that the power imbalance between a griefer and a target is focused on knowledge and experience. A new resident (newbie) may be targeted because of their naivety and inability to stop the griefing. As one participant put it: ‘information is power…experience matters”

Which is all well and good if you are an experienced user, but I imagine it would be cold comfort to those of us unable to stop a patriotic nigras griefing attack involving avatars that include Hitler in pink hot pants or a legion of Super Mario’s from invading an organisations, all-important ‘world first’ Second Life announcement.

Despite the threat of second life trolls and the likelihood of needing a consultancy to manage the exercise (for all but the very experienced user) there are some examples emerging that highlight where the platform may be useful.

Where it seems to be working

Aside from establishing an embassy presence in Second Life there are some educational examples where government in conjunction with academic institutions seems to be making inroads.

Bertalan Mesko’s blog, Science Roll, recently featured work being done by Imperial College focussing on medical training applications in second life.

Similarly the British Council is using second life to enhance its interaction with teenagers and encourage global language learning.

These are just two prominent examples, a more comprehensive list with a focus on UK higher and further education is being put together by the Eduserve foundation.

Looking at the examples above, it occurs to me that a potential opportunity may exist for the UK Government to provide an environment for civil servants in conjunction with the National School of Government. To me this type of use would seem sensible and potentially avoid some of the   residential requirements of many of NSG’s courses.

Moving right along

To sum up what is an unusually long blog post for me, I’d recommend the following steps if asked to develop a second life presence within your organisation:

  1. Assess if you are able to use the platform on existing in-house IT infrastructure.
  2. Attempt to quantify if your audience uses Second Life and the amount of resources you will need to manage the platform.
  3. Seek alliances with existing government users of the platform
  4. Where disparate or multiple government use of the platform exists, try to unite them in one context

As Dan Herman over at the Wikinomics Blog suggests:

The key is thus to take Second Life for what it still is, a relatively unique niche space, whose utility for engagement should be targeted on its ability to pinpoint a population of Web 2.0 saavy users, and most important, in a visual and quasi-physical manner.

Have I got news for you.

Well I would, or rather COI’s news distribution service would, if they enabled RSS on government news releases.

I’ve asked the good folk at OPSI to include this request as part of their public sector unlocking service.

I’m still a bit surprised that central government departments haven’t asked for this to be included before – given many of them already have rss/atom feeds on their departmental sites it would be a logical extension of this capability. Enabling RSS would also provide government sites that are a little behind in providing rss to have at least some capability to distribute their information in a manner that people like to read it.

This really is a no-brainer and should not be difficult to do. It would extend the reach of goverment communications at little or no cost (or it shouldn’t at any rate- although Simon points out in his comments that NDS may have charged over £1000 for this service in the past)

People are interested in what the government has to say; if you would like to see your government news in your rss reader, you can vote for my request here.

How much should we pay to transform government?

Received an email today for the latest *special one day conference* on transformational government. The event, sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers is ‘designed primarily for senior civil servants and equivalent levels (I’m guessing this means those with a budget) across the public sector.’

So, at a bargain price of £480 senior staff can pay to hear their Ministers and colleagues speak about what they’d like to see their Department doing; listen to examples of how this has been done and also apply professional poker strategies to their work (it’s all about taking risks). This isn’t the first time a conference like this has been promoted to civil servants.

Recognising the fact that conferences cost money to promote and run, there has to be a better way of encouraging participation by civil servants. Budgets across Whitehall are tight – if 40 civil servants were to attend, we miss an opportunity to make the civil service more transparent, open and responsive for citizens – all in the name of the very programme that is supposed to bring about this change.

I don’t begrudge the organisers the opportunity to regain costs or even make a profit, but at the very least they could make it more interesting and inclusive by offering a couple of free tickets through some sort of competition.

After all, competition in Whitehall seems to be all the rage these days.

Her Majesty’s news – 606 twurls, 6047 clicks.

A few weeks ago I changed the options in Mario’s excellent twitterfeed service to shorten HMGov’s tinyurls to twurls. One of the things that’s always bugged me a little bit about the HMGOV twitterfeed is that I wasn’t sure how I could effectively track usage. Using tweetburner I’m able to monitor the clicks on @HMGov links – 606 twurls with 6047 clicks to date.

I’m quite surprised by the numbers, particularly with only 160 odd users (less the bots). I wonder how they stack up to press notices on existing .gov.uk sites or a gov twitter account with more subscribers like downing street?