Local by Social South West – some reflections #LbyS

I was fortunate enough to attend Local by Social South West in Bristol last Friday. Allotment 5 and a half has done a detailed round-up of the day, and the hashtag #LbyS is the best round-up of the how the day itself progressed for those interested.

Here I just wanted to capture a few, brief and generally unrelated reflections on the day.

  • Being in a room of people with diverse interests and perspectives is always fun. Pretty much every set of stakeholders was represented on the day, leading to a rich debate on the topics put forward.
  • Being in a room of people with the common interests of data, apps and gov2.0 was great. For me, it takes me out of the “frontline feeling” of constantly working through people to put ideas into practice and gives me time to think about ideas and draw energy and enthusiasm from other like-minded people. (“Frontline”, after all, is most commonly applied as a war metaphor, suggesting a break from it every once in a while is no bad thing.)
  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard accessibility present itself as a theme so much in an event. I often need to make the point about access – in its widest sense – at various events I attend; Local by Social was a very welcome exception to this rule.
  • Though I was fairly pleased with the talk I gave – on how one well-known, existing group of apps (location-based social media like Foursquare and Gowalla) could be used to contribute to the solution of poor information in social care – I don’t think it got much traction in the room. I’ll confess to being a bit disappointed by this, since I think it is a practical solution using apps to one of the most pressing public policy and public sector reform issues we currentl face and are likely to face. My talk is embedded below, so you can judge this assertion for yourself.
  • I always have a slight frustration with days like Local by Social, and this is that ideas seem to be king. I take the view that it’s not ideas we’re short of, it’s the ability to turn them into differences in practice in the toughest of environments – organisational settings. When asked what my one reflection for the day was, I wish I’d said this instead of whatever I did say. (I wish also that I wasn’t always the pessimist in the room; this, sadly, is my nature.)
  • Attracting someone like Emer Coleman – Director of Digital Projects at GLA – to the day was a real coup, and Emer presented a fantastic talk. You can access it here, and I’d thoroughly recommend you do.
  • Ditto Tim Davies’s presentation. For an underpinning and understanding of open data and applications, you can do no better than follow Tim on Twitter and also check out his slides.
  • The organisers of the day – including Ingrid from IDe&A, FutureGov (Carrie, Francis and Lauren) and Connecting Bristol – did an amazing job.

I’m conscious this sounds like an at-best lukewarm view of the day. It’s not meant to be, because I thought the day was valuable; I suppose it’s just a reminder to myself that, alongside the ideas people, there will always be those needed to translate them into (1) actions and – for commissioners – (2) demonstrable (and cashable) benefits.


Social care and Foursquare

It’s around a week before the Local by Social event in the South West. I’m lucky enough to have been invited to talk on the topic of location-based social media and social care (thus the title of this post), and I said I’d share some of my emerging thoughts on what I’m planning to say. The thoughts below are therefore shared in the hope people will comment and offer their thoughts on the proposed argument so that I can steal incorporate them (attributed, of course!).

I’m planning the talk in 3 parts: the first is on why information is so important in social care (identify the problem); the second is on how location-based social media can contribute to the solution (identify the solution); the final is to outline why a 2.0 way of thinking in this area is needed (the “why”).

For the first section, I was planning to:

  • Give an outline of the scale and reach of social care
  • Provide a sense of how much time, effort and, more fundamentally, money, is spent on providing adequate information, advice and guidance (IAG) to potential or actual social care users (clue: a lot)
  • Outline the problems of providing IAG on both the demand side (ie for users) and the supply side (for commissioners and service providers)
  • Share a sense of the poor flows of information and the asymmetries between the demand- and supply-sides.

Having set out the context of the issue/problem in part one, part two would be the part where I show how location-based social media is part of the solution. (Any examples people have of good uses of location-based social media already in social care or any other field would be great.)

After the quick solution overview, the final part of the argument is in 3 parts, all broadly applying common 2.0 arguments/benefits to the topic in hand as to why this is a Good Thing to do/try, as follows:

(1) Shifting the power dynamics

  • People contribute to it rather than having it thrust upon them. Creating and sharing data and information in this way provides a sense of ownership for the people sharing/contributing it, rather than being passive recipients of the information presented to them
  • It is bottom-up, not top-down. Local government collating information is a very central, coordinating way of doing things and assumes everyone goes to the same place to get their information. They don’t, and that means there are big gaps in coverage and/or audience
  • It’s a two-way process, not one way. If someone has some information, it tends to get passed “up” to the LA and the individual no longer has control or ownership over it, which is a vertical transaction from the person up to the Council rather than a shared exchange as in the case of social media.

(2) Making the most of everyone’s expertise

  • The location-based social media approach uses local expertise and is therefore likely to pick up information that the “centre” might not. It makes everyone’s expertise more available
  • It is an open invitation for anyone to contribute their expertise based on their experiences. Information collection relating to social care can often be the preserve of providers and support services in the private and voluntary sectors to local councils; this approach supplants that
  • It’s geographically expert. Typically, centrist approaches mean by proxy that information closer to the centre (the local authority) is more likely to be represented in the centre’s repository. Information that exists a greater distance from the centre may not be captured, nor even known about; Foursquare et al overcome that.

(3) Efficient, transparent and intelligent

  • I’m loathed to stress this too much, but it’s likely to be a hook Councils will want thought about. Location-based social media could provide a cheaper contributor to information strategies, especially as a way of keeping things accurate and up-to-date. Current approaches are resource intensive and require staff to find the info, process it, publish it and then tell people about it
  • Creating, capturing and sharing information this way is more open, transparent and “accessible” a way of sharing information than it currently happens
  • Using social media provides a natural aggregator of views and opinions, as well as a form of quality assurance, that can inform commssioner intentions in a more engaged, slightly deeper way than traditional information strategies may.

Time means I won’t have the chance to cover the numerous challenges that such an approach will face. For completeness, I offer below the headlines on what I think are the biggest challenges (which undoubtedly exist – social media is no silver bullet):

  • Accessibility, and how social media works in general, and location-based social media in particular, for different types of people across different impairment and equality groups
  • The technological and digital divides
  • Quality Assurance
  • Encouraging providers to engage with this as a business opportunity
  • The prevalence of 2.0 thinking in the public sector.

What do you think? Is there too much information? Too little information? Are there bits I should drop or particularly focus on? Does my logic hold or are there gaps in my thinking?

Any and all comments welcome. I’ll aim to share a draft of the talk before I do it (if Ingrid, Francis et al let me!); otherwise, final versions of the talk/any slides after the event. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Foursquare / @foursquare

I’ve signed up for Foursquare, which is

… a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things. We aim to build things to not only help you keep up with the places your friends go, but that encourage you to discover new places and challenge you to explore your neighborhood in new ways.

4sq.pngAs with all these things, the immediate value doesn’t become clear until you’ve used it a fair bit: when a friend invited me to use Flickr, I took one look at it and promptly ignored it for the next year. Despite being aware of Twitter for around a year, I ignored it. The rest, much to the chagrin of some of the less illuminated of my friends, is history.

And so the same goes for Foursquare. But there’s a few things going for it that I like immediately: an intuitive iPhone app, some nice incentives built into the design (badges and mayoralties) and the chance to learn more about not just London but localities (even hyperlocalities) within London.

It will be better the more friends are on Foursquare, so please do sign up.