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The resolutions won't be televised

I’ve been reflecting on some of the trends of 2009 and thinking about what New Year’s resolutions local government could take up in its approach to technology.

Thanks to digital technologies, more people are creating content and collaborating online in ways that weren’t possible before.

If we want radical efficiencies, it can’t be about doing the same for less, but about doing things differently, cheaper and better, as well as measuring what matters.

If we look at where the web is most successful at driving social change, it’s where it mobilises untapped resources – people’s energy and innovation – for mutual benefit. It’s what we could call the gift economy.

So what’s this all about? When you receive gifts for Christmas this year, you don’t pay them the amount it was worth. At the same time, if you stop giving gifts to friends, you may find there’ll be less inclined to give you a present.

Our relationship with our citizens is different – it would be like offering a gift to a random person in the street, they wouldn’t necessarily return the favour.

So we need to find how to create relationships with people to mobilise their intrinsic motivation. Relationships affect how people behave and how they’re motivated. Transformation in society doesn’t happen when it adopts new tools, it happens when it adopts new behaviours.

That’s why developing approaches that gain a better understanding of these trends can help us find the innovators we want to work with.

Why not use techniques like relationship mapping or social network analysis? These could enable you to find people innovating to meet the needs of your customers, and they may even be working in your office.

Listen and make sense of stories

You might be able to find who’s been involved in an innovative project before that’s saved time and money but how do you come up with an innovative idea?

When someone asks you for an innovative idea, many of us feel put on the spot. Often, it’s informal conversations that spark off ideas. It’s what’s called the “water cooler” effect”.

Yet we don’t congregate around the water cooler to bounce off ideas, we go there to catch up and share stories about what’s been going on in the office – trying to get our heads around something or solve a difficult problem.

There are various ways that digital technologies are enabling that, not just in the office like micro blogging or communities of practice but also in our local communities with social reporting. It’s because people want to share their stories of what’s going on where they work or live.

So we’ve got stories and we’ve got data on what’s going on in our local areas – but how do we make sense of it all? It’s not just about evidence or consultation was carried out last year, it’s about what data and conversations people have been publishing to the web last night.

Why not use tools that can help you visualise all of this information to pick up new trends as well as open your expertise to the public so they can make better decisions on areas that affect them? With these tools, a picture quite literally is worth a thousand words.

Why not also use tools that enable people to re-use your public information and customise it create their own online information services in ways that suit them?

Get people together to make stuff that matters

So now we’ve listened to people and made sense of their networks and stories, we can start building relationship and mobilising people’s resources, their energy, creativity and goodwill.

Digital technologies make it easier to mobilise these resources. They also bring substantial opportunities for individuals, businesses and other groups to create innovative models to meet these new demands.

These models can be found in very niche web services like Enabled by Design or MyPolice. Both of these haven’t just created new models that wouldn’t have been possible before, they’ve exploited the power of the web to create approaches that offer a form of public service.

What’s more important is they weren’t created by councils or businesses – they were created by groups of people in their spare time. You might think, why would anyone want to do that? I asked the creators of both of these services.

So we can create an environment that nurtures the capacity for innovators to develop and take these models to scale.

Who not bring people together to develop prototypes of online services that meet specific challenges in just a day?

Join up the dots to involve everyone

We may have mobilised the innovators to help us tackle problems, but the strength of innovators is often at the edge of what we do, not at the centre, so how do we scale up innovations so that the wider public can benefit, especially those not online?

Why not reach out to local innovators who can use the web to help people help each other offline, so that the opportunities that digital technologies bring meet those that community engagement bring.

Transform services by transforming ourselves

The following quote captures the lesson I've learnt over 2009. "Transformation isn’t just about transforming services, it’s about transforming ourselves, it’s a new way of thinking, it’s a new mindset."

The challenge for all of us is to harness all those people in public services and the community who are intrinsically motivated to make things better – to make stuff that matters.


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