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Walsall illuminates its citizens using Twitter

3. March 2011 – 11:02 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Photo by Techie Kev on

As reported in the Guardian, Walsall City Council is conducting a 24 hour experiment to publicise what it does. Starting at 6.00 UK time today, four Twitter streams will be pumping out updates from nuisance neighbour reports to pest control.

The Twitter accounts @walsall24_1 to @walsall24_6 have been reserved, although at the time of writing only two seem to be tweeting — presumably the rest have been reserved to prevent spoofers setting up bogus accounts (which, to my juvenile mind, seems a bit of a shame).

The experiment follows a similar campaign by Manchester Police, who tweeted over a 24 hour period recently.

For more information, see the Walsall City Council website:

PS: There’s a free candy floss and a goldfish if you understood the pun in the title.

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Second Life for eParticipation? An exclusive sneak preview of Birmingham’s Virtual Library

16. November 2010 – 12:00 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)


Birmingham's Virtual Library. Click for larger image

It’s easy to reject Second Life as an eParticipation platform, but Birmingham City Council is just about to launch a virtual model of the planned £193m Library of Birmingham. I spoke to representatives of the Council and the company that they are working with to find out what they are doing, and how they are making the virtual library accessible to a wide audience. What I found was fascinating, and I really think Second Life deserves a second look.

Second Life is a virtual world that allows users to assume a second identity and explore a digital three-dimensional world. It’s not difficult to see how this could be used to enable people to “go” to places they wouldn’t otherwise visit, network with people from far away, or take part in virtual events. That’s the theory; but my big issue with Second Life is that it is a very niche audience and it takes quite a lot of effort to download the software and work out how to use it. Once you’re in there, it’s great to be able to look at these virtual buildings and access information; but I can view videos, read text, and chat to friends much more easily using the internet outside Second Life. So why would a city council be interested in Second Life? Read the rest of this entry »

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Bobbies on the Tweet: Campaigning or Transparency?

15. October 2010 – 14:27 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Photo by ianfuller on Flickr

Photo by ianfuller on Flickr

Greater Manchester Police have been using Twitter to demonstrate how many incidents are reported in a day, and showing the variety of things they have to deal with, according to this article on BBC News.

Interestingly, the justification for the project — in which the force tweeted every incident it was involved in over 24 hours –  was not transparency per se, but to give an insight into what police officers do, and counter the public’s perception that policing is about “cops chasing robbers and locking them up”.  So clearly it has a strong campaigning element it, in this case aimed at changing the indicators against which police performance is measured.

Is it acceptable for public bodies to determine which information to release according to the message that they would like to put out about themselves? Put in those terms, probably not. If we want people to be active participants in public services they need to have access to quite comprehensive information that is ready when they need it and not released only when it suits the public body concerned.

However, I think it is perfectly legitimate for public services to promote understanding of the realities that face them as this is fundamental to ensuring that political participation is meaningful and yields results that are useful to policy-makers (as Paul Johnston suggested in his speech at the PEP-NET Summit). Sites like are great for promoting scrutiny of public officials (in TWFY’s case elected representatives), but anybody who is serious about making a contribution to public life needs to gain an understanding of the realities that public officials are up against, too.  If they work for you, you have to be a decent manager and be realistic in the tasks you set them!

So yes, it’s fine for public services to do this kind of public awareness work; but it must go hand in hand with real transparency and always with an eye on how it can increase understanding of public service in a way that empowers citizens.

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Go with the flow… or not

9. August 2010 – 15:00 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Call Centre, by vitorcastillo on Flickr

Call Centre, by vitorcastillo on Flickr

In the course of researching our keynote speakers for the PEP-NET Summit I came across two articles, one of which is very relevant to (e-)participation, and the other will be of interest to anyone working in or with the public sector. They both put a matter of conventional wisdom under the microscope:  in one case, the assumption that bigger engagement excercises are always more valuable, and in the other, the idea that economies of scale improve efficiency. Hence, they both challenge the assumption that bigger is better.

So the message is not to go with the flow — unless it’s economies of flow you’re talking about. Confused? Then read on …

Read the rest of this entry »

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iPads for UK Councillors?

5. August 2010 – 12:15 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Leicester Town Hall

Leicester Town Hall, stevecadman on Flickr

Sometimes it really feels as though we’ve arrived in the future: Leicester City Council is issuing a small group of elected representatives with touch-screen tablet computers with internet access. The trial will be extended to all Councillors if the Apple iPads can deliver the promised efficiency savings of £90,000.

The Gr8Governance blog, written by the Assistant Head of Policy and Governance at Kirklees Council, picked up on the story and noted the findings of the Councillor Commission, which found that technology is essential for Councillors attempting to serve a greater number of constituents with growing expectations that their enquiries will be answered quickly.

It’s interesting that the Daily Mail’s reaction was to criticise the Council for trialling the new technology in a time of financial cutbacks, when the intention behind the scheme is to save money by investing. This perhaps signals a Catch-22 that many local authorities will face in hard times: modern technology can help save resources by raising efficiency, but the cost investment required is can raise eyebrows.

The Council has taken a sensible approach by trialling the introduction of iPads with a few Councillors before rolling them out across the board. The reaction of the Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper with substantial influence on public opinion, is part of the reason why experimentation is so difficult at the moment. On the other hand, putting the findings of the Councillor Commission into practice requires an element of experimentation. So it is important to make sure that, when trials take place, the results are spread across the public sector to allow a level of experimentation without excessive waste. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of the trial is, especially if it is transferrable to other local governments.

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Spending guts, not spending cuts

30. June 2010 – 11:04 by Fraser Henderson - ICELE

The UK government, in an attempt to save 25% across all government departments, has embarked on a crowd-sourcing exercise with a special ‘spending challenge’ websiteScrutiny over spending is also a major theme with all purchaes over £500 to be visible on the web and a host of “where was it spent?” websites appearing such as

The principal behind the spending challenge website is simple; submit your idea and it will be considered. According to the website, some 20,000 ideas have been collected during the first week. The process isn’t particularly clever or transparent (you can’t see the ideas like but it is simple and, my guess is, quite effective.

The gloom continued as the national digital participation programme was rescoped and the 191 innovation fund applications (seeking just under £28m) were canned.

However, how about government being better at generating revenue?  In other words, ideas to raise money.  For example, advertisements on council websites (Google Adsense is already being used by a number of UK authorities and advertisement placements are prominent on others such as Lincolnshire).  A simple” donate” button or sponsored search boxes (e.g. might do wonders to offset costs.  After all, you can already sponsor a roundabout to help with maintainence costs.

The lack of seed funding for new innovation is a worry, perhaps we should refocus our efforts on making bank investments more transparent?

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“eGov was good, let’s make WeGov great”: Interview with Dominic Campbell

4. May 2010 – 09:13 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Dominic Campbell's Twitter profile picture

Dominic's Twitter profile pic

Dominic Campbell, Director and founder of British consultancy FutureGov, has taken time off from his day job to volunteer for the Labour party election campaign. Dominic kindly found the time between meetings with the likes of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband for me to interview him about government, what can be learned from the US, and his role in the Labour Party election campaign.

Dominic’s comments relating to the Labour Party are made in a personal capacity and not as director of FutureGov.

John Heaven: Hi Dominic. Many thanks for your time today – I know you must be very busy with only three days to go until the general election. First question: Why did you found FutureGov?

Dominic Campbell: I first became involved in local government as a graduate trainee at Barnet Council. Within four years, I was heading a department. Despite being promoted so quickly, I didn’t have the influence that I had expected. In order to change things for the better, I decided I needed to influence the whole sector instead of being dependent on one manager or one council leader.

JH: What is it about local government that fascinates you?

DC: Funnily enough, I was asked the other day which part of government I’d most like to work in. My answer was unequivocally “local government”: it’s the most diverse, interesting and closest to people. It has a different culture from central government, and the right people at the right time really can be agile and make change without asking for permission. I don’t have time for council leaders who say that government isn’t decentralised enough that they don’t have autonomy to do stuff without asking.

JH: I noticed your work with Harvard University for FutureGov on “eGov” and “WeGov”. What is that all about?

DC: eGov – eGovernment – is top-down and centralised. It’s about maintaining the old way of doing government but doing it more efficiently by adding a layer of IT over old bureaucracy. eGov is expensive, and you have no autonomy as a human being to change things and make them work better. It has gone as far as it can: we’ve had web forms, SAP systems and the like. eGovernment has made government better, but now we’re moving onto the next stage, which is WeGov.

WeGov is about harnessing web 2.0, and promoting social innovation to change the way government works and redesign services. It’s about saying “people are getting on and doing things without us. How can we make the most of what they’re doing?”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those people who says eGovernment is rubbish and web 2.0 is the only way. eGovernment served a purpose, and it is now evolving to the next stage.

JH: What can the UK learn from the US and vice versa?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Member project: TalkIssues by the Democratic Society

15. April 2010 – 00:41 by Anthony Zacharzewski

As the election campaign in the UK gets up to speed, PEP-NET member the Democratic Society is working with well-known blogger Kevin Anderson and social media consultancy FutureGov to focus discussion on political issues rather than personalities.

Through a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag, the TalkIssues campaign provides information on the different parties’ policy announcements, and a space for discussion and debate.

Discussions on blog and Facebook are linked through a simple Facebook app, and Twitter updates also appear on the blog site.

The first televised debate between the party leaders is tonight (Thursday), and TalkIssues will be covering it live on Twitter and on the blog. Closer to election night (6 May), we will also be trying to arrange election meetups in various locations around the UK.

Any PEP-NET members who are interested in keeping in touch would be welcome to sign up for the Facebook page or follow the hashtag. Anthony at the Democratic Society is the person to speak to if you would like to discuss what’s happening.

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Election in GB: An exciting time for eParticipation?

8. April 2010 – 10:52 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
By melvinheng on Flickr

Photo by Melvinheng on Flickr

You’d think that a general election would be quite an exciting time in eParticipation. Indeed, that was one of my first ideas for a PEP-NET blog post. I’d make use of PEP-NET’s UK contacts to find some meaty examples of how people are participating in new and exciting ways and then blog about it.

Well that’s not quite how it worked out. I spoke to Peter Cruickshank, from the International Teledemocracy Centre at Edinburgh Napier University, who burst my bubble straight away:

“Many people think an election isn’t the best time to work on eParticipation, which often focuses on lobbying representatives between elections. In fact, the election can be something of a distraction.”

Okay. Well what about Andy Williamson from the Hansard Society?

“We won’t see anything like the Obama campaign in the UK because our system isn’t personality-centred like a presidential campaign. You need big personalities to build campaigns around, and our electoral system doesn’t work like that.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Hands off our hyper-local trees!

1. April 2010 – 10:30 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
By kotofoto1 on

By kotofoto1 on Flickr

Every morning, on my way to the underground station, I walk down a nice tree-lined lane. I think the trees feel a little taken-for-granted, though: almost all of them have some kind of banner crying out to the world how valuable they are. Slogans like “night-time owl sanctuary”, and “I filter the air!”

As a quick internet search reveals, this is all part of a protest against the local government’s plan to fell the trees. You can see a video of “Tree Night” (Nacht der Bäume), which took place on 30th September last year, on YouTube.

It seems that trees are an issue that not only Hamburgers care about: I noticed a recent article about trees that have been removed and not replaced on the Bournville Village community website. The article also contains a YouTube video, this time of a resident explaining the situation.

Both cases are examples of concerned citizens using social media, on their own initiative, to highlight local issues that are important to them and campaign for change. If you have any more such examples of “hyperlocal” media, let us have them!


“Nacht der Bäume” has a website all of its own (in German), as does the “Bürgerinitiative” (citizens’ action group) for Emil-Andresen-Straße. All in German, of course — that’s hyper-local for you!

For information on what “hyperlocal” means, including links to many example sites, take a look at the UK-based talk about local website.

You may also be interested in this comment piece by Jeff Jarvis in the Guardian.