Sunday 10 October 2010

Take a deep breath (part iii)

Taking the stabilisers off. Us public sector kids don't tend to spend much time 'facilitating' sessions. I've never actually attended a workshop either. So, perhaps it wasn't surprising that the digital inclusion session I suddenly realised I was facilitating on Thursday night wasn't quite the success it would have been had Nat been running it.


We all got there eventually, thanks to Nat and a lovely chap from Birmingham. It's a difficult subject, because everyone agrees inclusion is important, but selling that when there's no longer a legal requirement to 'include' anyone in the conversation is a little tough. I don't think a conclusion was agreed because we over ran, partly due to my ineptness and partly due to no one knowing where the room was and people arriving 10 minutes after start as a result. Okay, okay, my appalling facilitation was mostly to blame and I am really sorry. I let important people down, the people we're not including.

On a personal level, I managed to speak in front of people I don't know without my voice disintegrating into that horrible breathy awfulness that usually happens when I speak formally in front of people. But it feels like a personal victory at the expense of lots of other peoples time and I am mortified about that.

Anyway. A public failure but Nat and the fab chap from Birmingham sat and gave their time and explained and it was taken on board and I watched how others did it throughout the day and I understood. Step back. I was the wrong person to facilitate that session because I care too much. That doesn't mean caring too much is bad, it means I was the wrong person to facilitate that session. Lesson learned.

Onwards to the second session. Open data. Frustrating. Enormously frustrating. Central government has issued a directive ironically called Inspire which contains its own definitions of the metadata which must be attached to that. The open data movement doesn't undermine this, it supercedes it. As the not actually present but really rather wonderful Adrian Short said at the time, because local government has a directive which defers openness to 2018, we instead need a motivation to open up our data early, a reason. I don't have the answers, but I do know there is a steady drip drop of open data leaking from Councils and they are the baby steps upon which great leaps will be built. It's the same story with everything else, let the trailblazers lead and prove nothing bad will come from being at the front and others will follow through choice. Positive re-enforcement. It's inelegant and clunky, but show Councils what can happen when you open data up and the incentive will be there to open up more.

It was also at this point which I became almost crushed under the realisation that not only do people outside of local government not know about the realities of working inside it, with our ancient tech, our lack of flash patches, our locked down systems which often don't allow access to social media (BwD is ahead on this score), our IT departments mired in procurement and protocol and Gov Connect Code of Connection paperwork, our directives, our GIS systems and our desperate determination to try and innovate around all these challenges and the hard work and ridiculous hours we pull in order to do this and do it well - but some really couldn't give a damn, either.

Futuregov get it. But there's been enough embarrasing gushing in here for one day.

So. I sat outside the venue, smoked too much, ranted at the boyfriend who doesn't work in local government either and isn't a GIS geek and felt disheartened, alone and isolated.

Then someone who wasn't even at City Camp London popped up. Adrian Short has done wonderful things with open data down in Sutton. In fact before we go there, and in a related unrelatedness of relatedness, I met Charlotte, aka @chargihooly on Friday and she left an impression. Ballcocks in grit bins linked to sensers which transmit when the ballcock has a pre-determined drop in pound per square inch pressure over a point to indicate to a central point when a grit bin is getting near empty wasn't what I thought I'd be discussing on a Friday night in London but it was one of those moments where two people fizz at each other unselfconsciously and together find the beginnings of a solution to a weirdass problem. I'm taking it back and I'm asking the question of our Head of Environmental Services. Implementation costs need to be balanced against savings in fuel and carbon emissions. I'll let you know.

Anyway, Adrian popped up, tweeted about mapping and data and it helped. Someone, even not present got where I was coming from. Brain rallied.

On to the Big Society session. More lip biting. Not alone this time either, Louis arrived, frustrated glances were exchanged. As usual, I sat in the middle of all the conversation and noise and understood where certain people were coming from in feeling like the government had come along and put a name to something they'd been doing for years, unrecognised, but also that you can't disavow belonging to something which has the potential to be a juggernaut driving social change for the better of us all, because of the political colour of the party putting the engine in the juggernaut. Wonderful ideas about voluntary brokerage services came out of this, about matching people with an hour to a charity or person who only needs an hour. I hope it comes to fruition because it was one of many ideas which were muted this weekend which I would actually use.

In fact, lets examine that for a second. I wore two heads this weekend, one as a local government rep (thought not local to London), and as an ex-London resident. I'm not an innovator in the sense everyone else there was. In fact I'm not sure I'm an innovator any more. I contributed no ideas this weekend, mostly because I simply either couldn't get a word in edgeways, couldn't hear the discussion or couldn't get over the intimidation I was feeling. All my fault, it's important to note, but impenetrable. I had the ideas. I have the ideas. I just can't express them yet. What I need, of course, is someone to ask me questions, very many questions, relentless strings of them, to help me pull everything out of my head, but no one has the tie to do something so utterly pointless and self indulgent and selfish. So I need to find another way. It will come.

Anyway, of all the workshops I attended, the Big Society one was the most interesting and the most inspiring. Good expressions of collaboration, understandings of small cogs in the bigger picture. Good points about volunteering to gain experience and being looked down on. Interesting conversations about ladies who lunch too.

Onwards again, via a breather and a much appreciated conversation with Ingrid Koehler on......well there are some things which are not for blogging but it helped. It really did. Thank you.

Onwards to Procurement. I landed in that room entirely because there was no other session which really appealled. I probably shouldn't have attended but I wasn't aware of the correct protocols at the time. I really shouldn't have opened my mouth. Bad mistake. Huge mistake. I accorded some people the expectation of my mostly positive experience in environments like that recently and got slapped down quite neatly. Not the brightest end to the brightest of days, really. I wanted to explain how ridiculous the procurement process is, that peoples experiences of it from the outside is appalling. I don't think I can be arsed, to be honest. If you're interested, ask Dominic. It is ridiculous thought.

Evening. Exhausted. I've worked 10-11 hour days every day for about 2 weeks and bits and pieces on weekends too. I'm ill. That's not an excuse, that's a statement of fact. I'm temporarily disabled in random ways which mean that all the changes in lighting on Friday, for example, meant I emerged from the room the presentations were being held in struggling with staying upright and shivering madly. Just one thing which contributed to a frazzledness which led me to sit down and watch Pseudo and just switch off for a while. I heard conversations about me moaning about things being impenetrable and not making the effort and just died a little. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: disability, diversity, whatever you want to call it, is not always visible. This weekend cost me more than money.

So. What did I learn? Well. I met some amazing people. People who inspired, who are role models, who I will keep an eye on in future to see where they go and what they achieve. I have many ideas about what we can do to bridge the gap between perception and reality. I have help with that already. I have faith that the projects which were pitched today and won will come to fruition and start to change the world in little ways. I have a renewed belief that we're doing cool things up our way, and big relief to be home. It's going to be a while, I think, before I jump into the fire again, but I did it. Costs aside, it was worth it.


  1. I don't agree that you might not be a good facilitator because you were too passionate about the subject. I wasn't there, so I don't know how good your facilitation was. But, I think some of the best facilitators are those who feel really passionate about the subject.

    I am sure you were great. Your passion comes across in the blog.

    And if you are really interested in the Big Society, you should join us on the Big Society in the North Forum I don't think you are there already, are you?

  2. I am there :O) I am just struggling to keep up with all the data, it's been manic for weeks. I need to stop for a bit, recuperate and rally.

    I was bad. Trust me on this. It will get better if I keep a job long enough to keep practicing this.

  3. Dear Louise,

    Thank you for your wonderfully honest and perceptive posts about City Camp London. I know and work with lots of people in local government. Very few of them knew about the event or can understand my excitement about the possibilities offered by connecting people and ideas through the internet. You are not alone!

    I have worked in the social work and care sector for over 30 years and I am passionate about empowering people through knowledge. It is a slow process to help people understand the potential of social networking to provide an equal voice for disempowered individuals and communities.

    Organising the social media surgery at City Camp London was my contribution to making social networking more accessible to small charities and community groups. It was a good session and my conclusion is that we need to run a lot more local surgeries to help people get connected to the shiny world of digital inclusion.

    I find LinkedIn is a great tool to bring people together so do feel free to connect