Progress School

Leeds Progress School

This week I attended Progress School, run by Mike Chitty in Leeds. Mike also runs Progress Schools in Hull and Nottingham, is working on getting one going in Grimsby, and tells me he is open to offers from other places too.

I’m not going to try to describe what Progress School is or does, as Mike does it so much better than I could in this video

Progress School is fundamentally about helping people to remove the barriers to their personal development by mutual aid. I think it is an important element in the growing portfolio of collaborative, peer-led development initiatives, some which take place online, others offline, and some a mixture of the two, which are helping change the way we view progress and development. Find out more about it here

After the session, I was able to record some feedback from Progress School participants about what they get out of attending.

Ross Langford

Ben McKenna

Louise Ebrey

And here is the diagram which summarises the Progress School model

Progress School Model

Social Media and Get Online Week on BBC Radio York

I appeared on BBC Radio York on Friday 22nd October. The interview was as part of BBC Local Radio’s “First Click” initiative, which is their contribution to the national Get Online Week. I was interviewed about the role of social media in motivating people to get online for the first time and how its use can improve people’s lives. We even strayed into the role of Social Media in the Big Society.

The interview is below:

Twitter Gritter

The weather is getting colder, and, even though it’s still October, there have already been some #uksnow tweets on Twitter.

Sandwell Council Gritter in Birmingham in mid-summer

When I was in the Big Society Vanguard area of Eden Valley, recently, we were talking about the real difficulties which heavy snow causes in that area, which is in England’s most sparsely populated constituency. Last winter, people were snowed in for days, cut off from services and shops, and no one was able to get through to them. And people experienced real difficulties getting information about which roads were clear, which had been gritted, and when. This caused further difficulties in that people sometimes set off on journeys and then came to a section of road that wasn’t gritted and got stuck.

During this conversation, I mentioned the “Twitter Gritter” initiative, started by the wonderful Dan Slee at Walsall Council. Last winter Dan was giving real-time information on Twitter as gritters went out about which routes were being cleared. So, I made a mental note to speak to Dan about how he does this, what technology is involved, and how it might be replicated elsewhere.

So, yesterday, on arriving at the Beyond 2010 conference in Birmingham, I spied Dan across the room, and resolved to quiz him about just how he does it. And this produced a pretty amazing revelation. Dan told me that there is no expensive technology involved. The gritter driver simply texts or emails him as they are about to set out on a route and he puts the information out on Twitter.

This is one of those examples where really simple ideas don’t get spread, when the solution is so straightforward and effective. I had assumed that more people weren’t doing it because it involved some kind of expensive solution, linking GPS devices on gritting lorries with a control centre and online mapping. But, no, some of the best ideas are the most simple ones. And this is yet another example of the ability of the internet and social media to take offline information and amplify it.

This could be another classic Big Society initiative. Dan is employed by Walsall Council, but, it seems to me that there is no reason why local volunteer co-ordinators couldn’t be appointed to receive texts or emails from gritter drivers and output the information to Twitter, Facebook, hyeprlocal websites, and text messaging networks.

We can do this, can’t we?

Explaining the Big Society

People are still saying they don’t understand what the Big Society is about, despite attempts to explain it from the likes of David Cameron, in his conference speech yesterday, and Lord Nat Wei in his blog. Julian Dobson has been raising the level of debate, and there has been some high quality to and fro on the Big Society in the North Forum.

Still people are saying they don’t understand it. I really don’t think the mainstream media are helping on this. I was struck by this quote from an article in the “Evening Standard”:

….ours is a nation that pokes fun at those who do try to make a difference. From Dad’s Army to Citizen Smith to the Vicar of Dibley, we mock those who attempt things for the common good.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23885680-enough-talk-about-the-big-society—its-time-for-action.do

There was also an item on “Newsnight” a few months ago which just set out to ridicule the whole thing.

So, I’ve had an idea. “The Apprentice” has just returned to our TV screens, with teams of obnoxious, self-obsessed, self-promoters, scratching each other’s eyes out in an effort to avoid the fatal finger of the blessed Lord Sugar. Why not adapt this format, so we have teams of people wanting to do good for their communities competing to implement the best (Big Society) community initiatives? And, to make it more effective, I think the activities of each weekly programme should take place in the same community, so it is possible to measure the impact of the actions, and demonstrate how one community can grow a series of projects which engage local people and grow community capacity.

I am not sure if the “you’re fired” element would be appropriate in this variant of the format. But, then again, perhaps it would. If you’re not effectively doing good for the community, then you’re out. Step aside and leave it to those who CAN do it.

The main benefit of this is that other communities would be able to see the Big Society in action and transfer the lessons to their own neighbourhoods.

Any TV producers up for this?

Affordable Training in an Era of Public Austerity

I’ll start this post by referring back to an earlier rant of mine about public sector funding cuts and staff development, in which I argued that the “unconference” format offered a way forward for public sector organisations to source cost-effective training as it becomes increasingly difficult to afford expensive courses and conferences.

Meanwhile, I’ve for some time been complaining about the number of unconferences in the public and voluntary sectors that are organised at weekends. I’ve got kids and I like to see them occasionally. The response I often get, particularly from local government people is – “we can’t do this stuff in work time”.

But, as I say, I firmly believe that these kinds of events are affordable CPD in an era of public spending cuts.

This morning I’ve been engaged in another Twitter debate, because Hyperlocal GovCamp West Midlands (#hyperwm) yesterday was organised as one of the first experiments of holding a public sector unconference on a week day, and it seemed to go well. So I suggested that this puts to rest the notion that it has to be done at weekends. I received a series of responses to this saying that not everyone can get the time off. BUT, I don’t understand why it is seen as “time off”. It is CPD, training, and it’s free apart from travel costs. Surely employers should be waking up to this as an alternative to expensive conferences and training courses.

Perhaps we need to organise an unconference for Local Government Personnel Managers to show them what they’re missing out on.