7 September 2011

Pressed on the subject

An interesting blog post at the lovely welovelocalgovernment had got me a-wondering about (social) media stuff and the impacts it might have on how local government officers behave as citizens to the extent I was considering a (long overdue) blog post on that subject anyway this morning, when I was made aware of this event at the Hull Central library tomorrow night.

Thursday Night Live
presents a talk by

Angus Young
(Local Government Reporter for The Hull Daily Mail)

Hold the Front Page
- a life in media and politics

7.30 pm 8th September
Food For Thought Cafe, Central Library, Albion Street. Hull.

Tickets cost £2.00 from the Lending Library counter or at the door on the night.

Angus Young has been a journalist at the Hull Daily Mail for over thirty years writing on general news, education, crime, pop music and local government. Since 1994 he has covered council news from Hull and the East Riding. He is also the author of two local history books: Murders of Hull and More Murders of Hull and is currently working on a third title about historical scandals of Hull and East Yorkshire.

Well worth a trip, I'd have thought.

1 March 2011

Why don't you grow up?

I warned you several posts ago, and quite overtly so in the last one, that this was likely to get mawkish; and self-indulgently so. That it would be o'er-run with graphite stuff at some not-too-distant point.

So here's some more. Turn your head away if you don't like it. It's okay, I won't mind. But then it's kind of, you know, meant for others to read, anyway.

42 days remain until the proposed teleport completion date of the graphite. Being a lazy graph, I felt no need to look beyond the worn cliché that number now represents and to think very much, so - in some trite and tedious meaning of life type bollocks - I've asked Mrs Graph and Steppy II what they would want the new person to be or become throughout life.

What do you definitely want him/her to be, what are you indifferent about them being, and what do you definitely not want them to be?

I guess it's a kind of friend identi-kit. Some stuff you really like people for; some stuff you aren't bothered about one way or the other in people; and things you'd really prefer to avoid - the stuff that would largely put you off people.

So here are our answers.

"I would want graphite to be..."

Me: Passionate, Creative, Progressive, Articulate
Mrs Graph: Adventurous, Courageous, Musical, Considerate
Steppy II: Sporty, Fun, Quite Loud, Funny

"I'm not bothered if graphite is..."

Me: Gay or straight, in any particular job, scientifically minded, very bookish
Mrs Graph: Tall or short, Academic, Male or female, Artistic
Steppy II: Ginger, A football supporter or not, Nerdy, Someone who likes fish & chips

"I would not want graphite to be..."

Me: Scared, A Tory, lonely, Unduly Lazy
Mrs Graph: Shy, materialistic, Vain, A Fussy eater
Steppy II: Veggie/Vegan, Boring, A Golfer, A soap opera fan

So there. Be warned, graphite. This is demanding stuff.

Actually it's 41 days, but that wouldn't sit well with the thing, would it now?

23 February 2011

A found memorial poem, being of little or no artistic merit

"It's the nasty rubbery mouth" - Pavel Konnolsky, Smolensk

In Memoriam, Lord Sir Matthew Grove 1826 - 1894

Auburn Neophyte, legate from the heath,
Stalking the benches of green and leather,
He did away with (altogether) the
Tiresome waste; the Poor's schools and teachers,
Which withered 'neath his noble features.
School funding he gave its funeral wreath.

With utmost clarity he saw, no doubt,
That only those with Pater's cash to bet
Upon themselves, and unafraid of debt
Could hope for success in the schools he'd free
Or get through University.
So wisely he kept all the others out

All rubbery, robbery, public school snobbery
It ill behoved the men who strove to mock what drove Matthew Grove

To Offices of State more wholly
Fitting to his grand demeanour,
Did this red son of Aberdeen, A
Worshipper in Scotland's Kirk,
(Turned Church of England's knighted berk)
Rise up. Thus Grove rose from work so lowly

As to become the Secretary for
Home Affairs, where at his escritoire
He drafted the Bill that gave him power
To continue in his own tradition
And close the borders, save extradition
Of those least likely to work in Britain; the Poor.

All rubbery, robbery, public school snobbery
It ill behoved the men who strove to mock what drove Sir Matthew Grove

Once more rose he to the Chancellor's desk.
His budgets outlawed those poor as a mouse,
Swept through with the full support of the House,
Legislating that only men of means,
Could make claim to be subjects of the Queen
Victoria; the beggared deemed grotesque.

He'd saved the nation from education;
Made one-way only the nation's borders,
He'd rewrote the bankers' Standing Orders,
Built England for the few not the many;
Gave chance of gain to those with plenty.
The House of Lords was his elevation.

All rubbery, robbery, public school snobbery
It ill behoves the men who strove to mock what drove Lord Sir Matthew Grove

All manner of retrogressive votage
Became his personal goal in ermine;
Against modernity he determined
To act. Whenever it raised its youthful head
He'd seek to smash it back; stop its spread -
Ever more resolutely still in dotage,

Which came quicker than one could foretell
And left the lately great politician
At the mercy of his own physician
Who, quite appalled at all Groves's doings
Treated him with peculiar brewings
And sent his Lordship down to burn in hell.

All rubbery, robbery, public school snobbery
It ill behoved the men who strove to mock what drove to devil's stove that Matthew Grove

Geoffrey Meacle Twyford - 14th March 1894

Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. No similarity to any person either living or dead is intended or should be inferred.

20 February 2011


Or 50 days.

This is the amount of teleport time left for graphite fully to beam through as I have explained here.

Mrs Graph and I have therefore indulged ourselves in a piece of self-indulgent nonsense so self-indulgent as to put you off your cornflakes (or any other food stuff you might be considering consuming).

Be warned; what follows is cloyingly sugary and (in case I haven't already said so - which I have) self-indulgent.

In recognition of the 50 day ETA of the alien graphite, we have drawn up a (little considered) set of 50 reasons for it to be pleased to have reached planet earth. It is not exhaustive by any means; it's just the first 50 things we thought of, okay? And it's almost certainly Eurocentric. It's just stuff we like, off the top of our heads...

Puddles; Homemade cakes; The Antiques Roadshow; Swimming in the sea; Tickling; Doctor Who; Hedgehogs; All Music; grandparents; Me; Match of the Day; Cheese sandwiches; Bicycles; Having friends; Beer; Weekends; Sunshine; Fishfingers; Trees; Books; Cinema; Doggies; Ice cream (vans); Chip shops; Art galleries; Looking out of the aeroplane window; The Guardian; Cosy fires; Camping; Blankets; Sunday morning breakfasts; Roast dinner; Granny's moussaka; Falling asleep on the beach; Curry; The noise of seagulls; Homemade soup; Staying up all night; Jigsaw puzzles; Toast; Old, damp building smells; All people (are brilliant); Rome; Laughing; Italian food; Getting home; Dog Sledding; Wine; Words; Singing.

And if you don't like it, make up your own!

14 February 2011

You Go, Baskerville! (Hugo Baskerville? Never mind...)

Well, it seems it takes just one post on a "professional" subject and one can develop quite a taste for it; so before this blog disappears under the looming cloud of graphite nappies, sleeplessness and Tommee Tippee paraphenalia, it seems to me to be important to respond to a quite stunning blog post - Sticks and Stones - by Sarah Baskerville (or @Baskers, on that there twitter).

@Baskers situation, being on the wrong end what seems to me to be some real tosh at the Daily Mail, described here as "vicious pillorying", "bullying" and "abuse" has been well rehearsed. And it's been addressed by better folk than me. So that stuff is for others. That's not why I am blogging about this today.

I'm blogging about this today, because Sarah Baskerville changed things for me, in an important way. At least on-line.

She has been a bit of an inspiration. For years and years and years "pseudograph" has been me but nameless; a place to hide. @pseudograph was so completely anonymous on twitter for a long time that some people I work with - at a distance, but people I see once a week, or once a fortnight - genuinely did not know it was me they were following until recently.

pseudograph has been me for a long, long time. It's been me here since The Origin of the Specious in July 2008; it's been me on a Sunderland message board since July 2007; it's been me on youtube since November 2006... But it's been me on the web since the mid-nineties when I chose the word to hide behind, on newsgroups such as alt.herve.villechaize.dead.dead.dead or alt.2eggs.sausage.beans.tomatoes.2toast.largetea.cheerslove.

I wasn't working in the Public Sector when I first 'graphed up'. It wasn't ever a name to hide my views behind. I was just a bit shy. They don't much care for anyone's politics on alt.herve.villechaize.dead.dead.dead. Actually, I think I may even have been the only poster on there.

If I'm honest I chose the word because I (thought I had) made it up, assuming (wrongly) that it meant 'false name' in the same way autograph doesn't mean 'self name'. Idiot.

Anyway, I stuck with it. That's not to say people didn't know it was me. Many did by 2006 onwards. But they didn't where and when I didn't want them to, and them as did seemed happy to stick with that arrangement. Which is nice.

But then Baskers changed that.

Because what happened to Sarah made me realise that I had a bloody duty to express my opinions as my opinions and to be responsible for them.

The opinions I express here, or in newsgroups, or wherever, are not those of my employers, my managers, my staff, my family, my friends or the editor of the newspaper I buy. They're mine. And I need to be responsible for them. I need not to embarrass any of those people. But I need too not to be pilloried just for having them.

So, as a public servant, I realised I had a duty to be clear who I was. I had a duty because of Baskers, and a duty to Baskers, and a duty to myself to be honest about my views, because I still have them. I hope that it's still having views - of all sorts - that makes me useful. I cannot hope to operate in any work environment without the degree of personal integrity which means I can be authentic in the workplace, and in the work that I do. Anyone who has done any kind of management studies will have read something that says management and leadership and change and staffing and stuff is all about being who you are. It's all about being authentic. Trained and qualified, professional and skilled? Of course. But bringing all of those things to bear with authenticity. The best managers and leaders in any sector, in any field (including politics) have often been those that others trust because they are true to themselves and to others, and because they are prepared to understand others, exercise some humility and learn.

And I do believe in certain things; like public service for a start.

I do believe that people and organisations learn best when they ask questions of themselves, allow thought, allow criticism, allow for challenge.

I do believe that taxation is the price we pay for a civilised society, and I do believe that local authorities should meet the challenges of transparency and accountability and should be judged by how they support the most vulnerable they are responsible for.

And I do believe in so-called "Political Correctness" (or 'common human decency' as it was taught to me by my parents).

And I am open-minded about global warming. I am an atheist.

And I am in favour of the European Union and of the Euro.

I have been an active political person in the past, and I now can't imagine belonging to a political party because they all have some interesting things to say, and some things I think of as wrong, and some degree of tribalism which I cannot any longer abide. And I have met very few politicians I didn't like; and I've met quite a few politicians.

I adopt a monkey because I believe the keeping of monkeys as pets is wrong and should be stopped. And I believe Peter Reid should have bought better when we were 7th in the Premier League the first time around. And I believe Peroni is fantastic. And bad for me.

Oh, hell, I believe all sorts of stuff, and not always for very long. I change my mind.

But I have views. They're mine; they're probably all wrong, and they're allowed.

I think @Baskers is right to fear for the hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers who are now at risk of the same "treatment" by the UK media that she endured. I think @Baskers is right that none of those hundreds of thousands signed away their rights with respect to freedom of thought, speech and expression of opinion (and that includes political opinions as well)". I think that each of those should not engage in overt party political activity where they're not supposed to; and I think attacking your boss(es) is always daft, irrespective of your job or sector. But I think being concerned about change where you work, and criticising constructively is a duty all employees should try to take on. In Japan they made an economy work thinking like that...

And I think that there may be a risk that public servants, relied on - quite properly - to behave in an apolitical, neutral, professional manner, end up inadvertently spinning for a political majority, simply in the act of reassuring, where the truth is much much harder. Because actually what we should be relied on - quite properly - to do is tell the truth. Precisely because we are impartial, we must be allowed to say when we think that politicians of any and all parties have got it wrong.

So I decided I had to be honest about who I am and what I believe, because @baskers nasty episode demanded my solidarity. And I will behave properly. I will continue (I hope) to challenge. I will remain professional and impartial and human in my job. I will remain devotedly a-tribal in my politics, and resolutely progressive in them too.

And I will now stop this ranting with a slight adaptation, for which I hope, if anyone reads this, that I can be forgiven... I am not Spartacus, but #IamBaskers

I hope she doesn't go.

30 January 2011

Two birds; one stone.

It's rare that I use this tragic outpost of unfunny stories, read by a measly handful of people, to say anything about stuff I kind of have an interest in professionally; but my attendance last week at UKGovCamp 2011 (#ukgc11) has led a couple of people to suggest I write down reflections on it; and that, along with an interesting question posed today on twitter by @mikechitty made me think that as a special, one-off treat for a slack handful of readers, I might just bother.

Two birds with one stone, as it were.

What follows won't break anyone's heart, nor change anyone's world view, but I hope it's constructive. It might help to know that "professionally" for me means Information Governance, DP, FoI and the like (I've professional qualifications in all three) and Customer Insight type things; I'm a Companion Member of the ICS and involved in managing stuff like feedback teams and advice services. So those are the filters through which I apply my own particular biases.

That question by the way was, "what should you be able to do through a council website?"

First things first. Gov Camp is cool. I mean actually cool. In a kind of rebel army, rock and roll kind of a way. Just because we're a bunch of erm... nerds, don't be fooled into thinking it isn't the hottest place to be this side of the Olympic Village at Woodstock; cos it is. Yeah.

It's also actually cool just to be at Microsoft HQ, even before clapping eyes on the view, so brilliantly captured here by@paul_clarke.

But it's even cooler to put some faces to some twitter user names. It was great to meet @janetedavis, @DavidAllenGreen, @paul_clarke, @davebriggs, the legend that is @Baskers, @808Kate and of course to spend extra time with my spirit guide in the world of nerd @bmwelby.

Kate has already written her own take on #ukgc11, 'Forehead.... meet palm'.

Like Kate, this was my first unconference, so I was uncharacteristically quiet (by my standards) and - although I had been told this would happen - I was surprised at how much of what goes on is absolutely driven by those people who attend. They have spent their own money, taken their own time and made their own way to the event to share their own expertise, drive and ideas. To build something, using open data, and social media, and transparency and democracy. And stuff. As @shirleyayres has put it, this is about "building a different movement".

Much of what Kate has to say is stuff I share. I sat with her through the same opening session which was less a learning experience and more a cry for recognition. Yes; meetings in the public sector can be an end in themselves. Yes, they can be irrelevant to the needs of the organisation, its customers (internal and external) or its partners and politicians, and yes, they sometimes take place without clear ownership or any lead. So at least we got that out of the way. We now know that's how we're all working. Solutions though, to this Weberian hangover, were so thin on the ground that by comparison the nation's grit reserves might have caused no sleepless nights even for the Taxpayers Alliance.

I went from that into an interesting session that DavidAllenGreen had decided, on the spur of the morning, to run on the legal implications for many of the open data ideas being expressed around the venue. Again there were few outputs, and by his own admission David is still "getting his head round" the law in this area, but the session did underline the need to have, at the very least, some people who know something about how the agenda will be shaped by the ICO and the stuff for which they are responsible.

After lunch I popped in to an hour on Word Press and left after 25 minutes. I will let my tweets at the time stand as contemporaneous evidence.

1) I'm going to go to the wordpress session because I don't understand it. #isthatthewrongthingtosayat #ukgc11?

2) Further, it's being run by 'the 3 Simons'. That is a plethora of Simons. But, "what ees a pleth-or-a?" #ukgc11

3) Simon: "...if you're prepared to get your hands dirty with the code".#eek

Put simply, scared by people who were talking what might as well have been Klingon in relation to version 3.0 when I didn't know what version 1.0 was, I fled. Sorry guys.

But the highlight of my day was @hadleybeeman's session on uses of data. Hadley has blogged some of her thoughts on Uses of Open Data and I think this is a really valuable starting point for what seesms to me to be the big, underlying issue; what is - for me - the nagging question. And I see Kate encountered it too at an earlier session on data use...

"It’s the getting people to do something with it that’s the hard bit, I had my forehead meet palm moment… I’d only ever really only focussed on the geek use of open data – fabulously pretty visualisations, super-duper clever mash-ups to create a new perspective. But one of the largest groups of people that could benefit from open data are activists that need data in order to get their point across".

Lots of lovely, brilliant people are doing lots of brilliant things but there seems to me to be a real, underlying sense of unease, because nobody is really quite sure why. Nobody seems really clear how to articulate what using open data, and social media, and transparency and democracy, and stuff is actually for.

Kate is almost certainly right. And Hadley is almost certainly right, but what we can't be sure of, in my view, is that we know they are right.

Because we haven't asked. The customer seems to me to be conspicuously absent.

Perhaps symptomatically, even the very groovy and overtly democratic nature of the agenda setting for the unconference seems inverted, so that suppliers pitch for customers - "We're going to run a session on... Is anybody coming to it?" I can't help wondering how the dynamic would change if the agenda was set by people saying, "I don't understand WordPress. Is there anybody here who can explain?" or "I'd like to know what some of the law is" or "I wonder if anyone has examples of where customers have been consulted in the development of stuff being used to provide services customer want".

At a policy level this "different movement" is perhaps not helped, because the coalition's view is a bit customer-light too, based on a "shared commitment" "to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account; to reduce the deficit and deliver better value for money in public spending; and to realise significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites using public data".

Not actually to provide services then?

Where is the stuff that lets someone build an app or a webpage that tells you where you're most likely to get a parking ticket from your local council?

Where is the council which has carved out great swathes of back office waste because they have the same, self-service kit being used to report graffiti on mobile phones and website and by their counter and call centre staff?

Where is the council that lets the crew that have cleaned the graffiti, take a photo and send it out on flickr?

The one I work for promises to 'extend the use of the website, to ensure that self-service includes all interactions types including; providing information, collecting revenue, providing benefits and grants, consultation and comment, applying for a service or licence, etc., booking a venue/resources or course, scheduling an appointment or meeting and making a complaint'.

We know those are the things you should be able to do on a website because we asked customers. Over 3000 of them.

But we also said we’d develop strategies with customers for migrating to self-service and seek to include users in the design of self-service options to make sure they deliver what is required. We said we’d stop designing and using systems for officers and start making them for customer use. And one day, I hope, we will.

But so far, I can't show you where we have.

I always loved the story of soup from a stone when I was a kid, and this "one stone" brings that to mind, because I think it kind of sums up my attitude to both #ukgc11 and Mike's question.

"Some travellers camp in a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travellers. The travellers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square.

"One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travellers answer that they are making "stone soup", which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager does not mind parting with just a little bit of carrot to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travellers again mention their stone soup which has not reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all".

The infrastructure exists; We have our pot.

What we bring too is the stone, the basic open data ingredient, the complete commitment to soup.

But what we seem to me to lack manifestly is the involvement of the villagers, who will each bring their own ingredients.

It's time to involve the customers.

1 January 2011

Mistaken identity

Over Xmas some fool bought Mrs Graph a game called 'Identity', a most brilliant idea for making sure you have completely absorbed the marketing shite slung at you by capitalism from the cradle to the grave.

It's a board game in which you throw dice and move from beginning to end, with movement prevented or encouraged at various points through the introduction of a task; that being to identify the logo of some 'brand' or other from the version presented on a card, which has either had the name removed from the graphic, or is merely a fragment of the actual, full thing.

Anyway, on Xmas evening we were playing in teams of three; young people (Steppy, Steppy II and niece), middle-aged people (Mrs Graph, Mrs Graph's sister and Mrs Graph's sister's husband) and very old people (Mrs Graph's mother and father and, erm... me).

The young people were guessing. Unusually - as they seem to have been most readily brainwashed by the marketing profession (and were accordingly winning by some way) - they were struggling. What they had to go at was an 'x' with a small pinkish paw print above it, to the upper left. A fragment of a larger logo.

It was the logo for the catfood, 'felix'.

But they did not know that. Although at this point only Steppy and niece were in the room guessing.

Steppy II had been to the toilet.

But he came back and with all the swagger that a 12 year-old boy can muster he looked at Steppy and niece as if they were completely empty-headed numpties and he bellowed,

"I know! I know!

"It's Petsex!! Petsex!!"

He may never be allowed to forget that.

Once we've stopped pissing ourselves laughing.