GROWING FLOWERS: 42 seeds for ideas for local government from Beyond 2010.

Some ideas take time to flower and bloom into a burst of radiant colour.

A good event gives you ideas that may come up with instant ideas but also ones that can take weeks and months to germinate.

Digital Birmingham‘s Beyond 2010 was one such event and hats off Birmingham City Council for organising.

Coming weeks after Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall it shows what a fine bunch of gardeners there are in the middle of the country.

Clay Shirky has a nice line about letting 1,000 flowers bloom when newspapers die.

Here are 49 seeds that I’m taking from the event and paraphrased in some cases. It’s new stuff I’ve come across or a reminder of a line of old stuff worth a re-telling.

John Suffolk, UK Government chief information officer:

  • Everybody realises technology is changing rapidly. No one individual is keeping pace with all of it.
  • A typical phone has enough power in 2010 to run a bank branch in 1980.
  • You have no choice but to change as government. Your citizens demand it.
  • It’s hard to turn off digital services once you turn them on.
  • You can’t predict the technology in three years. Look at the outcomes you want and accept some technology won’t be there.
  • Change the way we think. ‘We only do it this way’ is a barrier not a reason not to change.
  • At the moment 30 per cent are digitally unconnected in the UK. What does success look like? Single digit numbers in 10 years.
  • History says the less cash available the better analysis and decisions get made.
  • Look beyond the usual places. Africa is a world leader in phone banking. Why? People have mobile phones not PCs.

Richard Allan, Facebook head of policy for Europe:

  • You can remain anonymous but increasingly people want to do things in a social manner.
  • Social networks uses a distribution channel that goes through people. The fishing fan will share info about a fishing licence with his circle that will include fishermen. It comes endorsed from that person.
  • In the UK in October 2010 26m use a platform like Facebook. Half come back every day.
  • Data + people = new services.

Robert Bell, Intelligent Communities Forum founder:

  • Local government + business + third sector = transformed services.
  • The hardest thing to do in local government is to stop doing what isn’t working.
  • It’s easier to spot what’s wrong with new tech than what’s right. For example, the motor car was blamed for teens going off the rails.

Helen Milner, UK Online Centres managing director:

  • In the UK, 30.1 million people use the internet with 9.1 million using it every day.
  • Jobseekers who are online have 25 per cent more confidence they’ll find work compared to those not online.
  • It would save the taxpayer £900m if those who are not online got online and made one digital contact with government a month.
  • £38 is the cost of getting someone online and £88 is the saving in the first year if they acessed services from government online.
  • Don’t let the fact that not everyone is online from putting services online. You need to help people online.
  • Having broadband in the home will be a benefit of £276 a year.

Nigel Shadbolt, Government Open Data Panel advisor:

  • Mash-ups aren’t new. Cholera was proven to be a water supply problem by mapping deaths in a London community.
  • There are 4,200 data sets on You don’t know which one will be useful.
  • Some data may appear dull. It’s not at all to a handful of people.
  • Don’t presume to know what data people will want. Have a presumption to publish.
  • Don’t worry about misinterpretation. Newspapers have been doing that forever.

Kate Sahota, Warwickshire County Council:

  • An open data competition generated apps for free. The winner mashed up new book data, Amazon data and linked to the website that you could order a new book.

Stuart Harrison, Lichfield District Council:

  • Open data allows you to connect to a section of society you wouldn’t have previously connected with.

Will Perrin, Talk About Local and Local Data Panel advisor:

  • The internet is not magic. Twitter doesn’t change things. People do.
  • Allow the more junior younger people to do the innovating.

Dave Harte, hyperlocal blogger and Birmingham City University lecturer.

  • is a good example of Big Society. Runners organise a run every week. There’s been 3,000 events and 65,000 runners. They do it themselves.

Robert Harding, Kent County Council:

  • Most people get information from friends not local government.
  • Outside the chip shop was where youths hung out but now they tend to do it online.
  • Peer to peer is the secret. A few pounds of phone credit may help an older person to check if a friend is taking their medicine. Sending someone round will cost a lot more.
  • How does local government step aside to let people build social capital? They often know the solution themselves. Look at Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • It’s not more for less. It’s different for less.

Nick Booth, social media specialist.

  • Hands on Handsworth is an excellent blog that connects a neighbourhood officer to a community. It has 1,000 users a month.
  • Big City Plan Talk was built by bloggers angry that planners used planning speak on a consultation website you couldn’t comment on publicly. Around 300 comments were logged on the unofficial site – a quarter of all those made.
  • There are militant optimists in every organisation.
  • Tessy Britton’s book ‘Hand Made’ has more than a dozen stories of grassroots projects and is very good.

Karen Cheney, Birmingham City Council:

  • If you talk to people they’ll talk back.


Presentations from Beyond 2010 can be found here.

Creative commons:

Four flowers: Pink sherbert photography

Seeds: Vilseskogen

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