Why ICELE was perhaps not so excellent and what we should do next.

Dave Briggs has done an excellent job of tracking the pending demise of the Lichfield based ICELE: the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy.

A while ago I wrote about frustrations with organisations who wanted to get people blogging (great) yeh) but always on constrained platforms of their own making (which of course are likely to get switched off when the funding runs out). This included frustrations with ICELE’s VOICE platform. As a model this is not as sustainable as encouraging people to self publish using readily available web tools. Yes blogger could go bump or wordpress run out of steam, typepad might find itself in six stages of separation from a viable business model – but all of them at once?

Dave has done really well to find himself with a full statement as a comment on his blog post from Dylan Jeffrey who’s overseen ICELE for Communities and Local Government. Go here to read the whole thing. Let me quote a key bit.

I recognise that ICELE has taken forward the work of several
components of the local e-Government programme including the Local
e-Democracy National Project and disseminated these through your award
winning website. In addition, ICELE has won some European funding to
enhance understanding and good practice around eParticipation and
ensured that assistance to local authorities has been available on the
complex issue of local e-democracy when required.

However when ICELE was established, CLG gave a commitment of funding
up to 31 March 2008 with a key objective for the Centre to “build a
model for long-term sustainability beyond the programme life-span”.
Regrettably, sustainability has not been demonstrated despite the
successful bids for EU grants.

My Department remains committed to encouraging the use of ICT for
empowerment in partnership with others to facilitate and enhance local
democracy. As part of the Government’s work on the forthcoming
Community Empowerment White Paper, we are actively considering how best
to utilize new technologies to support community empowerment. ICELE has
been very active in responding to recent consultations on a number of
issues linked to the forthcoming White Paper and these have been
gratefully received. However, in looking at this broad agenda, we have
to assess the value, sustainability and potential benefits that other
organisations could also offer in taking forward the work in this area.

So the real criticism of ICELE in the statement is that the model was not sustainable. Paul Canning is cross partly because he thinks closing ICELE is a waste of money already invested:

How many millions has been wasted? On this and countless other now dead and buried ‘resources’?
As I have commented ad nauseum, it’s not like there aren’t numerous overseas models ready to copy.

What next for the web and Community Empowerment?

That process of figuring other ways to use the social web to strengthen communities and strengthen local democracy is already underway. On Thursday a number of us (including Paul Bradshaw, David Wilcox, Dave Briggs, Dominic Campbell and Steve Bridger) are getting together with Simon Berry as part of his secondment to Communities and Local Government to see what steps we think should come next and what that might mean for this summers Community Empowerment White Paper.

So what do you reckon?

  • Think 5 years ahead. What tools will be most easily available and how will be people use them to empower themselves, shape their communities, shape the public services in their neighbourhoods?
  • What will this mean for government, how can government (mostly local) influence this process, take part in it, encourage it.
  • What habits will stifle it and can they be stopped?


  1. Dave Briggs says:

    Thanks Nick. It’s an interesting debate, and it’s great that it is taking off in such a great way – not just on my blog and yours, but also in other forums and mailing lists. Check out the latest comment on that blog post from a guy from ICELE to see just how badly they didn’t get it.

    What we need is an open, non-organised vitual centre for eGov, eDem, ePolicy etc etc – essentially, fun civic stuf on the web. Managed by enthusiasts (and there are plenty of us) , we could have a wiki library of good practice, guidance and resources, blogging projects – like mine about browser access in gov’t – and other bits that people might actually find useful. Will blog more on this before the day is out, I feel.

    Looking forward to Thursday.

  2. paul canning says:

    This wasn’t my main point. It was that the closure meant the loss of their good stuff – I know the arguments around the bad stuff and culture. It was a ham-fisted, bad management manoeuvre and given past experience amounts to money thrown away.

    the lack of a proper portal and the reality of a proliferation of projects means that there’s no coordination and individual projects constantly struggle for attention.

    the roots are in the egov policy and management which we’ve had for the last eight years or so.

    It’s not going to get better. everyone seems to think that the next initiative will solve the problem. It won’t. It’s time to speak truth to power and that means calling Ministers on their rubbish.

  3. Dave Briggs says:

    Paul – I’ve been going through the ICELE website downloading and copying everything I can just in case. It’s not going to be allowed to disappear!

  4. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks Paul.

    Are talking about different things or just different approaches. I’m arguing that portals rarely work – their the chimera of online engagement. Are you suggesting that they fail for lack of focus, input etc?

  5. paul canning says:

    No. Just that we don’t get any real input in the UK about tried’n’tested overseas experience. I look at how the US does it, or Singapore or Australia and they have portals which direct people towards the projects. Extraordinarily basic stuff.

    They’re not perfect but we have sod all like that. We have a fractured policy/strategy which reflects a fractured policy/strategy in Whitehall and ultimately extremely bad political leadership.

    What’s been happening over the past eight years has big, big problems. And just looking to mend it/glass half-full isn’t going to work. We need to smash the glass.

  6. kevin harris says:

    Careful chaps. If you look at ‘Who’s registered’ on the event site, there’s at least one woman’s name. Makes me wonder if there’s a risk of the discussion drifting too far from the technology and getting dangerously close to issues of, er, wha’s it called again, empowerment. No it’s ok, I’m imagining it.

    Of course ICELE was a waste of money. Like the wretched OeE before it, it was constitutionally obsessed with finding tech solutions with no understanding of the issues. Question is, how to get the right people in the room to break away from that. And leave the doors open.

  7. paul canning says:


    but do you think Whitehall has the solution up their sleeve?

    no, and neither do we, wikis on our own dime et al. we can do our own stuff but we have to challenge the govt. at the same time. we have to do *both*.

    I am a bit fed up with ‘internal’ fighting. in my book a lot of ICELE people are good people. IME Mary, for example. With a lot of real-world experience under their belt.

    We need to work together rather than be divided *by* Whitehall’s failed egov strategy.

    be reminded of ‘life of brian’ and do I have to do the quote?

  8. kevin harris says:

    Sorry, I over-ironised my point. Look who’s participating in discussions like this and in Simon and David’s event. Mainly entrepreneurial techies I think, mainly blokes.

    I’ve been involved in social inclusion and the info society since at least 1988 and I don’t think any debate that’s been started by techies has ever recovered from its own misdirected momentum. The key input has to come from people who have insights into the division, exclusion and disempowerment experienced daily at local level; and if they’re not there at the outset it’s almost impossible to engage them subsequently because of the way the language and terms of discussion get set.

    So you end up being swept down a well-intentioned furrow when the experience that counts is in a parallel furrow across the field somewhere. Governemnt’s role should have been to effect cross-furrow channels, as it were (time to climb out of this metaphor, methinks) – not spend millions on the assumption that some tech solutions were out there waiting to be discovered. Paul is quite right – the approach has been fundamentally flawed, in my opinion since halfway through PAT15. Too much directing, not enough ennabling, because it was seen as ‘digital futures’ not present exclusion and disempowerment.

    This may make me sound like a jaded old fart, and maybe I am. I don’t mean to pour water or scorn on a new source of well-intentioned energy combined with experience. I’ve known Simon and David for decades and I couldn’t have more faith in them. But I’d just point out that the experience that really counts needs to be in there as well, and it’s very very easy to carry on as if it were, or as if people will sign up when they see how blazingly brilliant what you’re doing is. They won’t and that in turn becomes disempowering.

    Sorry if I’ve dipped in to this discussion at the wrong angle – I was really responding to the second part of Nick’s post.


  9. Nick Booth says:

    Thank you Kevin. That is a very timely reminder. I experience it myself when concocting a project with a funder and then when it’s done realising it didn’t work so well because we did the concocting, not the people we wanted to support.

    It sounds like a silly thing to admit to, but it hapens all the time and is done in very good faith.

  10. David Wilcox says:

    See some of you tomorrow … with a few questions already cooking sparked by this discussion:
    * how can we encourage government to involve service users, citizens, beneficiaries (aka punters) in the design of services, particularly when the purpose is empowerment. Are there examples of this at the sensitive Green Paper-White paper policy development stage?
    * how can civil servants develop policies in a rapidly changing digital environment when – as Jeremy Gould points out here http://snurl.com/2b8k8 – few are likely to have direct understanding of the technologies?
    * what are the barriers/difficulties in Government adopting low-cost distributed solutions

Comments are closed.