Tag: Working in Schools

A Comment on the Digital Britain Interim Report

To find the Digital Britain interim report click on this image
To find the Digital Britain interim report click on this image

Earlier this week Jon Hickman asked me to say a few things at the Digital Britain unconference in Birmingham.  He wanted me to share some opening thoughts about the interim reports 5th objective:

Developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable the widespread online delivery of public services and business interface with Government.

An overview of the entire mornings conversation is here, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

This objective, “to develop the infrastructure skills and take up to enable the widsespread online delivery of public services and business interface with government” appears to almost entirely about refining ane ecnouraging online transactions.  It suggests that the ambition is to use the net to govern more efficiently. That is unquestionably important but it ignores how the web can and will shift our democratic relationships, allowing self organising citizens to ignore, short circuit, or improve how we govern or  self govern.  Core to this is ensuring that we all are able to effectively publish (rather than simply consume) online, should we wish to do so.  This democratic shift is also being accelerated by the problems being faced by the big cultural and media organisations which Digital Britain as a report appears to be attempting to save.

Digital Britain says very little that seems relevant to this democratic shift. A couple of things that it mentions which are tangental are:

1 Safety: “We want to make the UK the safest place to do business online”.  Who’s going to argue with that? It will make us more likely to use the web to relate to government and take part in civic activity, won’t it?

Well it may not.  The safest place to do business online could also be the most controlled and closed down.  If that is the route we go then democracy baby and democracy bathwater will be scootling down the drain together. (Byron Report )

The report also appears to cling to a shadow of the unworkable idea of a film classification type service (” clear and effective labelling to help people avoid material likely to be harmful or offensive”) and adds “There should be a clearer role for trusted brands that provide a guarantee of the nature of the content that may be accessed through their product (e.g. the approach Apple has taken to making available applications that run on iPhone).”  Apple do this because they have found a funding stream around applications. Which “trusted brands” can make that happen with public content?

2 National Digital Literacy Plan. This is the other directly relevant bit: “We will only reap the benefits of becoming a digital nation if we ensure that everyone has access to the right education, skills and digital media literacy programmes to ensure that being digital is within the grasp of everyone.”

Yes is the simple answer to that.  Please though don’t make this a digital media literacy national curriculum which will date before it’s finished.  For this to work you have to find a mature balance between digital media literacy, learning and safety.

So I found two things in the report relevant to the issue of the net and democracy.  This led me, by way of  starting a conversation, to raise these additional points:

1 Should we stop existing IT projects which could stifle digital media literacy. Anything which is overly safe and overly cautious is likely to hamper our progress as a digitally literate nation. For example learning portals for schools etc – are they going to help or hinder? Do they really encourage rich informal learning and the sort of free flowing collaborations skills which will give us an economic advantage? (answers to this below please!)

2 Transparency isn’t mentioned. Transparent appears only once. Transparency will be the core media virtue in the future, replacing others such as impartiality.  Transparency is how we hold publishers and politicians to account. What does transparency mean?  Could there be principles to describe transparency which can then form the basis for a new set of standards against which online activity can be measured?

3 Talk to the folks next door. Whilst I was ranting on about how the people who wrote Digital britain didn’t seem to have read the Power of Information stuff Dave Harte did a quick search of the document to find no mention of the Power of Information Taskforce.   Unh.

My twoppenorth as an opener.  An overview of the entire mornings conversation is here with recordings of it all from the marvellous Rhubarb Radio.  Aggregations of national conversation on twitter at #dbuc09. Thanks to Nat and Julia at www.aquila-tv.com for organising and BillT for the original idea. Notes form the Manchester Event are here.  BTW Recasting the Net looks like another postive contribution to this conversation.

Very Local Media blossoming in Lozells – but who should keep watering it?

I was really pleased to find the first bulletins from Lozells News – a new child led digital service, appear in my feed stream last week:

Lozells News Highlights from can uk on Vimeo.

This is a project from CAN-UK, who’ve been working from Ladywood for more than a decade. Lozells already has the very fine www.lozells.info and the South Lozells Housing Regeneration area is beginning to use the web to tell the story of how it is progressing, see vision-lozells.org.

A couple of things.

The first is the question of how to integrate these a little better and so seed more local story telling? Perhaps a local social media surgery might help? It is a certainly somehting I’d be interested in.

The other is that our own experience of creating local news with young people  in Frankley or Castle Vale (and others) tells us there remains a problem of how we keep things going once the project ends. There’s no lack of enthusiasm from the young people:  Comments like

this was the best week ive had at Frankley, and making this podcast was a great experiance!


can’t wait to see if we do anything else

show there is an appetite for more.  It’s rarely an issue of equipment or websites etc, these are now cheap enough and simple enought to leave behind.  I think the problem is often who will take the lead/ownership in your absence.

So thoughts?  How could we ensure that when the project dosh dries up the storytelling keeps flowing?

Who’s coming to the Birmingham Social Media Surgery, BAD08

Pete Ashton stumbles across a 'shelter' for homeless people in Birmingham

I thought is was time to take stock, not least to ensure sufficient tea and coffee for the social media surgery which us Birmingham bloggy folk are organising (with BVSC) to support voluntary and community groups in the city on Blog Action Day.

If you want to know how social media can help you campaign, garner support, raise funds, change the world then please sign up through this link (Wednesday, October 15th 2008, BVSC (map) 5.30pm to 7.30 pm). Come when you can for some free, friendly, one to one support.

Sign up here:


The Social Media Surgeons:

Coming from Somerset we have Steve Bridger, once of The Guardian website and Oxfam now a specialist in online fund raising and community management. I first met Steve through shared involvement with the NCVO ICT Foresight project.  Also getting here by train, this time from Sheffield, is Paul Webster. I think I first met Paul at the UKGOVBarcamp.   Paul travels endlessly, bringing vol orgs and their suport organisations up to speed with how IT and the web can help them.

Stef Lewandowksi will be there, sharing his enormous experience of producing blog based websites which achieve things, from webby award winning sites to those that build networks around curious human ideas, Stef builds some of the most elegant pages you can find on the web. He’s also offering:

half a day of my time to produce from scratch a blog-based website for one charitable organisation that works with disadvantaged or at risk kids, at no charge.

This is a brilliant offer. Stef can achieve a great deal in half a day if he’s working with an organisation that’s keen to get on with things.

Pete Ashton – who’s the first person I know to come up with the idea of a social media surgery – will also be there to help. One of the countries first professional bloggers, Pete has won national awards and helped the cities creative community burst into online collaboration and conversation through establishing Created in Birmingham. That leads me on  to another local. Chris Unitt has run Created in Birmingham for the last 6 months or so and is a very talented blogger who’s also applied his professional energies to initiatives such as cQuestrate, an ambitious project to develop an open source solution to climate change.

Others possibly/hopefully coming who can help with everything from how to set up a blog to how to run a festival (should that help reduce poverty) are Anthony Herron, Dave Briggs, Nicky Getgood and Antonio Roberts. (Update:  Joanna Geary – a Birmingham Post journalist who’s helping introduce social media to newspapers, is also hoping to come).
I (Nick Booth) will also be there with my background in BBC journalism then community podcasting and various work with local government, schools and community groups on using social media as a tool for empowerment.

Jon Bounds and Julia Gilbert, both of whom have energetically inspired and worked on this idea, can’t make Wednesday, but just thought I’d day hello and thank you.

Social Media Patients(!?):

So far I’ve had about 15 people say they’re hoping to come from various groups, some with url, some without names!  Among them are Gerry Moynihan of the Bordesley Green Neighbourhood Forum. I’ve worked with Gerry before to make this film and podcast for a European wide group of active citizens called R4R.  I spoke to Claire Rigby of Fairbridge earlier this week and if she can’t make it she means to encourage someone else to com along.  Her charity supports young people to pull themselves out of destructive patterns, often involving drugs.
Stuart Parker is establishing a social enterprise to use the power of the social web to help people who foundered in education. I’m sure he’ll be teaching and learning.
Ally Sultana works with women in Balsall Heath and has been developing a podcast project – she’s already explored some social mediaAudrey Miller helped create the Jubilee Debt campaign which put so much pressure on the 1998 Birmingham G8 to cancel debt to Africa. Serena Malone works with Rural net, and again is someone who may be able to teach as much as she learns.

Then there’s Gary Smith from firstlightmedia and also working with young people, Colin Kerrigan of the charity Stage 2Stephen Brook is coming along from another educational charity excell3.

Linda Hines from the Witton Lodge Community Association in Perry Common is coming. She’s also a community champion for Be Birmingham (I recently worked with Be Birmingham on simple podcasts and material for their youtube channel and flickr.)  Other community champions might join us, as might community groups who’ve worked with Groundwork in Birmingham and members of the Third Sector Assembly.

If you’re coming and I haven’t mentioned you please use the comments section to say hello. For some that will be familiar – for others commenting on this blog post might be your first step in social media!—


Update. Beside the bloggers some key organisations have also offerred their support with links and publicity, including Digital BirminghamBVSC who’s providing us with space and drinks and NAVCA.

The new UK Council for Child Internet Safety.

I’ve got real concerns about this (see the bottom of the post). According to this news release it will:

• establish a comprehensive public information and awareness and child internet safety campaign across Government and industry including a ‘one-stop shop’ on child internet safety;

• provide specific measures to support vulnerable children and young people, such as taking down illegal internet sites that promote harmful behaviour;

• promote responsible advertising to children online; and

• establish voluntary codes of practice for user-generated content sites, making such sites commit to take down inappropriate content within a given time.

This is what Tanya Byron thinks:

“Every parent will know that know that video games and the internet are a part of childhood like never before. This is extremely positive; giving kids the opportunities to learn to have fun and communicate in ways that previous generations could only dream of. But it can also present a huge challenge to parents and other adults involved in the welfare of children.

“That this why we need industry, regulators and parents to work together to protect children against the risks. Setting up UKCISS was a key recommendation in my report and I’m delighted that the Government along with industry, education, law enforcement, and the children’s charities have acted so promptly to make this a reality. “The Council will be a powerful union of some of our key players giving support to parents and guidance to children as they come more and more accustomed to the virtual world – it will also give families, teachers and most importantly children and young people the ability to input experiences and concerns. The UK is a world leader on internet safety for children and I look forward to others adopting this partnership approach.”

I’m worried this organisation will be risk averse, burdened with the pr fear of any internet abuse being laid at it’s door. Already the government has been looking for ways to police the internet.

The country that manages to balance the risk/opportunity that the web represents for young people is the one that will be best placed to enjoy the economic benefits on offer.  Having run a quango once, I know that you don’t create an energetic and imaginative attitude to risk by creating a new quango.

However it is easy to carp.  I think UKCCIS should start with teachers. If we can warm them up to the possibilities that come with an open attitude to the internet, rather than a closed or mistrustful one, we then have a hope of encouraging them to teach children to manage risk rather than run from the slightest suggestion of it.  Until teachers have high levels of digital literacy we’ll struggle to have schools that are anything but freakishly fearful of the web.