Five (grim) predictions for 2011
Five prediction for 2011 that I really hope I’m wrong about.
I can see people preparing New Year’s prediction lists for tech and government and the two combined. All about how things will change in the New Year. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of these kinds of lists because 1. it seems a bit faddish and 2. they’re way too easy to get wrong. It’s too easy to check back and prove to yourself that you’re not the visionary guru that you hoped you were. The lists are literally hostages to fortune.
So instead of predicting a bright new future, I thought I’d draw on my natural pessimism to identify five things I think might happen in the New Year. And if they don’t – hurray! I can look back at the list and say: “Awesome! I was wrong.” I’m hedging my bets. And if they do, well – I told you so.
1. Local open data stalls.
After an initial flurry of activity in January for expenditure data (see revised LG Group guidance here) and a bit more a little later on related to contracts (new consultation guidance here on publishing contracts and tenders). Local government open data begins to stall. This is a patchy prediction. Some councils are going to be absolutely forging ahead. Places like Bristol (which is hosting the next Local by Social: Apps for Communities), a few places in London and some other bright stars in the data firmament begin using more and more open data and nurture their developer communities to make stuff useful to citizens and to local public services. But the rest slow down, drag their feet and don’t really see the point and fail to get on the bandwagon when pressure from the centre dies down.
Some cool apps are developed in some locations, but because there’s little collaboration on open standards for what’s quite similar data, we don’t see the benefits spread over the sector as a whole.
2. Social media in local gov become the domain of Comms
A lot of comms people in local government have been resistent to social media, but 2011 marks the end of that. Hurray, you say. Danger! I say. Social media works best where it’s a conversation between real people. Comms teams work under a model of communication that facilitated messages going between monolithic entities – the council and the local newspaper. Or where it was a more disperse model, it’s the council and broadcast only mechanisms like advertising and newsletters to a passive public. This is the year that councils comms catches on to the free to use (but labour intensive) social media scene, but attempts to control the messages even more tightly.
Of course central communications must play a role, but the benefits of social media can only really be achieved when there’s a more federated model of communications. Councillors communicating more easily with their constituents. Local people sharing information among themselves and council officers sharing matters of fact and pointers to more information with local people.
3. More councillors get in trouble for using social media.
This one is a shooting-fish-in-the-barrel prediction. Of course a councillor will get in trouble for his/her imprudent social media use. What’s sad about this is that coverage will continue to focus in 2011 on the medium (Twitter, Facebook, etc) rather than the fact that some in elected office has said something rather silly. Or rather than the fact that more councillors are using social media sensibly to engage with residents on matters from gritting to real discussion about the really hard decisions that local government faces this year, which is truly good news. (There’s some good advice here on staying out of trouble online).
4. Collaboration slows
Over the past year in particular, I’ve seen a big shift in the way that people are using Communities of Practice. People are sharing more, working more closely together, using it as a networking platform to get stuff done.
And the need for collaboration will be even greater as local government faces some tough times. So along with a growing trend, greater need and the roll out of the Knowledge Hub a new and much better platform for sharing for local public services - we should be well set to see some really great uses of tech-facilitated collaboration. But instead in 2011 we see practitioners drawing closer in, the value of content creation and practitioner led facilitation being questioned at ‘home base’ and people under threat behaving more like rats in a sack than team players across organisational boundaries.
5. Hyper-what? Neighbourhood and community networking doesn’t expand much.
For all the talk of localism and Big Society, there won’t be much walking the talk happens when it comes to local networks and blogging. Sure more sites get set up, but there isn’t much of an air of seriousness about it all. Unless blogging by local people is taken to heart by local news outlets (i.e. the crumbling papers and whatever happens with local broadcasting) there won’t be the kind of exposure that local blogs deserve. Local papers could easily set up a aggregating feed of local folks and maybe invest a bit of time into monitoring traffic and promoting stories of genuine local interest (letting cute pics of dogs in sweaters find their own traffic). And the more these stories are highlighted and promoted the more genuine local interest blog posts there would be. But that won’t happen.
And councils won’t take local blogging and social networks all that seriously either. And why not? See prediction 2. Can’t have someone else running the story can we? Can’t think of allowing bloggers to be emailed press releases, even though these are a) public documents or b) often a good way of getting the information out to a lot of people who live or work locally. And many councils still can’t be bothered to set up RSS feeds or start Twitter feeds to make up the difference where RSS is difficult to implement because of archaic content management systems. So despite some stellar work on online neighbourhood networks sponsored by Capital Ambition – few councils take heed and start to exploit online networks in a good way.