Productivity and cloud collaboration on CultureHive Academy

I’ve blogged again on the CultureHive Academy website about productivity and cloud collaboration. I’ve set out some of the tools and practices that Carl and I are regularly training our clients in, and which we aim to employ in running our company. If you’re struggling with an inbox full of unread emails, or you’re losing track of which document version is the latest, it’ll be useful, I promise!

National Assembly for Wales announces digital engagement plans

Cardiff Bay

PierheadSpeaking tonight at The Royal Television Society lecture in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Rosemary Butler, announced a series of actions that the Assembly plans to take in order to address the Democratic Deficit, including some significant plans to develop the way that the Assembly engages with digital publishers and communities.

‘Democratic deficit’ is the term that Mrs Butler applied to the problem of many UK and Welsh media organisations failing to properly cover the work of the Assembly and the public policy differences in Wales as a result of devolution.

For example, viewers of television news in Wales regularly find themselves watching stories involving the English Education Minister Michael Gove, when it is in fact Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education in Wales, who makes policies affecting the education system in Wales.

In her speech, Mrs Butler announced a set of specific measures the National Assembly will take to improve how the Assembly communicates its work with the people of Wales including,

  • work with digital and hyperlocal media and partner organisations to create a journalism hub in the Senedd that could provide content to these new digital channels;
  • make it easier to report the Assembly’s work by providing better communications facilities on the Senedd estate;
  • make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible;
  • ensure that Assembly Members are fully informed about how best to use the communication tools now available in this digital age;
  • work more closely with media organisations to take the Assembly out to the communities they represent with a series of regional Assembly press days; and
  • also work with those organisations to provide induction sessions for trainee journalists to ensure a better understanding of the work of the institution.

NativeHQ welcomes these announcements. They will make a significant contribution to the way that the work of the Assembly is communicated to the people of Wales. We have been involved in the discussions the Assembly has held about these issues over recent months – you can view a video of Carl Morris contributing to the discussions on our blog.

The key to the success of these initiatives will lie in the way that they are implemented. Some of this is already underway. The flagship Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, where the Presiding officer made her remarks, has finally been given internet connectivity, which the public can use via wifi, and it is good to hear there will be better communications facilities across the Senedd estate.

NativeHQ will itself be involved in the effort to inform Assembly Members about the best ways to use digital communications tools as one of the organisations chosen to deliver training in digital and social media to AMs and their political staff. We’d welcome comments from our blog visitors if you have any thoughts about the key skills that Assembly Members need to know in order to become more effective using digital tools. What do Welsh politicans need to know about the social web?

The proposal to ‘make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible; opens up the exciting possibility of allowing journalists and citizens to analyse the data in new and innovative ways that could provide fresh insights to help the Assembly to do the important work of representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account. It will be important for the Assembly to work with industry leaders in the field of digital democratic engagement such as MySociety as well as local Welsh technology companies who understand the specific nature of the Welsh political landscape.

The idea of creating a journalism hub within the Senedd for niche digital publishers to engage with the work of the political community is a promising one, though not without its challenges for the Assembly. We would suggest that the Assembly guards against over-reliance on the idea of ‘hyperlocal’, as not all niches are geographic. While hyperlocal sites are an increasing feature of the digital landscape in Wales, many digital publishers focus not on an area of the map, but on an area of policy. For example YnniCymru is a blog which looks at the specific topic of renewable energy, right across Wales.

These topic and hyperlocal specialists are savvy digital users, so we’d suggest that the Assembly looks to create an information resource with smart filtering and notification systems that they can use to ensure that any Assembly activity relating to the area of  information that they focus on – be that geographical or topic based – gets to them quickly.

Image by Capt Gorgeous (Creative Commons BY licence)

Outsourcing social media: the debate

ama2We were asked recently to write down our thoughts on why Arts organisations should not outsource their voice on Social Media platforms recently, for the Arts Marketing Association blog. The piece has just been published alongside an argument in favour of outsourcing by Sarah Morris from Sequence, another digital agency also from Cardiff.

You can view the debate here on the AMA blog – what do you think? Get involved in the discussion over there!

Ada Lovelace Day 2012: Dr Kelly Page

Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in technology. You can read more on the event’s website.

This year I would like to mention someone who is very dear to us at NativeHQ and is well known among web people in Cardiff, where we live and work.

To call Dr Kelly Page an ‘academic’ would be factually correct but wouldn’t give you a full picture of the real value she brings to the projects she works on. She has a keen understanding of technology adoption and the ‘human’ factors and in a field often given to over-exuberance she never gives a simplistic answer. It is always fascinating to discuss with her how technology is really used and how digital media are being changed and in turn changing us, in education, in organisations, in companies, in politics, the arts and so on.

She is a highly versatile thinker who has no problem recasting the original question, category or definition on the basis of what happens along the way. That is a rare attitude. She has been known to remark, in one of her favourite phrases, that there are ‘a lot of learnings’ – a reflection of her curiosity and openness to new insights, however they might be found. She is a great asset to organisations, at least those that are willing to be inspired and learn with her.

Tom and I have benefited hugely from our conversations with Kelly, many of which have fundamentally changed the way we do things. As well as her flawless professionalism as a person she is generous, good at meaningful encouragement and big on laughs.

Although she maintains links to Wales, Kelly and her gigantic brain departed for a life in the USA earlier this year. And although it is a great pity for us as we don’t see her as often anymore, we know she is thriving on the new challenges and we look forward to future discussions – on whichever shore they may be.

The benefit of online collaboration (Guardian)

Here’s an interesting albeit teasingly brief set of examples of how arts and culture organisations used online collaboration tools and practices to be more efficient and save money.

Collaboration has been a good use of digital media for a number of years. But I suppose it’s inevitable that ‘feeling the squeeze’ is given as a key reason for looking at these collaboration opportunities, perhaps enough to bring what might have been perceived as a niche topic into the pages of the Guardian.

The emphasis in the article is mainly on collaboration beyond the walls of your company – with other organisations – although I’d argue that better collaboration can bring benefits within the team of an organisation too.

Artist abandons Twitter and Facebook – and explains why

Hugh Macleod is a well known cartoonist who has a blog by the name Gaping Void. Here is an excellent and thought-provoking post from last month:

Earlier today I told everybody on Twitter and Facebook, that I’m leaving Twitter and Facebook.


Because Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

And as I’ve said many times over the years, Web 2.0 IS ALL ABOUT personal sovereignty. About using media to do something meaningful, WITHOUT someone else giving you permission first, without having to rely on anyone else’s resources, authority and money. Self-sufficiency. Exactly. […]

Read the rest of the post for more of Macleod’s reasoning. It’s interesting to read the various responses around the web to the post.

I admire Macleod’s idealism. In general I’m inclined to agree with his points about Twitter and Facebook. They are companies with their own objectives and although the services are free, we should think about if we should use them – and how. (Incidentally at the time of writing Macleod appears to be back on Twitter but let’s ignore that and focus on the advice.)

I wouldn’t recommend Macleod’s advice for everyone in every case but I would say that it is of particular relevance to artists and creative people who ‘create content’. As always it comes back to the nature of your set-up and what you want to achieve.

The Digital Scholar by Martin Weller

Martin Weller is an OU professor who we first met through our Trydan cafe events. I’m currently reading his new book The Digital Scholar for his insights on the use of digital media in education and research. As with Martin’s excellent blog there will doubtless be things applicable outside of education. What I expect I’ll do is carry on reading it online for free at the Bloomsbury Academic site until my eyes hurt and then invest in a paper version of the book. Join me.

Incidentally now and again people ask me what’s happening with Trydan. I’d say it was on indefinite hiatus at the moment, unless anyone wants to start them again. Although they only lasted for around a year, the open gatherings were an invaluable way to meet people and swap ideas across different fields. And of course many of those people are still in contact.

Technology as a material

To make art with technology, one does not use it as a tool; one must understand it as a material. Technology is not always a tool, an engineering substrate; it can be something to mould, to shape, to sculpt with.

Materials have desires, affordances, and textures; they have grains. We can work with that grain, understanding what the material wishes to be, wishes to do – or we can deliberately choose to work against it. We must understand that grain and make a deliberate choice. […]

Thought-provoking short essay about art and technology by Tom Armitage which I’m still pondering.

What the White House rickroll (kind of) means

The book Cluetrain Manifesto is often regarded as an early vision (from 1999) of informal and authentic communication between human beings online. It contrasts that with the often insincere brochure-speak beloved of corporations and institutions.

Now, I’m sure this will be misinterpreted by humourless columnists and equally derided on forums for even being a bit passé. But I like it: on Tuesday the person given legitimate control of the White House Twitter account rickrolled somebody. That is, he did a little prank which you can read about in the news item. It’s a little glimpse of humanity at work.

Is it a sign that the Cluetrain lessons and practices have truly reached trusted staff, at least over in the USA?

I can’t imagine any public organisation or council doing something like this in Wales just yet, where often there are attempts by management to block social media platforms like Twitter.

It’s not that I”m asking for a big rickrolling craze to start in the public sector. That would be boring. And I’m not asking for a bunch of press coverage around some ‘cheeky’ branding campaign that’s been constructed in detail. This is for everyone, not just about whoever’s responsible for PR, publicity, branding and marketing, although it’s relevant for them.

The point I’m trying to make is: are people in your organisation allowed to use whatever tools they want or need to use, to enjoy their work and to communicate with people outside the building without having to adopt a false, guarded corporate tone? In other words can they converse online they way they’re inclined to talk anyway, like human beings? If they’re not, what is stopping them?

The email charter

This Email Charter – prompted by a blog post from TED’s Chris Anderson (not the Wired/Long Tail author) – is becoming a discussion point around the web and it has some good advice.

We all love the power of email connecting people across continents. But… we’re drowning in it.

Every year it gets a little worse. To the point where we can get trapped spending most of our working week simply handling the contents of our in-boxes.

As a set of 10 short tips it’s a good start and very easily digestible. The first tip is:

1. Respect Recipients’ Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email will take to process. Even if it means taking more time at your end before sending.

I’m left wanting more though. I find email surprisingly relevant to discussion of social media tools in the workplace. A major cause of the email problem, as far as I can see, is unthinking and automatic use of email. Very often, email is seen as an all-purpose communication tool, even a to-do list, both of which are wrong. There are other options that work with or instead of email, e.g. a better personal to-do list (so you’re not dependent on other people to organise your time and commitments), collaboration tools such as a wiki and Google Docs, or even a phone call or face-to-face discussion.

‘I simply don’t have the time to try these alternatives’, people say. There’s an anxiety and fatigue  associated with email and sometimes the vague sense of unattended jobs lurking in the inbox.

Ultimately though, if we’re working in the knowledge economy then we’re going to have to grapple with this problem and change the way we do email (if at all), in order to do our work more effectively and win back time for the important things.