No measure

Today I attended a free event by Birmingham City University entitled ‘measuring the unmeasurable, digital participation’.  I was hoping that it would be a repeat of the Online Dialogue 2010 event at Leeds University which threw up some really interesting insights.

How wrong I was. The only mention of measuring digital participation came from Nick Booth at podnosh {check out  social media surgery +}, who rightly mentioned that we should consider overspill with the real world as a measure of our success.  Also presenting was the now defunct Ofcom Digital Participation Consortium. They spoke about their media literacy tracker and tech tracker survey (with a sample size of 1824 and 9698 respectively). While the results are worth a look I cant help feeling they are a repeat of the regular Oxii and UK Online updates. Besides what will we do with this data?

One of the better speakers was Paul Watson from the University of Newcastle who is tasked with spending £12m from the UK Research Council on a programme of work to break the social deprevation circle using digital technologies. The programme is called SIDE and runs until 2014 in conjunction with other universities such as Aberdeen. Gateshead council are reportedly involved in some of their pilots.

Back to task, there are a lot of methods for measuring the unmeasurable, from profs such as Laurence Pratchttt, Stevy Coleman, Ann Macintosh and the Danish Technological Institute’s Jeremy Millard – not to mention my own recent attempt for the EC. So what about the CLEAR model, PEST analysis etc? Not a mention. What about the quality measures of online discourse? Not a mention.

Rant nearly over….I am fed up with going to workshops which have no focus or are so uninformed that its like going back to the start of the dark age. People don’t realise it but there is abundant research on the topics of democracy, eparticipation and einclusion. There is also a growing research community. What we need are not more research questions but ways of putting what is learned action and a reality check on so called public participation experts who have never worked in government.

Folks are wrong about the progress of government on this agenda. Local Authorities are using social media and buzz monitoring. They have social media policies and innovate with open data. They have built interoperability standard and regulated some digital instruments. What they haven’t done is made it fun or compelling or demonstrated that there is demand. Let’s face it, eGovernment will never be sexy.

So, what did I learn? Well, we could use telemetry to determine if you’re a safe driver and 3 in 10 Internet users never go to new sites. So what about the solid interesting stuff? Well, we could build ambient kitchens (circa £12k each) to keep people at home for longer which might save money in adult social care (£500 a month).  This involved the novel use for a Wii controller which had been savaged and turned into a smart knife!  Oh, and the Arts Council will release the findings of their digital survey sometime in September.

Final thought.  Worryingly the government no longer has an outlet for digital participation, even though they will tell you it is Race Online 2012. My guess is that they just split it up into ore sensible components. Digital diplomacy, anybody? Time to call Ross……

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