Miliband and Hammersley… together at last

It has been an open secret that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has recently opened its arms and mind to Ben Hammersley – in my opinion, this is one of the single most important steps the department will take digitally, other than scoring Miliband as its Minister.

Something needed to happen to help government departments realise that online communication need not have a 1million pound plus IT tag attached to it. In the last four weeks, Paul Bute and Ben have managed to pull off Project Demophon (working title).

It is still in Beta therefore being tested – sorry for stating the bleeding obvious – taken to various board members and yet to see the light of the private office, but that is happening now, so forgive me for not actually sharing the url, it will come, be patient!

Here is what it does (copied from the Beta version Home page):

Demophon is the FCO’s online collaboration space. We use it to work on projects with partners outside government. It is based on a system called a wiki. A wiki is a website where the users can edit every page, and create new ones at will. At the top of every page is an “edit” link. Click on this, make your changes, and hit save. Your changes will be visible immediately.

If you are new to using Demophon then click on help. You can edit the help page too, so if you find a new thing to do, or a better way of putting it, please make changes. Feel free to play around in the Sandpit. Do not worry about making mistakes – every version of every page is automatically retained. You can roll-back changes with ease. Click on the History tab at the top of any page to see this. Confident wiki users might like to bookmark the cheatsheet.

Demophon is password protected for privacy, and all users are verified. Once verified, every user can see every page on Demophon. This is a good thing. It means that all information can be cross referenced, and we don’t need to reinvent stuff. Users are all those with an account and include colleagues in the FCO, partners across government, and partners outside government (including the media) who have been nominated by an FCO officer.

Only place UNCLASSIFIED material on Demophon – information that you are content to be in the public domain. If information is sensitive in any way (including ‘in confidence’ and ‘UBS’ material such as details of high profile visits or personal data such as telephone lists) it should not be placed on this space.

So far so good… but it gets better

Demophon provides the FCO’s first collaborative working space. It enables you to:

  • arrange meetings, visits and conferences: agree on location and dates and logistics, set the agenda, and write the reports collaboratively;
  • draft business plans collectively: if you hoard them on Word docs your stakeholders will complain they haven’t been adequately consulted;
  • share best practice: get your colleagues and partners to develop their own FAQs and link to best-of-breed examples;
  • produce real time project and political reporting: contribute to project updates and reports written by teams all over the world (including external partners);
  • manage crises: ensure all the information we need is in one place. Don’t put up with unconnected email strings;
  • keep up to date with contacts: update external (and internal) details as a team so that your QBP list is always up-to-date;
  • access your personalised feeds: keep up to date with what your contacts are doing via RSS without wasting time searching multiple websites;
  • (on non-Firecrest machines) use maps: ideal for managing fast moving crises/unfolding events.

It is not rocket science, but we all knew it was not hard – thanks Ben for making it happen H/T forever…

I know that it is frustrating hearing about something but not being able to go and play, but let’s give the guys a break, applaud the fact that this has been achieved and support its uptake across Whitehall and local government/third sector – (hurrah for them :))

6 responses

  1. How seriously cool is that! And coming hot on the heels of the civil servant guidelines which as I noted on Jeremy’s blog, seem to me to be attempting to narrow down the radical potential of these technologies and spaces.

    Chapeaux to the driving forces behind this. What is particularly welcome I think is that this seems so firmly rooted in what the Department is seeking to achieve. It’s almost as though the people behind it were turned on not by the technology but by what it could achieve!

    Too often it seems projects begin, almost like in the dotcom or dotgov bubble days, with the desire to explore or implement a technology or god forbid software rather than the desire to improve delivery. Arguably we consultants and charabancs have not helped this process with our digital evangelism. Maybe we and the services we offer are starting to grow up too.

    Of course the big challenge now, as I ranted on Jeremy’s blog yesterday, is to ensure that the people using it are given active permission to tell stories, speak as humans and engage in conversations rather than “deliver messages”, use a newfangled intranet or merely juggle information.

    It is only when we see “radical trust” that we can say we really have grown up.

  2. Paul

    One example of the trust is on Steve Dale’s Communities of Interest site that he developed for the Improvement & Development Agency for local government, but it has now grown.

    There are a lot of .gov users and now quite a few others. People probably feel happy to comment because it is behind a password protected log-on.

    The business of government is slowly chugging in a different direction to three years ago, witness DCLG, Steve Berry on secondment and him blogging about the whole thing.

    New entrants to the public sector will also challenge the status quo.

    Recent departures from engagement with political life ( is that about 40% of the electorate ? ) may take a while longer to come back. Empowerment is not an easily understood word.

    Nevertheless, let’s salute the FCO’s efforts and I am watching their sponsorship of the new TV programmes and studios beaming in to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan with interest. They are certainly strutting their stuff. Could this be because they have a Minister under 40 ?

  3. Sadly, he was born on the 15th July 1965, (I was born in ’71 but on the 12th July – might explain rather un-ladylike crush – it’s astrological, not much I can do). This makes him a tad over 40.

    Am currently holding breath to see what happens next to be honest, and am mightily relieved that this method of working is being happily absorbed into the public sector; there is hope, people🙂

  4. Trying to work out the significance of the name Demophon. Brief research points to Demophon – ‘people killer’ – being one of those who hid inside the Trojan Horse. A not-so subliminal message for the Diplomatic Service?

    Either that, or it’s a reference to the Hymn To Demeter, which tells of how the Greek goddess was in the process of making a child Demophon immortal (long story, inevitably), when things were interrupted by the boy’s mother. She responded angrily:

    ‘Ignorant humans! Heedless, unable to recognise in advance the difference between future good fortune and future bad. In your heedlessness, you have made a big mistake, a mistake without remedy. Now there is no way for him to avoid death and doom.’

    I’ve certainly left project meetings with a similar thought in my mind, although not admittedly in the original Greek. Hope the choice of name isn’t a bad omen.

    PS: You didn’t mention the WordPress blog at the root address.🙂

  5. It is a working title which Ben explains in one of the pages with the following:

    Aristophon (a name I made up from the Greek root) turns out to have been an actual Greek ambassador to Sparta, so despite the long name, Demophon (the voice of the people) and Aristophon (the voice of the rulers) seem very fitting for the Unclassified and Classified versions of this wiki.

  6. Couple of comments.
    As an outsider (third sector, once removed) I see and genuinely feel a willingness in local and central government to take on technology, not for its own sake, but because there are many “lightbulb” moments; realisation that as a vehicle clever “mash-ups” of this technology can improve the lives of citizens, communities, third sector infrastructure organisations.
    I’m loosely involved in the Digital Equality Strategy and given this positive news – i’m excited.

    My other comment – DM, 23 days my junior; bless!

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