Stop Press: Help Stephen Hale (FCO)

Right gang, setting aside (briefly) my unhealthy Miliband thing, and giving the apt H/T to Steph Gray (via twitter again), here goes another opportunity to play with the big boys.

Stephen’s plea for help here.

Now, I am anxious that I don’t dilute the importance of this by sharing it on this blog. This is a great opportunity to look at how we can start to do some of the stuff everyone is talking about.

Here is Stephen’s post in full, go engage there not here, but please do and please share the link:

How can the web help solve global financial problems?

When the Prime Minister announced that London will host a summit of world leaders on the “major questions of economic action” he set in motion a huge exercise in coordination and communication in Whitehall.

Officials across Whitehall are well practiced at this kind of thing, so I’m confident that by the time the world leaders gather in London on 2 April everything possible will have been done to ensure that the summit delivers.

But how can the web contribute to the success of the summit?

The build up to the summit should be an ideal opportunity to harness the power of the social web. We have: a set of problems that need solutions, existing active communities who are already talking about the issues, an offline process that has real authority and decision making power, and a defined timeframe in which to deliver.

So this could be a huge opportunity for digital engagement, but also a massive challenge. Should we try to lead, or just contribute to the conversation? Should we run big, high-profile headline-grabbing engagement exercises or smaller targeted outreach with particular groups? And how can we ensure that our digital engagement actually feeds into the policy making and decision making process?

At the moment we are planning to:

1. Run set-piece forums for discussion aimed at different audiences. (Because the UK government wants to know how different communities react to our emerging ideas.)

2. Reach out into spaces where people are already discussing the “major questions of economic action”. (Because however much governments would like to lead the debate, it already has a life of its own and much of the conversation will inevitably take place elsewhere.)

3. Create a web presence for the summit that sets out the issues as we see them, but also aggregates comment and opinion from elsewhere. (Because anything we produce on this has to reflect the problem-solving nature of the conversation that is taking place around the world, and a genuine openness to new ideas.)

We have some ideas on how to do all this but I’d really like to hear what others think. Can the web can help answer the major questions of economic action? How would you like to contribute to the conversation? Would you prefer to engage with government on official websites, or elsewhere? What web tools would you use to stimulate debate? Where on the web are the lively debates already taking place? Who should we collaborate with? What lessons can we learn from similar exercises?

I’ll post more on the detail as we start doing things. But I’d really like to hear what you think.

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 :))

For those of you Miliband-ites

A friend of mine has kindly sent me the following re Newsnight 7th May:

Tonight Jeremy will be talking to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband live in the studio after he delivers what promises to be a radical speech on transforming Britain into a low-Carbon economy.

He argues that this is the only solution to the problems of spiralling energy and food prices as well as water shortages.

But will the shift to low carbon economy mean difficult decisions for all of us – especially the government – about how we live our lives?

If you have a question you’d like to put to David Miliband on this, or any other issue relevant to the Foreign Secretary, then please let us know.

When we’ve put this request to you before regarding other guests, there have been murmurs of discontent when questions haven’t made it to air. This time, as well as answering some of your questions on the programme, the Foreign Secretary has kindly agreed to respond to several more via
the Newsnight blog tomorrow morning.

Click here to post your question:

I shall certainly be watching – um trying not to drool – but I know some of you who have burning questions.

Off ye go

PS cannot let you go without sharing this little piece of joy just the picture, mind you

The new Foreign and Commonwealth website

As you all know, I have been involved in the development of the new Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) website – – looking pretty lovely right now.

Many of you have asked me why I have not blogged the ‘launch’, or switch over, from the old to new site… well, because actually my role had little to do with it. Not that I am not proud of what has been achieved, rather it is not right for me to lay any claim to it at all!

I did do last minute frantic CMS work for a week; however, I was hired to ensure that the 220 posts around the world knew what we were doing, understood what they had to do and felt as if they were a part of this big change.

This does not warrant me doing a big HAZZAH!! when the new site goes live

It is not me being myopic, I just do not feel as if it is exactly my place.

However, the e-media team at the FCO have given blood, sweat and tears to make this happen, and they deserve the plaudits.

Go say something nice 🙂 there were many 1am moments in producing this site


Links, libel and law

This has been a week of mixed emotions. I have been very touched by everyone’s comments both on- and off- line about the post on the justicefortom site, and was equally as elated when I found out that I had – finally – been linked to from David Miliband’s blog.

Now, I have to confess that I bullied and nagged to get a link – simply because I harbour a completely unrequited respect for the man (the man not the politics, necessarily).

Within minutes the elation of finally having achieved nirvana was replaced by panic about what his linking to me might mean; not for myself, for him – well for both of us actually – with the death throws of civilserfgate still reverberating around Whitehall. By linking to me, he was seeming to bring my own views and opinions into his own blogosphere and could, perhaps, be seen to be endorsing whatever I say. In light of my post on justicefortom this might not be a good thing for a Foreign Secretary to be doing. Hmm…

I could detail the following 24 hours but it is neither interesting nor relevant – however, I ended up asking someone to remove me from the links on Miliband’s blog, as I was on the point of throwing up if they didn’t!

Of course, they obliged and I felt relieved yet confused.

At lunch the next day I discussed this with a respected colleague and he asked whether by linking to someone are you endorsing all of their views? In the same way as quoting something libellous that someone else has said, in a court of law makes you guilty of libel. Does the same law stand for linking?

By linking to me, was Miliband saying that he endorsed my fight for Tom?

By my linking to anyone, or recommending anyone on this site, does that mean that I endorse every belief they have?

No… but what if it did?