The following represents the considered views and outcomes from a meeting of "friends of KHub", consisting members from the original KHub Advisory Group, plus guests and observers, and is in response to the LGA Consultation about the changes necessary for the organisation to balance its budget following various unexpected reductions in income.
Apologies for any formatting issues. The original is a Word Document but since there is no option to include a file attachment to these blogs I've had to do a cut and paste. I will provide the document as a PDF on request, which the LGA Team might conisder adding to the Library (I have no opton of adding it myself from the KHub Team Space or the Future Of Knowledge Hub discussion space.
Response To The Knowledge Hub Consultation
14th June 2013
Meeting of the Knowledge Hub Advisory Group + Guests
June 5th 2013, Royal Society of Psychiatrists, 17 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PG
Mark Braggins (Hampshire Hub Partnership)
Steve Dale (Freelance) Ruby Dixon (Freelance/Mydex)
Gary Grant (Conseq) – In guest/observer capacity only Noel Hatch (Kent CC)
Tom Phillips (Freelance)
Vicky Sargent (Facilitator for Socitm community)
Conrad Taylor (Freelance)
Mike Thacker (PORISM) Paul Thompson (PFIKS) – In guest/observer capacity only.
David Wilcox (Freelance/Social Reporter)
Dave Briggs (Freelance)
Gary Colet (KIN/Freelance)
Carl Haggerty (Devon CC/LocalGovDigital)
Brendan Harris (Freelance)
Pete Jackson (West Midlands)
Sarah Lay (Derbyshire CC)
Phil Rumens (LocalGovDigital)
Alastair Smith (Hackney Council)
Alex Stobbart (Freelance)
Mike McLean (Scottish Improvement Service)
There have been various and sometimes misleading press announcements about “closing down” the Knowledge Hub (KHub) as a result of a reduction in Government funding. On 25th May 2013, the LGA “Knowledge Hub Team” announced a consultation on the future of the Knowledge Hub, seemingly limited to users of the KHub, but with few details of how the consultation exercise will be managed. It is as yet unclear whether the scope of this consultation is primarily focused on potential staff redundancies or whether it is an opportunity to revisit the purpose and utility of the KHub as a strategic facility for public sector collaboration and innovation.
It is also apparent that input to the consultation is fairly disaggregated and limited in scope, with conversations taking place in at least two separate spaces on KHub and a variety of social media outlets (blogs and Twitter).
In order to provide a degree of focus on the various conversations and provide a coherent response to the consultation, an informal “friends of KHub” group was assembled from current KHub users, invited guests and members of the original “Knowledge Hub Advisory Group”, which was responsible for defining the original purpose and vision for the Khub and acted as a steering group in the initial phases of the development. This group was disbanded when the current KHub leadership team took over development of the project in early 2011.
The ideas and recommendations contained in this “Response” reflect the considered views of all the meeting participants, hereafter referred to as the “Group”, and have been distilled from the conversations that took place at the 5th June meeting, together with the various blog posts and other assets that were shared prior to the meeting.
It is emphasised that this Response is a consensus of the Group and is offered to the LGA as part of an open and fully transparent discussion about the future of the Knowledge Hub.
Key Points and recommendations
1. The Group noted that:
• the costs of running KHub are not published, so it is not possible to analyse the costs of different elements of the service against the benefits they bring
• there has been no formal consultation on the proposed closure with the full community of KHub users
• it is unclear as to how many active users KHub has
• the threat of KHub closure has led to many proposals for alternative services, which might fragment communities
• continued financial pressures on the LGA threaten its ability to provide a service on which some communities have come to depend
2. The current focus and user catchment is too narrowly focused on local authorities. There is some agency and NGO use, but not enough has been done to promote and encourage multi-agency use (Fire, Police, Health Sector, Criminal Justice) or to engage with rural communities, voluntary sector, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Civic Society, etc. In short LGA has never sought to establish a sustainable business foundation for the Knowledge Hub or promoting its use to a wider audience.
Steps proposed to reach a wider audience and achieve financial independence are:
(i) Establish a new owning authority for strategic development of Knowledge Hub. The authority could be run along the lines of a cooperative or member-owned, not-for-profit organisation. The authority should operate according to a set of published irrevocable principles that protect public interest and transparency. The authority should have access to social media and technical expertise, and strong public sector connections.
(ii) Develop a business plan for KHub to be self-funding after transition costs.
(iii) Recruit a business manager or redeploy current staff to a sales/marketing function to achieve target income in line with the business plan.
(iv) Consider different models for income generation, e.g. advertising, event promotion, training, public sector news, trade publications, charged premium services.
(v) It is apparent from some of the discussions happening on social media channels (i.e. outside the formal consultation) that many individuals and organisations did not know of the existence of Knowledge Hub, so clearly there are opportunities to follow up on the interest being expressed by some of these parties. Put simply – LGA need to look at marketing opportunities.
3. There is significant anecdotal evidence that users find the current system difficult to use and lacking many of the features of the legacy CoP platform (e.g. tools for Facilitators). The user experience is further complicated by the lack of integration with other LGA products and services, such as esd-toolkit and LGInform. Currently, if you use LGInform you sign in via the esd-toolkit, but if you want to collaborate or have discussions about it you have to separately sign-in to Knowledge Hub. This is despite esd-toolkit supporting relevant standards, such as OAuth and OpenID. Users would naturally like to see a far more intuitive and seamless experience between esd-toolkit, LGInform and Knowledge Hub. Porism, esd-toolkit’s technical partners, are willing to commit resources to help achieve this vision.
4. A primary concern for the Group was the need to make every effort to limit the impact on current users of any changes that get agreed. In particular, if the LGA decides to close down KHub, it needs to play an active part in the decommissioning process and allow something else to emerge in its place. It was also recognised that the KHub support team commands great respect amongst users, and has considerable experience of community facilitation and management, a precious commodity in today’s networked world. Any decision to transfer or outsource the Knowledge Hub should take into account options for these staff to continue in their current roles.
5. There is a need for closed, secure spaces for sharing some knowledge and data, and there is also a need for the online management of these spaces, as currently provided by the KHub support team. However, the online field is moving incredibly fast, and it may be that we need to put more emphasis on mini-Hubs and connecting different Hubs and networks. It doesn’t make sense to have a local government-only space nationally when locally the reality is lots of different partnerships and networks across sectors, and with citizens, on the lines that Lambeth and others are developing.
(i) LGA should consider if/how the Knowledge Hub can serve a far wider audience across the sector, that embraces not just local authority users, but the various partnerships (private and third sector) through which many services are now being commissioned.
(ii) The most creative route for discussions might not be “How can we save the Knowledge Hub” but “How can we do without the Knowledge Hub” inspired by self-organising initiatives like We Will Gather.
(iii) The threatened closure of the Knowledge Hub could provide a great opportunity to draw on the collective expertise of users – and others – to think not just about how to tweak the platform and business plan, but what place all-purpose “platforms” have in knowledge sharing when there are so many other networking opportunities (see references to social ecologies and links in Addendum 3).
6. Consider any compromises that can be made on the current service level agreement with the incumbent ICT service provider that will result in cost savings. For example, reduction in target availability (in consultation with users), using a single/cheaper hosting environment, etc.
7. There were high hopes in 2009 that the Knowledge Hub it would integrate with other social media, and also enable conversations with the wider public. In the event the vision and functionality were severely curtailed by LGA when they took over the KHub development from IDeA/LGID. Since then there has been only cursory and infrequent consultation with users and stakeholders (e.g. DCLG) and the Advisory Group – which represented most of the stakeholders - was abandoned.
(i) Re-examine the current project governance structures and determine whether these are fit for purpose and inclusive of all relevant stakeholders.
8. See Addendum 1 for a SWOT analysis compiled by the Group, Addendum 2 for a partial transcript of the meeting from which most of the ideas and recommendations originated, and Addendum 3 for some of the additional reference sources used to inform the discussions.
For and on behalf of this Group.
Addendum 1: SWOT Analysis
The SWOT analysis describes KHub as a unique service offering savings to the communities that use it. Shortfalls in the current technical implementation make it, in some ways, less useful than its predecessor Communities of Practice. Opportunities include the option for the LGA to migrate KHUb to a self-funding “community owned and managed service”.
· Large user-base of professional knowledge workers
· Unique in local government
· Active and well-facilitated communities
· Supports communities of interest and location (Geography)
· Shared knowledge has high value to incumbent users
· Cross-sector and cross-service knowledge sharing.
· Trusted community space
· Well known and trusted brand
· Free (at point of use)
· Secure content, owned by the users (can’t be re-used or sold)
· Variable levels of access, security & privacy
· Experience and community management skills of the LGA Khub support staff.
· Scalable architecture
· Savings to users (though this has never been quantified)
· ‘safe’ area for learning by public sector people new to social media
· Usage policies dictated by LGA with little/no wider consultation with other potential public sector stakeholders.
· Design/architecture de-emphasised importance of CoPs.
· Removal of tools CoP facilitators had to support and grow communities e.g. inability to download a list of members (based on unhelpful interpretation of DPA) and therefore support/manage them.
· Palpable suspicion of non-LG people and interests based on misunderstanding of self-regulating culture of online communities
· Poor search
· Poor navigation
· Poor performance
· Limited facilities for cross-group posting (silo’d content).
· Over-promised vision not delivered
· No clearly communicated strategy for use or positioning.
· Lacks integration with other products (e.g. esd-toolkit, LGInform).
· Poor/no marketing of product or capabilities
· LGA Lack of business acumen
· Poor communication of priorities and development strategy
· Over-engineered and costly (?) hosting and support infrastructure.
· Opaque data on costs, usage statistics etc.
· No published success criteria or measurable business benefits.
· Unsustainable business model (over-dependence on Gov funding).
· Make it community owned and driven
· Multi-agency use (Police, Fire, Health etc.) – subscription or partnership.
· Local and Rural communities, Civic Society
· Investment from private stakeholders
· Training and e-Learning platform
· Event promotion (e.g. public sector suppliers).
· Freemium/Premium business model
· Selected/relevant advertising
· Bridge between Internet and Intranet (connecting content).
· Index/registry to local gov + agency open data.
· Other platforms – e.g. GovX
· Dilution of content and users across competing social networks.
· New and tempting ‘solutions’ that under-deliver.
· On-going financial uncertainty – what happens after this crisis?
· Lack of data and information from LGA – sets many hares running.
Addendum 2: Summary Transcript of the meeting
Steve Dale: Freelance, was at one time responsible for putting together the vision for the Knowledge Hub as part of a KM Strategy for the IDeA, and subsequently the LGID. He believes that to make progress in proposals for what should happen to KHub, we should focus on the business model, and not get hung up on the technology or the service suppliers. A primary consideration must be to minimise any disruption to current users of the platform whilst seeking a more sustainable business model that reduced or eliminated dependencies on Government funding.
Paul Thompson: Executive Director of PFI Knowledge Solutions, suppliers of the technology. He thought this meeting marks the re-emergence of something which appeared to get lost over the preceding two and a half years: the KHub Advisory Group had been mainstream at the time when the ideas for KHub were conceived, and also when the tender process was floated, which resulted in PFIKS being contracted through Liberata [a business process outsourcing company with many government contracts], who are the managing agents for the LGA. That seems an age ago, and it’s a matter of regret for Paul that so much of the original ideas and enthusiasm that emanated from the Advisory Group have got lost, and constrained. Paul has some ideas about how that might be addressed, which would surface later.
When we come to the other side of that process, where will this group, the former Advisory Group, fit in? He feels it should have a role.
Mark Braggins: Mark is from Hampshire Hub Partnership. Noted that it was not entirely clear what the focus of this ‘consultation’ was actually on. There was an initial flurry of concern that Khub was going to be closing down, but now there is a more considered discussion going on. Some years ago, Mark had been really enthusiastic about the KHub idea, and he saw it as contributing to the solution of a number of problems they were facing in Hampshire. He was fully supportive of such ideas as verified datasets, an App Store, a collaborative environment — all sorts of goodies were being promised. He was also very enthusiastic about the Advisory Group and more than willing to contribute to the KHub’s strategic development. But what was actually implemented was very narrow and very restricted in its early days; also it was slow, clunky and far from an intuitive user experience. He takes the point that the platform is capable of more, but what we actually what we got was not usable for him and his colleagues. In Hampshire, there is now a project to create a local information system, and they have drawn on many of the original aspirations of the Knowledge Hub in developing that. However, though they are keen to do this locally, they think that is only possible if KHub gains the ability to provide a broader information environment.
But returning to the present, we see that the reaction from current KHub users demonstrates an appetite for retaining the service — even in the state it is in now. People don’t want to lose it, so we should seek to preserve what we have got, and ideally expand it as a collaborative network of networks.
Tom Phillips: Formerly of Kent County Council, now Freelance. When the Knowledge Hub first appeared on the horizon, the legacy Communities of Practice Platform was really mushrooming. At the time, Tom was working as the Community Engagement Manager for Kent. There were loads of people around the country with similar jobs, whatever their job-titles might be, and CoP was a godsend: it gave them all a means of sharing, and gave legitimacy to sharing too: now the walls were down between local authorities. He remembers coming to that famous meeting in the basement of the LGA where the vision of Khub was set out, and it was very exciting. And — it hasn’t happened. And gradually, the excitement that was within CoP has faded away; and Khub has never really taken its place.
Tom doesn’t believe anything is ‘too big to fail’ — consider all the government computing initiatives which have failed. His main fear is about the timescale we have to do something, how this ‘consultation’ is going to work and on what terms; the LGA seems to have fractured the discussions by launching various different discussions all in one go, all attracting comments and with some cross-posting. It is quite hard to put your finger on who is saying what, and what it signifies. He has heard some great ideas put forward by the likes of Dave Briggs, who would like to launch an alternative collaborative platform. Tom is not happy to give a green light to such ideas until he has seen the business model. He would be worried about anybody taking this over without a viable business model, otherwise we could find ourselves having the same discussions 12 months from now.
For similar reasons Tom isn’t keen on some of the ideas of ‘premium services’ that have been put forward. Many are good, but they need to demonstrate a robust business case and not an assumed benefit, audience or market. So, his take is one of an ordinary user who was hugely enthusiastic in CoP days; he has now become a bit sceptical about what we have got, but in no way sceptical about the idea of “sharing”. Because that is what drives the future.
Noel Hatch: Noel is at Kent County Council. When the original Communities of Practice platform was piloted, it introduced collaborative practices through online tools. Blogging, wikis and other forms of online collaboration are now mainstream. CoP Platform was a really safe space for people, not only to share through the communities themselves, but also to experiment with using those tools. Many of the people who run blogs within Kent CC now, were people who were part of that original CoP roll-out. The technology behind the Communities of Practice was comfortable enough at the time for people to use, even if they were unfamiliar with online tools, and it provided a meeting space where the newbies could meet up with people who did have that experience.
Now, the tech-savvy people who have used such online tools in all sorts of different spaces (Twitter, Google+, different communities) are broadly OK; but for those still trying to get to grips with the online world, the way the Knowledge Hub was implemented made it more difficult to use than the (legacy) Communities of Practice.
He echoed Mark’s comments that the Knowledge Hub users do want to retain it; for them, the challenges of the technology are not as significant a factor as their desire to have that meeting-space. What was most effective about CoP and is still effective through the KHub is the role of the facilitators making possible collaboration across local government, NHS or other organisations, nurturing and facilitating just as you need to in any community, whether online or face-to-face. He noted that usability is one thing to pay attention to; but also important iswhat it takes to build, sustain and nurture a community, creating a trusted space for different organisations to collaborate and innovate.
David Wilcox: David is Freelance and styles himself as a ‘social reporter’, which is about making sense and joining things up, and helping other people to use a mix of technologies. With other people he is exploring along how do you do online management ‘in the wild’? How do you do facilitation across different networks? How do you help people develop their own learning networks and join up a lot of people?
David was invited to the original Advisory Group as a ‘renegade/disruptor’. His interest in the current situation is partly because he is always interested in process; the nature of consultations always interests him. And his understanding is that with the Knowledge Hub, we don’t actually have a user consultation, but rather the staff taking an initiative to invite users to join them in making representations; and it seems clear that what they are saying on those forums is ‘You tell us your ideas; we are really keen to get as many as we can; but we are going to take those and put them into the internal consultation process.’ But it seems to David that this is missing a trick, firstly in respect of just doing the decent thing in consulting with all users, but also if you are trying to keep that community animated, then a threat of closure is a great time to get people involved. If you want to close down, then don’t engage the users — but if you do want to keep things going, then use this crisis to get more people engaged.
David is also interested to figure out whether there is any long-term viability for these all- purpose online community platforms. Does it make more sense to do more ‘in the wild’ with available tools? And of even greater interest to David — who are the ‘sense-makers’, who are the ‘joiners-up’, who are the curators and the connectors of networks? (And how do they get paid?).
Is Knowledge Hub just for local government? In the community and voluntary sector, there is a whole raft of infrastructure being cut, various attempts at online platforms are all pretty much failing; there is nothing there. So if at local level one is concerned with cross-sector working, and with new forms of collaborative innovation, what sort of sharing is going on to reflect that?
Vicky Sargent: Vicky was present in her capacity as the facilitator for the Socitm Web community. They got engaged with the Knowledge Hub at a relatively early stage, and they have found it to be fantastically useful. It has also been very useful for their community members, and there have been for example conversations on the Hub where experts have been able to share knowledge with people who are less expert.
When Socitm first came into the Communities of Practice, they thought ‘We could probably set this up for ourselves’. After all, they have people who have had experience of Better Connected and other Socitm projects. But they wanted to go into the Communities of Practice system in order to get the cross-fertilization with people in customer service, people talking about open data, with service managers and others who needed to know more about the Web and the kinds of things that Socitm does. Participating in CoP facilitated those conversations and gave those contacts and the ability to post into other communities. That was a really good feature of the Communities of Practice; and Vicky felt that the Knowledge Hub took that away. You could no longer post easily into other communities.
Vicky thought it was a shame that you are now controlled as to whom you can have a conversation with. And not welcomed if you are from the private sector.
In the Communities of Practice, the role of facilitators was made quite easy. For example, you could download a spreadsheet of your members, and then you could email them. That was important as a way of reminding people about what was there online, and you could highlight in your email communication some conversations that were going on online. Usage of the community spiked after each of these communications. And yes, Socitm used to use it to promote their own events too; that seemed fair enough, and their community members seemed quite happy with that and complaints were very rare. After all, they knew that if they didn’t want to read those communications, they could just delete them or unsubscribe.
Socitm has seen a very big fall-off in usage of their group. Part of that was undoubtedly because of the clunkiness of the Knowledge Hub, compared to the Communities of Practice; part was because the Socitm found facilitating a lot harder to do, and maybe part was because after the initial spurt of enthusiasm around CoP, some of the more engaged people had found other technical means for online collaboration, and as the Khub was more difficult to use, they thought — we can take our stuff elsewhere.
Vicky said that, much as she has criticised the Knowledge Hub, she would be very sorry to see it go, because there seem to be lots of people who need it still. Collaboration in this austere environment is more important than ever. But the policy around how that platform works does need some thinking through. Vicky is pretty sure that it isn’t just in the Socitm community that usage has fallen off.
Mike Thacker: Mike is CEO of Porism Ltd, known as a partner of the LGA in the esd-toolkit programme. Porism started the online esd-toolkit and has gained much from working with the LGA.
Mike thinks there are some fantastic people at the LGA, but the management structures and complex complicated procurement arrangements make it difficult to apply Agile development techniques for LGA products/services. Mike sees the current situation as an opportunity to revitalise KHub.
Lots of things were promised in the original vision for KHub. That vision needs to be constrained to what is practical and not provided well elsewhere.
KHub needs to be free from threats that might arise from frequent changes to political priorities within a single organisation.
If there were a way that the LGA could be involved in the migration to a leaner KHub and be freed of some of the current cost overheads, that would be great.
There is specifically a great opportunity here to make user journeys between KHub, esd-toolkit and LG Inform smoother using the OAuth technology supported by esd-toolkit.
Ruby Dixon: Ruby was working in the IDeA when Knowledge Hub was being conceived, and was part of the original Advisory Group. She finds it interesting how some of the issues are now being raised again, and she liked Vicky’s phrase ‘promise-light’, because we felt that the Knowledge Hub came out very differently from how it was originally conceived. And that is actually the source of many of the issues.
Ruby said she we present with many ‘hats’. She is doing some work with Mydex, and they are interested in having conversations about the platform and about Open Data, and also as a freelancer providing service and working with a few councils, as well as someone who was an original stakeholder in the Knowledge Hub.
Ruby has no idea about the numbers, now. She recalls that there was a lot of delay, which was a result of the Liberata negotiations, and the debate around going out to tender (which never really happened); and she knows that there were many political issues as well. The LGA did keep their commitment to the Knowledge Hub, but it came out differently, certainly with a lot less functionality than we had wanted. Ruby was one of the original in-house IDeA beta-testers, at a time when she was involved with the Beacon scheme to promote innovation, and the Local Innovation Awards. People could learn in real time, because Local Innovation doesn’t have reams of performance data that Best Practice has. Which meant that is was all about spontaneity — people learning, people sharing, raising issues.
Ruby had been convinced by Liberata that that would have been part of the functionality, that people could share data and that it would be a forerunner to some of the Open Data initiatives that are happening now. That would certainly have addressed some of the issues around the Victoria Climbié case, if you could have various agencies and all the different services working together and sharing information about their customers.
The consultation, she believes, is not going out externally; but it is an opportunity. But she would not be surprised if they already seem to have made a decision on the future of the Knowledge.
Ruby also thought there is something about how we can capture and aggregate upwards. Since ‘localism’, we have got this growing chasm between the reality of the frontline and local government (and all their partners and complexities), and central government.
Ruby believes that the consultation does provide an opportunity for change. In terms of helping to develop a sustainable business model for Knowledge Hub she is aware of at least one sponsorship opportunity. So even without having fully tested the market, there are people out there who recognise its [KHub’s] value. It could be income-generating; perhaps people wanting different levels of functionality could pay a different kind of registration. Or it could be free, or something that a couple of forward-thinking local authorities take on board as a consortium, or as a mutual. There is a real potential to make it what it should be; but it will take a lot of work, not just to make that happen, but also to maintain it, and to make sure that it is moderated, and secure, particularly for sensitive services, such as integrated health or safeguarding children. There is a need for a multi-agency environment that users can trust.
Addendum 3: References
• As the Knowledge Hub faces closure, might a creative Twitter mob help with re-invention? : http://socialreporter.com/?p=2519
• Local government knowledge hub – much more interesting than it sounds : http://socialreporter.com/?p=659
• Much discussion about networking local government – now how about the rest of civil society? : http://socialreporter.com/?p=2503
• Re-visiting the challenge of networking civil society as Khub closes: http://socialreporter.com/?p=2464
• Help me save the Knowledge Hub (in some form) : http://kindofdigital.com/2013/05/24/help- me-save-the-knowledge-hub-in-some-form/
• Knowledge Hub closure – what have we learnt? http://steve-dale.net/2013/05/28/knowledge- hub-closure-what-have-we-learnt/
• Knowledge Hub, a response: http://steve-dale.net/2012/07/09/knowledge-hub-a-response/
• Knowledge Hub: Good CoP or Bad CoP? http://markbraggins.com/knowledge-hub-good-cop-or-bad-cop/#comment-810
• Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution: Part 1. http://steve-dale.net/2013/01/10/social- ecology-evolution-or-revolution-part1/
• Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution: Part 2. http://steve-dale.net/2013/02/27/social- ecology-evolution-or-revolution-part-2/
• Knowledge Hub Advisory Group: http://steve-dale.net/2009/12/08/knowledge-hub-advisory- group/
• Knowledge Hub Part 1: An introduction : http://steve-dale.net/2009/09/21/knowledge-hub- part-1/
• Knowledge Hub Part 2: http://steve-dale.net/2010/07/06/knowledge-hub-part-2/
• Knowledge Hub Part 3 – User Experience: http://steve-dale.net/2011/01/31/the-knowledge-hub-and-user-experience-ux-3/
• We Will Gather: http://www.wewillgather.co.uk/
• As one Hub closes, many doors open: http://wearefuturegov.com/2013/06/as-one-hub-closes- many-doors-open/