Archive for the 'tools' Category

how do barcamps work then?

Notwithstanding having read some of the received wisdom (here, here and here for example), I am a barcamp newbie (have only been to one other, beside barcamp scotland 2009 on Saturday). So I thought I’d reflect on things observed thus far – may as well try & learn as I go along. After all, the opportunity/risk of running one might arise…

A fair amount of what follows may involve comparing aspects of one event with the other. This shouldn’t be taken as any form of summative assessment at all. Rather it’s just a way of teasing out learning points.

What did I do on Saturday then? First did a v minor bit of lending a hand, then chatted a bit, while others finished getting things set up. Then listened to the general briefing on how it works, and signed up to kick off an early session. Gave my session, then grazed a bit at one on social networking in business environments. Then went to part of a session on something I knew nothing about (had heard sometime ago that one should absolutely do this at any conference you attend). Then spent most of the afternoon chatting in congenial company (You Know Who You Are – invidious to name names etc etc) – missed what counted for the day’s Keynote Presentation as a result. Later, participated in the first half of a discussion on how to recognise an online community if you meet one. Nearly finally, went to a session on managing multiple online personae. Then the last, plenary round-up. Missed the post-camp drinks, as other RL social networking commitments then took over…

Reflections (in no order of priority/logic):

  • size of venue in relation to number of participants. The London event was relatively tightly packed in to its space, and perhaps as a result you couldn’t really move without inter-acting with someone. It felt buzzy (first timer experience?). Meanwhile we had plenty of room in Edinburgh. At times things felt a bit diffuse.
  • Venue layout. In London the workshop rooms were all visible from the main space, and no sessions actually took place in the main space – this would have been impossible. The workshop rooms were all laid out in round table format – no raked rows of fixed seats as we had in the Edinburgh lecture theatres. Layout here obviously impacts on amount of inter-action and its characteristics (discussion vs Q&A)
  • extent to which event was topic-focused. The London event had a relatively clear and specific focus (the Gov’t webby agenda) while the Edinburgh event catered for multiple & diverse topics. Associated with its limited focus the London event had (by chance) a clear delineated context (the Power of Information Task Force Report, along with gov’t & digital engagement).
  • Use of social media before (and after) the event. The degree of focus in London was also accentuated a bit, via the use of the ning group to explore (but not set in stone) topics for discussion on the day. You could also begin to identify the possible sessions you’d want to look out for, ask a question about them online etc. The standard barcamp wiki that we used in Edinburgh doesn’t perhaps lend itself to this, much. So you’re starting from cold, on the day. On the other hand, there were criticisms of the London event that it was moving away from the classic democratic barcamp model towards a more traditional multi-stream conference, where most us were consumers rather than producer-consumers (prosumers?). After the event, the twitter stream continued across the railway network on the way home, and the ning group has been used to canvas the potential for more than one sub-group or spin-off initiative. It’s too early to reflect on this point, for the Edinburgh event.
  • Assembling the agenda on the day. In London we were all given post-its to write our session offers on, while in Edinburgh we wrote directly onto the flip chart. The advantage of the post-its was that they allowed for easier re-grouping, where it emerged that more than one possible offering was available on any one topic or related-set of topics. This applied to timing within the day, too.
  • Presenting a session. We stood round in a gaggle, for the one I started, while later on people tended to sit down more (fatigue setting in?). For the facilitator, it’s quite different from a session where you are the only one standing(!) The boundaries of the group are more fluid, so it’s easier for participants to arrive unobtrusively, graze a bit, then move on if they wish. This was easier for both parties in Edinburgh than in London, where, despite clear advice at the beginning that moving on was OK and not personal, it felt harder as all were seated and leaving meant leaving the room as well as the circle. Within any given session, there’s also, naturally, a balance to be struck between sticking to your topic and dragging discussion back to it, and allowing (more or less distantly) related points to be raised and considered.
  • when to present during the day. There’s a skill here, if you have a message that you do want to get across – like fixing the order of a meeting agenda so that the important items do get a proper seeing to. I think I went early (partly because no one else was at the time) in order to dive in. But by the end, people had mentally moved on and their attention had been taken up by other issues. Some sort of poster wall might help, in terms of providing a reference and reminder point during the day. A digital equivalent of this would need considered too.

Well, quite enough for now, but maybe more learning points will emerge from further reflection. What were your main takeaways from barcamps you’ve been to?

RSS: we can all be aggregators now

I’ve been using Google Reader for a while over a year now. From my stats, I see that I’ve read about 800 items over the last month. But that number’s not the point: I’m running about 80 tags, to classify all this stuff. For some while, I’ve been looking for opportunities to promote these piles of items as a resource. Not so much because I think my eye for material is eagle-like, more that it’s just a worked example of potential.

Untill recently though, the facilities haven’t really been available. In the reader, you can star or ‘share‘ items, and this makes all these publicly available (if you tell people where to get them – as I have just done above) in a guddle together. And it was good for not much more than a one-off opportunistic visit. But what I wanted was to be able to offer a more focused feed of items on a  particular topic, as that’s what I felt would be more useful to people.

And someone up there (at Google) has quietly fixed things (or at least that’s what it seems like). I now have the capability to provide others with a feed from my tagging activity, direct, with no overheads to either party other than the sharing of the relevant URL – in this example a stream of items I tag as ‘Identity‘ (a topic I’m interested in) – by the ‘author’ (me) – and the act of subscription to that by the recipient (you, assuming you indulge in this sort of thing). The feed URL already quoted just above can be picked up manually from the ‘public page’ containing the items I’ve tagged with the ‘Identity’ label. If you just wanted a one-off look, you could pick up the public page URL.

So if person A decides that person B is making a pretty good job of spotting and tagging on topic N, they can now think “why keep a dog & bark yourself?”, and can simply subscribe to person B’s feed of N-tagged items, to keep up to date. Across a team or network, there might be some potential for reciprocity, with person B taking a feed of A’s horizon-scanning of topic T. Or both parties might take a feed from C on topic Z. All this instead of A, B, And C, trying individually to keep tags on topics N, T and Z. Though it wouldn’t stop them from a certain amount of joint effort?

In this particular case, here am I listening in on the thought-leading community associated with digital identity and its management, as they think aloud as they go along, and anyone else who is prepared to trust my judgement on what I tag, sources I uncover, etc etc. can slipstream behind me, using my ‘attention data‘ (as I believe the saying goes) to save time in their own horizon-scanning. One can imagine sharing this sort of activity across networks of interest, to create quite powerful collective knowledge of ‘what’s going on’.

And a further interesting (to me anyway) aspect is that this works at the level of personal practice. All you need is a good Reader.

Hurray hurrah. Well done Google!

What are other Readers like in this regard?

email inbox size limits: making an opportunity out of a problem

We are all (gradually) moving across to the NHS’ very own home-grown email system here. The transition involves a limit (commonly 200mb – and you’d probably not be very surprised at how not-very-far that goes) in the size of individual inbox storage.

Of course this is a source for common grumbling. And staying below the limit can incur some risks (FoI, anyone? – if you are involved in the sort of work which might include public engagement of any sort) if you do anything like delete anything over a given size without checking for significance first. And if you do check, then, costs (staff time spent in sifting old emails vs. storage capacity…but then we are asked to reduce the size of our server farms for the sake of polar bears) are incurred.

However, as a colleague remarked the other day, this all does promote thinking about other ways of communicating and working (cue, social media). He mentioned that IT colleagues are now using a host of wikis to store & share common/developing knowledge, as an example. I wish they’d tell the rest of us…and let us in on this too. Though of course, Wetpaint, PbWiki, etc. etc. (yes I know there are loads of others – this isn’t product placement, honest) are as good places to start with as any.

But for once, perhaps, a (surely?) unintended consequence is beneficial.

Which is Nice“.

Today’s wild-eyed idea

Perhaps (surely?) there are very good tools and applications available for the support of distributed data collection, but something about the widgets being deployed (very useful synopsis here, many thanks Simon Dickson) in DIUS’ recent consultation on ‘Science & Society’ struck me.

As far as I can understand it, the widgets allow interested parties to select from a menu of (in this context) the topics being consulted upon. Very sensible – it’s unlikely that everyone will be interested in every consultation question, so why not enable interested lobbies to focus their attention.

The next handy thing that’s enabled is the easy embedding of a panel, presenting the selected topics as some form of poll, within the interested party’s publication medium of choice. Again as I understand it, this is rather like embedding a Youtube video, or a tag cloud, into the sidebar of your blog, for instance. The interested party’s constituency can then respond to the poll in (that distributed) context.

And then (hey presto!) that data is piped back to the original consultation database. Not quite sure how this element works, but the idea is brill.

Even in its own terms, this is simply wizard. It’s disruptive technology of the best sort, being a game-changer for how consultation can be done. Congratulations to Steph Gray and colleagues. His own summary of their approach is well-worth inward disgestion alone.

But I was thinking of a slightly different context. I’m just working up ideas for a wee review project, in a domain characterised by fierce (and to a certain extent divergent – they’re pilot projects, which should explain a certain amount) enthusiasm for a series of clinical data-sets. Nationally, there’s a fair amount of consistency, but it’s difficult to gain consensus over the items that aren’t part of this. And politically this is not the moment to attempt to be Stalinist.

So, would this distributed approach support this ‘agreement to differ’? And would it do this better than currently mainstream approaches to clinical data sets? Could some differentiation be usefully applied by making more of the social (web 2.0) potential, rather than thinking purely within the frame of data collection?

Certainly the ease of embedding the tailorable poll (or data-collection form) in a variety of contexts would surely be a handy wee niche thingy?

Must see if a dog-walk would either help develop this, or delete the train of thought…

Changing the Frame of Reference

a.k.a today’s wild-eyed idea. Well, not today’s, the end of last week’s, really.

Talking recently with a colleague and friend, she was unhappy about the lack of secure email between health and social care domains. I responded with the thought that a useful experiment had been sucessfully undertaken linking selected Scottish GPs with the DWP, over assessments for Incapacity(?) Benefit, using structured messaging within SCI Gateway, and secure email once the message had gone beyond NHSNet (I think). [Subsequently I found out that this successful experiment had had to be mothballed through delays in agreeing the necessary shared financial support, between partner agencies. Business as usual in joint-working then…]

But thinking about this as I was walking the dog, later, I wondered whether shared document access might have any mileage as a possible alternative to (email) messaging. I’ve used Google docs a bit so that conceptual structure (secure document – well, reasonably secure as in ‘hidden in a haystack’ – with controlled access list, for the care team) might fit quite well, I thought.

And lo & behold the next day I stumbled across a post suggesting almost precisely that, in the context of front-ending google docs with a web form. Many thanks to Liz Henry and her network for the research…and one of those ‘so it’s not just me who’s a lunatic’ moments.

Of course, actually trying this out with personal data might be another matter. It would more or less certainly make our security folk have a fit of the heeby-jeebies…or do I do them an injustice?

Then I remembered that one of our data-sharing partnerships not very far away (as I look out of the window) has been actively thinking about something very similar (though probably not with the same tools) for shared Children’s Assessments. Just as sensitive, though in a different way, as Mental Welfare Reports.


Memo to Self: the ‘Social Graph’ and tagging relationships?

Everyone’s writing about the ‘Social Graph’ just now – via tracking posts about SNS, identity management, and the read/write web, my feeder is full of the stuff.

But a few things fell into place alongside one another earlier today:

  • first, the concern about translating relationships from one setting (or ‘networked public’?)  into another – a variant on not wanting to have to re-input all ones contacts, but equally not wanting them copied across regardless;
  • second, the flash of a diagram remembered from a recent look at the Tao of Topic Maps (where everything is connected with everything else) and where the lines representing the relationships between things were themselves objects and could be labelled..
  • ..which fed into the memory of a recent post by Stowe Boyd where he said he’d much rather just be able to tag everything, rather than have to remember which silo to file something in (he was being critical of some of the rather 1.0/2.0 transitional apps at the time).

So, what if I could tag the relationship that I have with someone? Like ‘old school chum’ or ‘boss’ or ‘nephew’. Of course they’d need to be able to tag the relationship from their point of view, which might be the same (old school chum) or the other end of some binary link (subordinate/uncle) or none of these but something coming from their perception (old school chum but someone I’d prefer to avoid in RL)-(could you be able to see how the other party saw the relationship? That would be interesting).

Of course, I would want to be able to apply multiple tags.

And I would want to be able to use the grouping capability to portage various elements of my overall social network from one domain to another…

At which point I got off the bus and broke my train of thought. However, surely lots of people muct be thinking of this aspect of the social graph already? Hence the MtS – “must find out more”.

Terms and Terming

The other day I ran a simple retrieval on the NHS e-library for the term ‘child protection’. It came back with the news that there were 13114  resources. Of course, some of these will appear on more than one list, and it’s likely that a proportion of them will only be of interest to ‘dead men in white coats’ rather than the broader CP community. But it’s still a shed-load of ‘knowledge’ (OK, depending upon how you view knowledge).

This is part of some initial thinking I’m doing on trying to make the general e-library resources more available and nearby, to the Child Protection Shared Space and its various inhabitants. One simple approach would be to provide some topic lists that would drive ‘canned queries’ to retrieve pre-defined lists of material. Here’s an example, from palliative care.

But, what topics to use, and equally important, how to develop them? I remember being fearfully impressed with the card-sorting approach used by Sarah Curier in the early days of Stor Curam (now the Learning Exchange) where she did some pilot f2f work with a small number of Social Work academics, on the social care terms they used, then had one of her colleagues (Ivanna Fernandez) create a nifty Flash widget so that the other 100 or so HEI staff could all have a go on the web. She arranged for some statistical software to be connected behind the scenes, and ran the analysis. It was the democratic aspect that this introduced that seemed new and intriguing, quite apart from the sensible suitability of card-sorting, to this problem. [memo to self, must see if Sarah’s notes/article on the process are available, even as grey lit.]

Then again this morning, discussions included what to do about a set of Child Protection Committee (CPC) terms for topics that the West of Scotland network would like to sort by. Once more, the process of devising and agreeing these seems just as, if not more, important than the list that emerges.

Now, there’s the risk of lurching into the whole tags, tagging, and folksonomies thing – which I hope not to do (as it’s been really, really well rehearsed elsewhere…all over the place…one item among many). But two key questions remain:

  • how to avoid locking down the taxonomy that one agrees originally – so of course one needs to incorporate a ‘tag cloud widget’ or something similar into ones app.;

  • how to promote the sharing of knowledge, insights, impressions, ways of looking at the world, that you can so easily get from supporting a folksonomy by tagging, and perhaps even annotation too.

Maybe a Knowledge4Practice thing?? I feel an event coming on….

June 2017
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Twitterstream – well, damp patch anyway

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