Saturday, January 01, 2011

Agile Stoke 2011

I wanted to revisit the predictions and hopes that Carl and I made last year, before 2011 got too far in. It was an exciting year, so busy that I feel like I've had very little time to write about it all, but there's something I'll try to change as a New Year's Resolution...

So with thanks to all the fab folk of the different communities on Twitter and elsewhere, and apologies for all the things I've missed, here goes:

Best was the tangible sense of a tipping point, as use of social media spread beyond the early adopters and started to become firmly embedded into many (not all yet) areas of Stoke life. There was the fantastic Teachmeet event at the new Sixth Form College, a really invigorating series of short presentations. Councillors and officers in the council are using Twitter with real confidence and we saw some firsts, like live tweeting from a council meeting and councillors tweeting each other inside them. Businesses and charities from what I think of as the mainstream establishment of Stoke life have adopted social media as well, which has a knock-on effect in raising the profile of the internet across the city and widening market access for the companies themselves. Jellifish and Boomerang PR are just two examples of local companies building up super success without having to plough millions into big city bases. A number of us enjoyed a trip down to Stafford with Talk About Local and had proper cross-county talks, leading to the establishment of local Race Online activities.

The maturing social media scene gave Stoke some great stories. Building on the platform of a mention in parliament right at the beginning of the year, Pitsnpots has grown up into a fully fledged Community Interest Company, Potteries Media CIC with the addition of 6 Towns Radio. Both of these are brilliant in their own right, but also vitally important for improving plurality in our local media. From the world of old media, the Sentinel is finding its digital feet, being able to amplify the stories that people are publishing through social media. If it could be bold enough to put more investment into combining old-fashioned journalism roles with this new wealth of local information feeds, it has a fantastic opportunity to build on its large and loyal readerships.

Four out of six of the towns now have their own well-established blogs. Just to pick on one, My Tunstall really shows what can happen when a man with the power to develop Drupal sites puts something together for residents with bees in their bonnet. Roads were adopted, huge amounts of money raised, stuff got cleaned and cleared up - it's the Big Society!. Tunstall has a lot of problems but is still one of my favourite towns and My Tunstall is a much-needed platform. I'd love to see every town and village in the city getting its own, which of course just depends on the people with the kind of passion these sites take being connected with the skills.

Last year we were dabbling in Ruby on Rails (which, like most of my pursuits in programming I didn't find the time to make much progress on) and this year's blog title picks up one of my current interests. Agile is a philosophy in programming that values (quote from Wikipedia):
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
I know, too many syllables. But squint your eyes a bit and substitute some key words and there's some good stuff in here.

2011 is going to be a difficult year for Stoke. We had a lot of plans - I'm one of the few people who makes a hobby of reading them (squinting my eyes and looking for the good stuff) - which now may or may not be abandoned altogether. Here, this doesn't just mean plans, it means land. From a low base Stoke has been hit hard by recession and cuts for a while but it's really biting now. Threat or opportunity looms, depending entirely on your perspective, knowledge and the various skills you might have had the fortune to pick up in your life. It will be a tough year for many people.

There's a lot we can learn from the culture of digital innovation, but more importantly this goes more with the grain of Stoke than many of the ideas that have been airdropped onto us in the last few decades. Generalising wildly as usual, we tend to value people and interactions over processes, things that work over endless documents and responding to change over following a plan.

“In sport, agility is often defined in terms of.. an integration of many components each used differently”. (Wikipedia)

To stretch the analogy a little further, if the Agile priority is working software, and Tom Berners-Lee's working code, then perhaps ours is a working city. You can interpret that as you want. For me, it's a city full of opportunity, flourishing in every aspect, freer from life-limited illnesses and early deaths. Every town, village and community valued as part of a diverse, sustainable city. Utopian, maybe, and certainly complex, but the web and our own history both show us that revolutions are possible in a very short time.

It's easy to get bogged down in Stoke's problems (yah, no kidding, says my weary reader), but I hope we becoming known for playing to our strengths, not arguing over our weaknesses.

We made pretty good progress in these things:
... the establishment of many social media cafes, where people can supplement in real life the connections they make online [here's the link - Mike has sketched out a monthly schedule for this in 2011 and the more volunteers involved the better]
... joining in the Global Twestival again [we did! This year?]
... that we can build on the knowledge of a few to spread understanding and innovation in online literacy, web applications, programming and development through peer-to-peer learning [much to link to here].
... that we hold more unconferences in Stoke and support more national and local conversations, giving people space to explore ideas and collaborate. Particularly for Stoke itself, I hope we can have some more time and space to think about how information and the web can be used more effectively for delivering public services, community empowerment, engagement in politics, employment and economic development
... that we make greater use of what is on our doorstep. I've been thinking I should develop and promote Social Stoke more - it's building into quite a nice little resource [1,162 links and counting]

Still on the to-do list:
... that some big digital players come to Stoke and experiment with our empty spaces, our talented people full of potential, our blossoming enthusiasm for digital technology and our natural understanding of creative industry and community. The Director of Digital Engagement & his [now her] office? Google? [Twitter?]
... maybe we'll finally find the use for Google Wave some of us dream of [?]

What new ones shall we add?
Hopefully a few of us will be getting our voices together on 6 Towns Radio so if you have any predictions or hopes, tweet them or leave them here...