Selected Works – my blogs from the past year

Source: davidking, Flickr

Following on from the personal triumph that was my first blog post yesterday I thought I would strike while the iron was hot (not to fall back on well-worn cliches) and write a blog which pulls together the policy and social innovations blogs I’ve written in the past year or so. Let’s go.

The first work-related blog I wrote was for The Guardian Local Government Network, which launched last autumn. I had originally approached The Guardian’s Society supplement with a view to contributing articles but when Jane Dudman told me The Guardian would shortly be launching a Local Government Network, I decided it might be a better idea to start off by writing a blog for the network.

You can read my first blog, which looks at what the Big Society has to offer Local Government, by clicking here.

Buoyed by seeing my name in pixels, I set about writing my next blog for the network. But like bands struggling with their ‘difficult second album’ I, too, struggled to come to terms with my new-found fame.* True, unlike The Stone Roses I had not been sidetracked by chemical temptations. Nonetheless, there were  moments when I felt genuinely unsure where the next 400 words of inspiration would come from.

Fortunately for me, early in the new year Lambeth Council published The Co-operative Council – Sharing Power: A new settlement between citizens and the state and, thanks to having until recently worked for Lambeth, I was asked to comment on whether the council’s vision for the future could survive the unprecedented reductions in public spending.

You can read my blog on The Co-operative Council by clicking here.

In the spring of this year my blogging temporarily took a back seat as I got to grips with my new role as Communications & Policy Lead for the social design agency thinkpublic. Instead, I had to content myself with developing solutions to complex social challenges and writing formal service design and social research reports. But luckily in June I had the chance to write again for the network, this time on the findings of our work at thinkpublic with families with mutliple and complex needs.

You can read my blog on finding better ways of supporting families with complex need by clicking here.

Having gotten into blogging once again, I was inspired to write about my experiences at the Google-FutureGov Interactivism Hack event, which I attended along with my thinkpublic colleague @joesmithdesign. The event, which took place over two days on Brick Lane, brought together the best student developers, Googlers, designers and other social innovators worked in crack teams to hack a better web that overcomes the barriers that stand in the way of older people accessing the web.

You can read about my time at Interactivism, including details of my team’s prize-winning Spotted  mobile app to promote real world accessibility for people, by clicking here.

That’s it for now. I’m hoping to get back into blogging for the network and other sites in the weeks and months ahead. If you know of any good opportunities to comment on policy and social innovation matters, feel free to drop me a line.

* Fame for me consisted of a handful of friends and family saying well done AFTER I had sent them a direct link to my post. Not to be confused with David Bowie’s Fame.

Becoming Intensely Relaxed

There’s certainly been plenty to think about this past year.
I thought I’d kick start my new blog by setting out where things are at with me currently and what I hope to get from blogging.
If asked to choose one word that describes my life it would probably be changeable. Perhaps the biggest change has been moving from a fairly traditional/well-defined policy career in local government last year for a far more fluid and personally satisfying role promoting social innovation at the social design agency thinkpublic.
Beyond work, there have also been some major changes in my personal life. Last autumn my girlfriend and I moved in together and this June we moved about half a mile up the road to a new flat in Forest Hill.
The process of making changes to my career was not entirely trouble-free. After leaving a fairly senior role at Lambeth Council I thought my knowledge of public policy and strategy, not to mention my unfailing affability, would stand me in good stead when it came to finding a new job. Sadly, the Coalition Government in general and Eric Pickles in particular had other ideas; I was seeking gainful employment within the public sector at precisely the time when unprecedented public spending reductions meant most of the traffic was going in the other direction.
Looking back, my fortunes began to change when I re-connected by chance with Carrie Bishop, who I had first met back on the NGDP training scheme. By now Carrie was working for the social innovation consultancy FutureGov and, by all accounts, finding it a lot more enjoyable than working directly for local government. Carrie introduced me to Twitter. Carrie also invited me to attend the City Camp London FutureGov were organising.
                                                                                                                 
Attending City Camp London gave me the push I needed to make moves in a number of ways. It gave me the confidence to continue writing blogs on a freelance basis for The Guardian Local Government Network. It also connected me to a whole bunch of new and inspiring people working loosely in the field of social innovation. Through meeting these people I re-discovered my passion for making a positive contribution to society which had first led me into local government. On a more practical level, it also led to some much-appreciated work, first freelancing as conference facilitator at an LGIDevent, then the offer of three month’s work as a project manager at FutureGov.
It was whilst working for FutureGov that I first became aware of thinkpublic and its approach of using design and other creative techniques to develop solutions to complex social challenges. With my renewed confidence, I successfully applied to become of the company’s first ever role of Communications & Policy Lead and took up the position full time in March.
I have gained so much from thinkpublic. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredibly passionate and talented people. Through them, I’ve come to understand how much design thinking can contribute to solutions to complex social issues. I’ve had the chance to lead multi-disciplinary teams looking at everything from the future of online public services to the Big Society. I’ve also learned a lot more about the business side of things, from costing proposals to pitching for new work. And through it all I’ve very much enjoyed being part of thinkpublic’s much admired/coveted staff lunches, which have consistently offered up a huge variety of tasty food.
Now, after six months at thinkpublic, things are changing once more.  Due to the general economic climates and changes to the public sector thinkpublic is re-thinking its business model and re-structuring. As a consequence of this, from the middle of this month I will be working for thinkpublic on an associate basis. Naturally, this brings with it a degree of uncertainty. But at the same time it also offers me the chance to get involved in a wider range projects for different organisations and pursue issues that I am passionate about.
Looking ahead, I am hoping to use this blog to capture the changes I am experiencing in my career and reflect on them I also plan to use the blog to comment on the public policy and social innovation work I become involved with in the weeks and months ahead. Besides using the blog for work purposes, I will hopefully also find the time to write about stuff that’s going on in my life outside of work, such as music, photography and film.
Thanks for sticking with me for my first blog. I promise to work on the whole brevity thing and maybe even bring in a little humour to future posts. 
Francis

Tom Jones: Breakbeat Hero

I recently came across the excellent music website Who Sampled and I’ve been struggling to pull myself away from it ever since.

The name of the website says it all. It aims to tell you who sampled what. Got the feeling M.I.A.’s Paper Planes is naggingly familiar? Who Sampled can help put your mind at ease by telling you that the guitar line comes from The Clash’s Straight to Hell. The website’s aim is to develop a comprehensive database of sample-based music for users to discover music both old and new and explore musical influences.

Check out the link between M.I.A. and The Clash here.

As a music fan with a special fondness for music that makes skilful use of samples (think Prince Paul not P. Diddy) I am glad the Who Sampled website has been developed. It’s great that the technology now exists to provide streams of virtually every track imaginable, from the hardest working (and most sampled) man in show business, James Brown, to the relatively obscure Israeli singer, the late Ofra Haza, whose voice is featured on the seminal Cold Cut remix of Eric B & Rakim‘s Paid in Full. Who Sampled demonstrates how new technology has the power to change how we enjoy music.

That said, there is a dark side to Who Sampled. While I was pleased to discover today that Tom Jones unwittingly supplied the break for Stetsasonic‘s hop hop classic Go Stetsa I, I felt a little part of me died when I found out that S Club 7 had made use of  Grandmaster Flash‘s White Lines (Don’t Do It) to give the world S Club Party.

Check out the link between Stetsasonic and Tom Jones here.

Check out the link between S Club 7 and Grandmaster Flash here.

Like all the best websites Who Sampled draws you in and encourages you to explore all that it has to offer. And with its database being taste-blind it can be hard to resist the temptation of knowing what samples lie underneath those songs we are too cool to admit to liking.

Then again, maybe this is a good thing. Messing around on Who Sampled brought home to me the fact that good music is not the preserve of a particular era, genre or movement. I for one don’t want to one of those music fans that refuses to give music a chance just because it does not fit into some notion of what is or isn’t cool. Who cares whether a break comes from a Tom Jones record or some obscure purveyor of jazz-funk? Not that I’ve got anything against all things fusion. And so what if groups such S Club 7 choose to make use of killer samples ? To sample a lyric from Mr Dynamite himself, surely in music the only thing we should worry about is ain’t it funky?

Guardian Public Local Government Network blog on the Big Society

I recently contributed a blog to Guardian Public’s newly-launched Local Government Network on the Big Society and its implications for local government. The network, which launched earlier this month, looks really promising and hopefully it will be well-supported by people working in and alongside local government.