Successful transformation needs more anarchy

A programme of RIOTS, projects that are “Relevant” and “Interactive” with user “Ownership” and “Trust” and that are “Sustainable” can succeed after Prince 2 has destroyed the will to live …

I spent yesterday at the second International eParticipation and Local Democracy Symposium: three hundred participants from around the world discussing how to make a reality of “empowerment”. Hazel Blears opened the symposium as Secretary of State for Local Government and Eric Pickles, the Shadow Minister, confessed that he was a closet technogeek. The EURIM chair, Margaret Moran, spoke of using the technology to give a voice to the disenfranchised (for example victims of domestic violence whose abuser seeks to control every contact with the outside world). Michael Cross (who runs the Free Our Data campaign with Charles Arthur) used the opportunity to raise some very interesting questions about who should have access to all that data collected by government from us about our wants and needs, and at what price.

However, my spirits were lifted by a splendidly “English” (as opposed to British) presentation by Ellie Stonely of

I particularly liked her comment on website design: “If they want a spotty donkey, not a racehorse – go for it.” With 650,000 visitors a month this on-line village notice board outperforms a great many highly funded services and, at the same time, unashamedly links to, plagiarises and exploits thought and market leaders like mysociety and Facebook (groups of village “friends” etc.) so as to create and reinforce local (as well as non-geographic) social networks at the lowest possible cost – there are more chickens than people in the office (or rather Barn) from which they operate.

Indeed the one real overhead they faced was when Ellie had to learn Prince 2 in order to run a Local eInnovations project. I sympathise. I am involved in a project where the £5,000 contribution from the public sector is being managed under Prince 2. But for the desire to have that particular organisation “on board”, I would have paid this myself and told them what they could do with their funding. I calculate that the consequent management overhead, on our side, let alone theirs, will end up at well over £5,000. The failure to use Prince 2 on big central government projects may well have cost HMG dear buts its imposition on small skunk-work exercises where EU procurement rules do not apply is a major barrier to low cost innovation.


Anarchy in the UK?







No Community Exists in isolation


was the slide used by Ellie to describe what was needed to draw in the users, of all ages – hence my opening comments.

The UK Villages approach (enlisting the skills and enthusiasm of the local community) was a refreshing antidote to interminable arguments about using increased professionalism to reduce the death rate among centrally planned and contracted dinosaur systems.

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Reading this, I was reminded of these words, written by Shoshana Zuboff, in tribute to the work of the late Professor Claudio Ciborra:

"When things fall apart, we turn to the ‘red light district of the organisation’ for the nomads, misfits and undervalued craftsmen with enough common sense, practical intelligence, breadth of experience, and sheer self-confidence to ‘paste up’ what’s needed right here, right now. We live in the illusion of institutionalized control, but these free radicals pilot us home. That’s when we learn the lesson: the marginal is central. We cannot survive, let alone be successful, without the freedom, playfulness, resourcefulness and resilience that are routinely and universally squeezed out of The Plan."

(Ciborra disclosed: aletheia in the life and scholarship of Claudio Ciborra, European Journal of Information Systems (2005) 14, pp 470-473)

glad you enjoyed the sense of Anarchy in the UK