Monthly Archives: December 2009

Embedding Consultations in What’s Already Out There

Over the weekend we were tipped off about a DCMS consultation on the future of public libraries – Empower, Inform, Enrich – The modernisation review of public libraries: A consultation.. The consultation is now live on WriteToReply (Empower, Inform, Enrich on WriteToReply), so I commend it to you and encourage you to comment, although that’s not specifically what this post about…

…because what it is about is looking for context and embedding a consultation document within that context.

Part of what we’re trying to do with WriteToReply is explore how we can repurpose commentable documents in order to support effective networked, online digital consultations, so with every document we republish, we try to explore the problem space a little further.

The reason why this is necessary is because no-one is really sure yet what the best ways of running public online consultations are. So for example, in a recent blog post on the Digigov blog, Measuring digital engagement, Adam Bailin asks: “How do you evaluate the cost-benefit of the government’s digital engagement?”, before briefly considering three approaches:
1. Number of relationships
2. Number of user-generated content items
3. Number of referrals/recommendations

In a complementary post a week or so ago, Steph Gray sidestepped the question of evaluation (“it doesn’t quite fit the model of how we approach the [digital engagement] task as an element in its own right”) in a consideration of the The pieces of the digital engagement puzzle, where he posted a commentary upon the following slide:

Steph Gray - the pieces of the digital engagement puzzle

So when it came to adding value to the Empower, Inform, Enrich consultation document, one of the things that came to mind was how we might actually situate the document in the context of related content that is already out there on the web and potentially draw traffic and/or attention from that third party content and benefit from it…

Actually, it didn’t come to mind like that at all, at least, not initially…

Here’s what did come to mind…

One of the things that I keep mulling over is how we might be able to use consultations as an authentic locus of discussion in an educational context, particularly for developing professional awareness about social, political, ethical and legal issues alongside the purely technical (I’m thinking of IT and computing, or engineering style degrees, here).

One pedagogical approach that might be used to deliver this is to set the consultation questions as a set of essay like questions, and encourage the students to produce a balanced consideration of it, drawing on technical expertise as well as an awareness of the wider issues.

To support such an activity, it is common to provide a set of reading resources that the student could draw on (a “reading list”) whilst developing their response. So for the current consultation, I started looking round for additional, unbiased, supporting material that could be used to inform the reader about some of the issues that lay within the scope of the consultation. These have been collected together on the More page of the consultation. (Some of the reports linked to were mentioned in the consultation document, some weren’t…)

On of the references I included was to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries, Literacy and Information Management’s ‘Inquiry into the Governance and Leadership of the Public Library Service in England’; because reading reports takes a certain amount of time and skill, I also linked to a Panlibus blog review of the report, a link which triggered off the thought: “we should be embedding WriteToReply documents within the wider web context”.

In a blog context, linking to another blog can often generate a “Trackback”, whereby the blog that is linked to is alerted to the fact that is has been linked to. (Inspection of referrer traffic from web stats can also alert a publisher that a particular third party web page is sending traffic via a link to a particular web page on the first party site.) A link to the third party site will then often (and automatically) generate a link back to the first party site (subject to various spam filtering measures).

Which means what? Well, it means that links going from a WriteToReply document can automatically request trackback links that point back to the WriteToReply document from the linked to documents. If nothing else, the author of the third party content will be alerted to the presence of the consultation document and may be tempted to publish their own post about it, or visit WriteToReply in order to comment on the linking document. In addition, visitors to the third party (linked to) documents may then see the trackback links to the (related) WriteToReply document, and click through to the WriteToReply site.

That is: by linking out to third party sites, the consultation document can become embedded within the wider context of already published web content, and potentially raise reciprocal links back to the consultation document via the trackback mechanism (see also Trackbacks, Tweetbacks and the Conversation Graph, Part I).

Even prior to that, however, benefits may arise from the consultation author looking for documents to link to – a form of desk research that may inform the authoring consultation document itself that corresponds to “Listening” in Steph’s engagement chart; linking out potentially counts as engaging, and the content that is used to link out as explaining. At a push, the development of link based networks of related content might even be classed as convening…?!;-)