This is a hastily written post about Knowledge Hub (KH), which replaced the popular Communities of Practice (CoP) site for people who work in and around UK local government.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA), Knowledge Hub is a:
professional social network which helps people in local government connect and share online in a secure environment.
It was just a few days ago that I first became aware that the LGA intends to close the Knowledge Hub as part of its latest cost cutting measures. I found out via Twitter:
Help me save the Knowledge Hub (in some form) kindofdigital.com/2013/05/24/hel… #khub
— Dave Briggs (@davebriggs) May 24, 2013
In his blog post, Dave explains that the LGA sent him an email announcing their intention, and he volunteered to try and save KH. Dave asked for expressions of support for a rescue mission, and I was one of several who commented and offered to help.
As far as I’m aware, the impending KH closure is currently being discussed in several places:
- Discussions on Twitter using the #khub hashtag, also conversations between individuals referring to ‘Knowledge Hub’ and ‘khub’
- Comments on Dave Briggs’ recent blog post
- Comments on David Wilcox’ recent blog post: Re-visiting the challenge of networking civil society as Khub closes
As you’d expect, there’s a mixture of opinion. I’ve included a few extracts from comments and tweets below, but all are well worth reading:
I was really shocked to see this news. Particularly sorry for the impact on the staff involved. I also think it’s a strategic mistake. I appreciate times are really tough, but if you’re going to support improvement in local government then surely this is a cost effective way to do it.
Definitely interested in keeping something going, but think it needs to be a bit more open than it is at present.
Absolutely crucial to have a space for the #localgov community to help foster innovation and share ideas and project updates.
Lots of concerned tweets about the proposals to close @knowledgehub. Perhaps threat of losing it is making people realise its value #khub
— James Coltham (@prettysimple) May 24, 2013
Is there not scope to create or allow the formation of, a “network of networks”? The management of each could be independent, or at most, part of a federation of sharing mechanisms?
A protracted debate
The discussion about the Knowledge Hub has actually been going on for quite a while. If you haven’t already seen them, these two posts written in July 2012 are well worth reading:
Steve Dale: Knowledge Hub: A response
Dave Briggs: We need to talk about the Knowledge Hub,
KH was also pitched as a session topic at LocalGovCamp 2012 (bottom right in the photo below)
My own take on it
I was really excited when Steve Dale introduced the Knowledge Hub concept. I’ve included just a short extract from Steve’s introductory blog post to show the sort of thing I was interested in:
The Khub will support social computing and adopt open standards that enable connections to be made between personal and professional networks.
It will be a vantage point and visualisation tool, providing “heat maps” showing emerging trends and ideas. It will have a serendipity engine which enables new topics and ‘hot’ conversations to bubble up to the top.
Content sources will include Twitter feeds, e.g. from local councils, Blogs, RSS feeds from council websites and other public, private and third sector organisations involved in public services. It will have access to publicly available datasets and enable mashups between different data sources to be created for value-added services. For example, overlaying data on knife crime with socio-demographic data, displayed against Google Maps to indicate hot spots or where local authority initiatives have had most impact.
It will be an open platform where APIs can be used for developing value-added services. Widgets and plug-ins can be developed for users to easily customise and personalise their interface to the system, e.g. using iGoogle, Netvibes or iPhones.
Wow! Re-reading that again now reminds me why I was excited in the first place.
I’d still really like to see something like this happen.
So, Good CoP or Bad CoP?
In my opinion, the answer is ‘a bit of both’.
- What was implemented as ‘Knowledge Hub’ falls a long way short of the original concept espoused by Steve Dale.
- The LGA’s Knowledge Hub team has worked really hard with the tools they have been given
- Despite the ‘platform’ issues – by which I might actually mean the User Experience – the Knowledge Hub does have value for large numbers of people
- Just ‘switching off’ Knowledge Hub would be a strategic blunder
- Time has passed, and some of the assumptions made several years ago may need to be revisited such as:
- how much of the content needs to be secured vs open
- what can be achieved with low cost tools
- Concepts such as ‘network of networks’ are being discussed in different contexts e.g. Catherine Howe’s post on BlueLightCamp
- The decision to close Knowledge Hub hasn’t been finalised, and the consultation period runs until 23rd June
- A wide range of opinion and different perspectives need to be taken in to account
- It’s not too late to do something about it
- There may be some value in reinstating the Knowledge Hub Advisory Group (or similar), initially as a face-to-face event to discuss a way forward / what can be salvaged
LocalGovCamp session summary: Pete McClymont
Thanks for the mention Mark. Steve has been writing recently about social ecologies, and whatever happens to Khub or its sucessor I do think we need to think about what’s involved in developing networks of networks. There’s certainly a role for curators, connectors and what I’m calling social reporters as well as on-hub managers . Big question, of course – how do they get paid. I think their role would be easier if we could develop better formats for the way in which we share and tags chunks of content. Must do some research on that.
Thanks for commenting David. I will catch up with Steve’s latest writing on social ecologies and give this some more thought.
Helpful round up Mark, thank you.
My experience of KHub was largely as a facilitator, of Socitm’s Web Improvement Community and also the Local Open Data community.
The KHub and before it the CoP, has been hugely useful, and while I am obviously not party to the tough spending choices LGA has had to make, it does seem unfortunate that they have chosen to cut, of all things, a digital platform that enables sharing and learning. Surely this is the direction of travel we should all be following?
It may be that they looked at the figures and decided the buy-in was no longer there. Again, I have no information, but based on experience of the Web Improvement community, usage declined dramatically following the switch to KHub.
Some of that will have been about staff cuts across local government and its suppliers that co-incided with its launchn. But some of it, I am certain, must have been due to decisions that left KHub facilitators much less able to perform an effective role in stimulating and promoting communities and their activity, and also in cross-fertilising activity across other communities. KHub did respond to some of these concerns in the course of time, but by then a lot of people were using other channels.
Could it still work, within KHub if the consultation changes the decision, or elsewhere? I think so. But as David and others have pointed out, these facilities need resourcing if they are to work on the sustained basis they ought to.
Thanks for leaving a comment Vicky, and for your helpful observations – it would be interesting to see usage stats showing before, during and after migration. On the subject of stats, I don’t know what costs the LGA believes it can save by stopping KH, but would be useful to know to make an informed response to the consultation
Mark – a useful post in bringing the various strands together, and as a reminder of the original vision, which is still relevant in my opinion. Even though this vision wasn’t actually realised, the need for an environment (or platform) that is managed and controlled by its members, and where active curation can ensure that the signal-to-noise ration remains high, is even more important today than when the Khub went live. The volume of information continues to rise, and with it the cacophony of noise. LinkedIn is considered by most to be a professional network, but even that is becoming a morass of disconnected groups, where valuable content and discussion is hard to find.
I’m talking to David Wilcox later, and will sounds out the idea of reconvening the Khub Advisory Group. Will keep in contact.
Thanks very much Steve. I’m really keen to help keep Khub alive in some form, and reconvening the advisory group would be a great opportunity to pool ideas.
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