To boldly go...

One of the highlights of this past week for me was on Thursday.  Having decided to level the playing field for our organisation by holding a series of internal “masterclasses” on some of the new things we are doing, we had a presentation (which turned into a debate) on virtual worlds and serious games, and then broke into groups to learn about Second Life, Twitter, Ning spaces and blogs.

Last May, Iain, Brian McCarthy and I visited the Serious Games Institute in Coventry as part of a visit to the Midlands. We got the standard pitch, but got into an interesting discussion about how business could be done in a virtual world.  We thought that a little experimentation wouldn’t go amiss, and so with help from Walk in Web, we set up a Technology Strategy Board Island in Second Life and started playing around with what we could do – in a limited way.  Then, when the EPSRC asked for our involvement in their Digital Economy sandpit last December, we decided to use the island to showcase some of the activities of the sandpit.

About that time, we also starting playing with Twitter.  We had sent a number of our people on a Creative Problem Solving Skills course run by Power and Grace.  A vital part of the job the Technology Strategy Board does is to engage with businesses.  This means that our technologists spend over half their time out on the road.  Since another part of the job is to make linkages between communities and businesses who might not otherwise meet, we need the technologists to interact with one another. We are, of course, all on Exchange, but it seems to be too clunky to allow us to know where the others are, what they are doing and how we might meet up.  One of the people on the course suggested they use Twitter, so back in October, a small group of them started.  This percolated up to Iain Gray and I in early November, and we were receptive for a couple of reasons. I had just agreed to be the Director of the EPSRC Sandpit on the Digital Economy and the next week we were taking part in the launch of WebMission.  We realised there was a lot for us to learn about this space.  We therefore joined in, at first making our tweets private.   Being a bunch of scientists and engineers, we couldn’t just do it, we had to investigate it - and found that there were a surprising number of business twitterers alongside the creatives, computer guys and journalists.  We also found – and were impressed by – the way Obama had used Twitter and other social media tools to reach out to people that he otherwise might not have engaged with.  We saw this as an opportunity.  Despite gentle ribbing by my children that I was “too old for this sort of thing,” Iain and I opened up our tweets to the world and started the slow process of building our own external community.  Among other things, we started putting our Twitter names at the end of presentations we gave.  In early December I talked as part of the BERR organised Serious Games Workshop.  Here I met, among others, Tom Watson , another serious Twitterer.  By the simple process of stalking the people he and others were following, we began to extend our (still small) presence in Twitspace.  Christmas gave us a chance to “play” a little and we began to understand the micro-blogging creed of mixing “work” with “play”.  I have now become rather evangelical about this new (for us) form of communication.  We proselytise to national and regional governments we talk to about the advantage of instant mutual awareness, we have met the DIUS Social Media Manager, we are more experimental in general with our communications and we are also revelling in using such tools internally because it has begun to deliver what those on the CPSS course saw back in October.  It is not the answer, but it is beginning to look like a very useful tool in our communications armoury.

The next thing for us was to blog. I and some colleagues had been writing internal records of our travels and interaction – more of a diary than a blog – but we realised the wider potential for this kind of communication as part of the mix.  A few criticised the fact that we started before our blogging technology was fully in place, but I hope the early days in January were content credible, and that we are now communicating our take on the world we inhabit to those who read this blog. 

Lately, we have also started to use a closed Ning space to discuss issues that affect the whole organisation.  This came out of the EPSRC Digital Economy sandpit, where we had used it to short-circuit the early stages of the sandpit – when you get to find out what the others can contribute to solving the problem and share what you know.  We can already see that this might be a way to harness the various communities we work with to better specify our interactions with them, so that we not only support the right things but in the right way.

So, back to Thursday’s session, which was a success – I think.  Our new large meeting room was almost full for Sara De Freitas’ talk on serious games; there were questions of definition, practicality and philosophy and it over-ran.  Then we split into two groups and Paul Turner (Walk in Web) spent the afternoon showing people what they could do in Second Life (and other platforms) while our very own Paul Lewis talked about the concepts and keystrokes for Twitter, Ning and how to use a blog. 

Our teams are looking at using our Second Life island for seminars, launches and Briefing Days.  As with all these tools, we are not sure how important they will be – I am already seeing articles saying that Second Life is dead, and reports that social networking causes cancer >J - but it would seem wrong not to find out whether they can help us either to reach new people who might need our support, or to build new relationships with our existing contacts in the outside world.


Last updated on Monday 03 August 2009 at 21:18

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