1 Granville Road, High Barnet, EN5 4DU

We wanted to buy 1 Granville Road in High Barnet. It met almost all our criteria: a nice garden, lots of bedrooms and some nice period features.

It was right at the top of our price range – at £1,200,000. We asked whether a slightly lower offer might be accepted. We were cash buyers keen to move. The agent said not – that it had been on the market for a while – something like 6 months – and the vendor was clear he wanted the full price. So we stretched ourselves and offered the full amount. He made clear that he would take the property off the market once our survey was booked.

A couple of weeks later, in mid February 2014, the survey was booked. It came back a few days later. There were a series of things which were important but not serious. The boiler was old and might have needed replacing. If it broke quickly we wouldn’t have been able to fix it. So we asked our solicitor to ask about its age.

After a week we chased a response. The agent suggested that the vendor was angry at his solicitor for not replying. Weeks later we understood that there might be a delay because the vendor’s wife was ill. But we were still assured he was ready to move. Apparently he had a flat in Fulham ready to move into.

At Easter, around 12 April I put a brief hand-written note through his door. I explained that we were living in temporary accommodation awaiting his reply to our email. We were led to believe that he would be coming back to us after his spoke to his family over Easter. Still nothing.

The owner of 1 Granville Road called us last week – almost four months after accepting our offer. And the first communication from him since then. He wanted an extra £70,000 or he’d put the house back on the market. It’s now back on the market – for £1,325,000.

It’s a nice house and with a bit of money spent to sort out the decor, will be a grand family home. Just don’t expect a quick sale.

The task facing Labour’s Digital Review

There has been some interesting scepticism about the launch of Labour’s digital review. Some of it is errant nonsense. Computer Weekly again leads with the idea that it’s politicising GDS. As if the delivery of government services is simply a case of effective administration. But some of the reactions are more thought-provoking. This may be my favourite so far.

I’d love to contribute to the review. I met an interesting group of people last summer from Google, Virgin, the House of Lords and a local authority to discuss the formation of the group. They were impressive characters. And there are impressive people who’ve touched Labour’s digital thinking in recent years – Dominic Campbell stands out.

But there are four good reasons to be nervous:

  1. Reviews manage stakeholders, internal and external. They don’t generate innovative thinking. The early reaction has made that stakeholder management harder, not easier.
  2. It’s not clear that the review starts with an analysis of user need. Rather, it appears to focus on the relationship between the citizen and the state. All very Miliband, not very digital.
  3. The review doesn’t smack of Agile thinking. It doesn’t appear iterative. It’s all a bit PRINCE 2.
  4. It’s GDS-centric. Digital isn’t “whatever GDS does”. At the time of the election after next (presumably the horizon frame of the review), digital government will look very different. Beginning with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the team at Aviation House is backward-looking.

But it’s a review, there’s limited information available and who knows what it might turn up? So three questions to contribute to the debate:

  1. Where does it fit in Labour’s policy review? I understood most of that work was complete. So why is digital thinking late to the party?
  2. Where does Labour’s digital transformation story fit in? No – not the stuff about apps, tweets or even Nation Builder. But whether the shadow cabinet understands open policy making and the power of open data. It’s out of scope for this review but apparently not in scope for any others. The organisations I advise on digital transformation see digital as cutting across the full remit of the organisational scope. And it’s now about multi-channel, or even omni-channel. Not just digital.
  3. What’s Labour’s response to the change of skills and culture that GDS is aiming to bring about in the civil service? GDS has some of the brightest and best in their field, changing government as insurgents. What can Labour learn from that in terms of wiring Whitehall and delivering its relational state?

That’s a debate I’d love to be part of.


Quick tips for social media listening DIY

I spoke at a Government Knowledge seminar today on the value of listening to and monitoring social media. I focused the talk on applications for the public sector, for the majority of the audience. Few public bodies have dedicated budget for social listening. And many would benefit from first understanding what is happening and where – and to what extent – the organisation can use those insights before investing in a paid-for service.

So I suggested some quick tips for a bit of DIY social media listening:

  1. Bitly+

Put a + at the end of a bitly link and you can find out the stats for it eg https://bitly.com/1eZafhW+ This can be hugely helpful for evaluating your own content but even better for understanding if third party content is making a lot of noise (and whether you should engage with it).

  1. Topsy

A great free Twitter search engine. Useful for some historic tweets (but only a small sliver of what actually happened). Even more useful for finding tweets that linked to a particular URL. Eg. http://topsy.com/trackback?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fpolitics%2F2013%2Foct%2F01%2Fed-miliband-daily-mail-lies-father

  1. Scraperwiki

Fantastic free tools to grab content from websites. Particularly tweets. Low barriers to entry (price or writing code). See particularly their list of Twitter scrapers. I use it to get all the recent tweets from a particular user (eg. to see how many times they’ve talked about a campaign) or to get all of the followers of an account into a spreadsheet (to build a Twitter list or search people’s bios). The latter can be a great way of building a list of Twitter users in a particular area. Just search for the followers of the local authority, local newspaper etc.

  1. Blogsearch

People do still blog, even though there isn’t a single good search engine for the purpose. But do try Twingly and Icerocket (acquired by Meltwater) and also WordPress.com is worth a look. All struggle with spam.

  1. Free analytics

Make full use of Google Keyword tools, Facebook advertising and Google Trend. Play around with Google Correlate. See what you can discover, don’t get distracted and one day you’ll find a use for the tool.

Lastly, approach it all in the spirit of discovery. Most of what I’ve learnt was in the process of trying to learn something else. Find out what’s possible and compare it to what works for you.