EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local government for 2012

“Inventions reached their limit long ago,” one important person once said, “And I see no hope for further development.”

Roman Emporer Julius Frontius made this bold comment in the 1st century. And he didn’t even have Google Plus to contend with. Bet he feels a bit silly now.

Tempting as it is to apply it to today you’d be similarly way off the money. Robot butlers and jet packs may top my own wish list but in practical terms what is likely to change?

If 2011 was a year of rapid change in local government then 2012 may see more of the same. Most of it is just a continuation of themes that started in the previous 12 months.

Here are 12 predictions for the year ahead from my perspective as a local government comms person. (Disclaimer: much of this probably won’t ever happen).

1. Comms will have a fight for control of social media. They’ll lose in the long term if they want to keep it all for themselves. They’ll win if the create an environment for others to innovate.

2. Data visualisation will boom. With the web prompting comms people to search for new platforms to tell a story data visualisation will expand. With free tools being available there will be innovation.

3. JFDI dies. As the mainstreaming of digital continues JFDI – or Just Flipping Do It – as a way of getting things done in an organisation will end. You can’t fly under the radar on Facebook if 29 million people in the UK are on it.

4. Digital customer services will expand. Just as calls centres emerged as the telephone matured as a way you can talk to people so too will a social presence for customer services people.

5. Someone will do summat reely stoopid and it won’t matter. In 2008, a rogue tweet could have closed down a council’s social media output. As it gets more embedded it’ll be more bullet proof.

6. Emergency planners will use Twitter as second nature. There’ll be more big incidents played out on social media. But best practice will be shared.

7. The local government social media star of 2012 will be someone doing a routine task in a place you’ve never visited. Step forward the local government worker who talks about his day job. There will be more like  @orkneylibrary and @ehodavid.

8. Linked social will grow. Linked social is different voices on different platforms growing across an organisation or across the public sector. It will be especially interesting to see how this develops in Scotland and the West Midlands.

9. Good conferences will have an unconference element. Or they’ll actually be unconferences. Some people don’t get unconferences. But they generally want to leave on the stroke of five o’clock and don’t do anything outside their JD. Bright ones do but will be happier if they’re wrapped up and presented like a ‘proper’ conference. But unconferences will be more diverse and targeted.

10. Newspapers will carry on dying. Bright comms people will carry on developing web 2.0 skills and use them in tandem with old media. Good Journalism will carry on adapting to the web. But this may take time to filter through to local newspapers who have been the bread and butter of local government press offices.    

11. Data journalism will grow. But not in local newspapers. Bloggers will uncover big stories that a print journalist doing the work of three doesn’t have time to look for.

12. Amazing things will happen in Scotland. Some of the brightest people in the public sector who are innocavating aren’t in London. They’re north of the border serving as police officers as well as in local government. It’ll be fascinating to see how this develops.

Creative commons credits

Geeks http://www.flickr.com/photos/duvalguillaume/2494520518/

Computer for the space shuttle programme http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/6521818485/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5897611358/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Join the Conversation


    1. Absolutely. When you’ve been to an unconference you can’t quite go back to the straight forward traditional format.

  1. Thanks for a great post. Another facet of your first point is the potential of open data as a comms tool. If government opens up more data, innovators will find a use for it that no one had ever thought of.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I’m torn with open data. In the long term I can see great things. In the short term I really think local government should be a heck of a lot more proactive. I’m keen to see more data visualisations to flag up what can be done. But also to publish as open data the figures behind the images.

  2. Interesting post. Local newspapers may continue to decline, but there are still hundreds in the UK and some are still influential and worth paying attention to.

    However, local journalism (whether it is in print, online or broadcast) will continue to thrive and press offices will need to stay on top of these developments.

    1. Sort of yes and no, Ben. Absolutely, that we should still consider newspapers as a major player. But they’re not the only game in town anymore and as this link shows, they’re struggling: http://bit.ly/tPIGYh and I’m just not sure that local journalism will thrive. I’d like it to. But I’m just not sure how.

  3. I like #1.

    We need to see a fundamental change in the way that comms teams work and I think you’ve captured the essence of that change. Comms teams ought to move from being gatekeepers of The One True Message to being supporters of people across organisations who want to publish online.

    The really positive thing is that it makes everybody’s jobs more interesting and creative.

  4. Dan

    Thanks very much for this and a Happy New Year to you.

    I used to drive past Walsall FC on way down / back from London but the toll road alternative prevents that now.

    Very pleased to see you have recognised Scotland’s potential as a late entrant at #12. You will know (possibly) @lelil, @rufflemuffin, @watty62, @geordiejo_jo, @TheBuddster and a good many more.

    This may help us as well – a Digital Participation Charter for Scotland


    We will all be hoping to move Scotland ahead in the way you describe at #12, and maybe some of the others as well.

    Please do let us know if you are coming up here.


    1. Thanks, Alex.

      We were just talking in the office yesterday that the West Midlands as a whole really suffers from having the motorway network often pass through the less glamorous parts. Other than Walsall FC, of course.

      There’s some great places in the area and from a digital perspective there’s a real air of vibrancy and innovation in the place. I absolutely *love* working here and get inspired by what others are doing and their ability to collaborate.

      It’s that network and a realisation that by connecting unexpected things happen that is happening in Scotland too.

      Having Gordon Scobie in such a senior police role will actually have a major impact on opening things up in local government too. I love the line from him in @cal444’s blog for Comms2point0 that he trusts an officer with a baton, why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account?’ More here: http://www.comms2point0.co.uk/comms2point0/2011/12/7/trust-me-im-a-follower.html

      It’s going to be really fascinating to see how Scotland picks up the ball and runs with it.

      If ever you are passing through the West Midlands Alex, give us a shout. I’ll put the kettle on.

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