Because – most importantly – I bet @jaynehowarth who was similarly dithering that if I didn’t I’d send her cake.
Some of my blogs have been absolute stinkers. Some I’m proud of. One I even wrote in a car park in Solihull. All have been written in my spare time.
What’s been the benefit?
Valuable thinking time. An online notebook to refer back to. Having a voice. Shouting about some of things we’ve done or others have done well.
There’s been the unexpected spin-offs too. A chance to speak on interesting subjects to interesting people at interesting places. I’ve a vague feeling this may be a help to my career at some point down the track.
Why YOU should blog
For all the above reasons. But mostly because we’re all learning. All of us. There are no experts. There’s just shared knowledge. Your view is a just as important. There’s not a blog post I’ve read by someone in local government I’ve not learned something from.
Because with platforms like WordPress it’s pretty straightforward.
The only difference between a stumbling block, a barrier and a stepping stone is the way you use them, apparently.
There were a lot of stumbling blocks talked about at localgovcamp in Birmingham. Many such obstacles were were from corporate comms. They were the corporate branded elephant in the room.
Heard the one about the comms team’s response to snow? Instand updates via facebook or Twitter? Nope. Book a half page advert in the local paper?
Oh, how we laughed. As a comms person myself it was more a case of nervous laughter.
I believe strongly that there’s an argument for having a light touch on the tiller from enabling comms people.
When you put online and offline channels together they can be incredibly powerful. You’re delivering a similar message on the platform people want using the language of the platform.
But then again, if you’re reading this on Facebook or Twitter you already know this even if you haven’t admitted it out loud.
So, what’s localgovcamp?
It’s an event that saw more than 100 people giving up their free time on a Saturday to help make their corner of local government bloom a little more. It’s Glastonbury for local government geeks. There was web people, open data people, comms people, hyperlocal bloggers and even an engineer.
Attending the first event at Fazeley Studios two years ago changed the way I think about my job. I’ve heard the same said from others too. It’s been brilliant seeing the light bulbs going on above people attending their first ever localgovcamp.
Two years ago one of the main frustrations was some IT people who were keeping the social web in lockdown. Many, but not all, think progress ended with the Commodore 64. Of course, it goes without saying that the IT people I work with are all hugely helpful and forward thinking.
That battle to use social media seems to have be getting won. Slowly in places but the it’s irreverable. The battle now is with unenlightened comms people and it’s a subject I keep returning to.
For people in a PR job it’s about waking up. For those not in PR it’s about helping wake them up. And yourself and colleagues while you’re at it.
So, because I can’t write a blog post without a heap of links, here’s a heap of links to help those who don’t get it wake up…
A heap of links…
Whats the role for local government comms and social media?
Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.
No, really. It did.
There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.
We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.
At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.
Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.
Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.
Included on it are:
Some stats on internet use.
Some stats on the mobile web.
A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.
A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.
Sometimes you need to stop listening to geeks. Sometimes you need to start listening to people in pinstripe suits.
When it comes to open data there’s a gem of a report by Deloitte Canada. ’Understanding government‘ is a belter. It’s an assessment by suits for suits of what open data can achieve. It’s worth downloading.
Think of this post as a review. It’s worth reading the whole thing but here are some bullet points. The sub-headings are mine rather than from the report.
How social media helps open data…
“The social media culture in particular is driving governments to open up while offering the imagination and expertise necessary to improve public services.
“In response, government organisations are embracing the idea that public data should be broadly available in a re-usable format and that governing should be a collaborative enterprise between government and its citizens.
Open data can help…
“The good news is that open government initiatives can help engage the public in making the difficult budgetary choices governments are grappling with.
“It will place governments under an unprecedented level of scrutiny and accountability while offering the potential to improve public services.
Open data is not a threat…
“Rather than view the changing relationship between government and its stakeholders as a threat or an inconvenience ncreasingly see it as an opportunity to engage citizens, non-governmental organisations, businesses and other entities in the design of new services and the resolution of old problems.”
Open data may even have stopped the MP’s expenses scandal…
“If the UK had put its database of members’ expense re-mbursements in the public domain in the first place could the scandal have been avoided? Politicians who know that constituents are watching their activities are much more likely to be careful about how they spend public funds.”
The four benefits of open data…
Better inform the public;
Make a noise about open data…
“Agencies should not quietly put data online. Rather, they should tell the public what they are doing and why, while seeking their participation and engagement. Data that sits in a file are not worth much. Information becomes powerful only as its consumers start to apply it in ways that create value.”
Let people build things…
“Let the users design.
“This form of user-driven application development, also known as crowd sourcing, user innovation or open sourcing provides governments with an unprecedented opportunity to engage citizens in unlocking the power of public data.”
What to do with user-generated content…
“Encourage users to create applications. Incorporate or adapt user-designed applications into publicly hosted sites. Seek and maintain a dialogue with apps developers. Create methods and channels for listening and responding to user demands for data.”
Don’t just let citizens analyse data. Government needs to be better at it…
“Government leaders recognise that in addition to leveraging community resources to analyse public data they must get better at analysing vast stores of public data – in addition to online resources.
“Leading governments are investing in building a core competency in data analytics.
“This involves acquiring the software tools to manipulate vast stores of public data – often provided by more than one agency – and investing in the people and processes to drive analysis and take action.”
Isn’t data a bit vast? Where do you start to look at data as government?
“Focus analytics on your core mission. Approach data analytics as a new core competency not a new tool set. Enlist key partners inside your agency. Leverage the online community.”
“In an information-driven age, the ability of governments to seize the opportunity may ultimately determine whether a government fails or succeed.”
There’s a great quote about learning not being compulsory, but neither is survival.
For the public sector learning and survival are vital in 2011.
No doubt, there’s a place for paid training.
But 2011 will be the year unconference as they expand in size and number.
What’s a barcamp? It’s bright like minded people coming together, booking a venue and running some sessions to exchange ideas.
UK Govcamp in London drew more than 170. It created an explosion of inspiring thinking on the day and after.
For this organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray need to be revered as heroes.
But that’s not enough for them. Oh, no. They’ve gone and created More Open. A fund to help start-up barcamps in other parts of the country. What a pair of dazzling gents.
Shropcamp is one of the first to benefit. Others will follow.
Last October I joined Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Andy Mabbett and Mike Rawlins to put on the comfortably laid back and low level Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.
Around 70 people came on a Wednesday afternoon to Walsall College with tweets and reaching a potential audience through the #hyperwm hashtag we were surprised to learn of 56,000.
Now, I don’t for one minute suggest we’re now fully fledged event planners after one gig. Nor is what we did remotely in the same ballpark as UK Govcamp.
But that’s the point. It wasn’t trying to be. We just fancied doing something in our part of the world that we’d want to go to.
So, in the spirit of doing and sharing here are some things we learned. It feels like the right time to post this.
PLAN AN IDEA
1) Have an idea. Kick it around with some conspirators. If it stands up to the scrutiny of a couple of people you’re on a winner. Rope them in too. It’s good to share.
2) Think of a list of people you’d like to be there. Get their support for the idea. Now you’re on your way.
4) Think of a name for your event. Get yourself a Twitter account. Spread the word. Don’t wait until you have a venue or location. A name will do at first.
5) Get yourself a presence on the UK govcamps site that requires sign-up. There’s already a community of people there.
6) Get yourself a basic WordPress site to host a Google map with venue, parking and other locations.
7) Use your Twitter to flag up potential sessions and sponsors. Build momentum.
8. Use your offline contacts to raise interest. Email. Talk. Cajole. Enthuse.
PLAN A VENUE
9) Get a venue within striking distance of a train station if you possibly can.
10) Use any contacts you may have to get it at cheap rate or free. Is there a public sector venue that fits the bill?
11) Rolling tea and coffee is a must. Catering is a cherry on top bonus, frankly. It’s 2011.
12) If it’s a public sector thing, think of a venue near a council building.
13) Having it away from the council itself is liberating. It helps people loosen up and makes it a slightly non-work thing.
14) Briggs’ guide wisely suggests banging the drum with web companies. There may be some public sector cash knocking around too.
PLAN A DATE
15) There’s a debate on what works best. A Saturday? You may get people who can’t come along midweek. Midweek? You’ll make it part of the day job for less committed nine to fivers. There’s a role for both. Friday isn’t always great, apparently.
16) How about the length of it? All day or half day? How about a post event drink too? You may find people want to chat a bit afterwards.
PLAN TO GET PEOPLE TO COME
17) Use Eventbrite for tickets. Release them in batches to build up a sense of momentum. Give a build-up via Twitter to each release.
18) DM people to invite them to sign up. Don’t think that just because its posted on Twitter at 9am the world is all watching at 9am.
PLAN FOR ON THE DAY
19) Venues often have wifi on lockdown banning access to social media sites. Test what they may offer beforehand.
20) Bring lots of extension cables.
21) Bring sticky labels people can write names on.
22) Have one of your organising team always floating around to sort any problems.
23) Do something different. We invited people to bake a cake.
24) Have a couple of volunteers signing people in. Sounds obvious.
25) You’ll need someone like Andy Mabbett to compare. He’s loud. He has a big beard. He’s good at explaining.
AFTER THE EVENT
26) You’ll need to take the next day off. To recover, but also to capture the resources that have come out of it.
27) You may want to pay for a Tweetreach report to get a seven day snapshot of tweets with your hashtag. It’s handy to see the size of things. It’s also handy to pass on when you’re thanking sponsors.
28) You may want to capture some of the things that came out of the event too. Like Pelsall Common People blog that started in the wake of ours.
29) Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. It’s fun. A bit of work but mainly fun.
An amazing statistic like a battering ram breaks down doors.
Here’s a good one.
For every one person who buys a copy of the Express & Star in the West Midlands borough of Walsall there are 10 on Facebook.
That’s print outnumbered by digital by a rate of 10 to one.
It’s the single most powerful argument to use social media in local government you can ever have. Why? Because it shows it’s mainstream. In fact, so mainstream it dwarfs what used to be the colossus of the printed Press.
It’s a cunning wheeze I first came across at the landmark LocalGovCamp in Birmingham in summer 2009.
Paul Cole, a talented man from Derby, spoke about how he did it. People never fail to be impressed by the idea.
You create a Facebook advert — but before you hand over cash you are given the chance to narrow down who you want to advertise to.
It’s at this point that you can get the juicy stats.
Here’s how to come up with one than your community:
1. Log on to Facebook.
2. Click the link that says ‘create an advert.’
3. Fill in the advert. Just type ‘hghghg’ if you like.
4.Upload an image. Any will do. This gets you to the place where you can access figures.
5. Look at the figure in the far right of the screen. That’s the figure of people registered on Facebook for the UK.
6. Add your town or city.
7. Select the radius you want to search from from the centre of your area with 16 km the shortest distance.
8. Click search and you have a figure for your own community.
9. Add an age demographic if you like.
10. Add an interest – like football, knitting or fishing – and search on that term too.
As one wag said: “A Prime Minister addressing a room full of geeks about open data? I’ve waited years for this.”
At the Wellcome Trust in London more than 200 people gathered for the International Open Data conference.
David Cameron delivered a recorded message and Minister Francis Maude was there in person. So was uber-geek Tim Berners-Lee.
Arranged by the Open Knowledge Foundation This was a chance to launch the UK Government’s data set of its department’s spend over £25,000.
That’s 194,000 lines of text and £80 billion of spending. The link to it is here.
What’s the point in that? The aim is to open the Government’s books to allow residents, journalists and business a chance to have a look.
Pithily one newspaper commentator posed the question: ‘A great leap forward or masochistic folly?’
It is madness isn’t it?
Actually, no. It’s a movement supported by left and right alike which has the aim of cutting waste, allowing entrepreneurs to flourish and a fairer society.
The event may have been Whitehall focussed but there are powerful golden strands that run through all government. Local and national.
Local government has already been asked to publish items of spend over £500 under the label ‘spending transparency.’
They have until January 1 to do it and as Cameron and Maude 100 of more than 300 odd councils had published.
There is a feeling within Whitehall that some will quietly choose not to publish calculating the flak they get for not completing a slightly arcane process is less than the grief a particular financial skeleton may pose.
It’s unlikely Whitehall will allow this to pass without prompting closer inspection.
It’s also unlikely local government will not be asked to publish more as open data. There is more to come. Much more.
Here are some broad messages from the day for local government:
SO, WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE?
Open data won’t be an easy ride for people in authority. As Francis Maude said: “It’s going to be very uncomfortable for government and local government. Media outlets will find things that will cause embarrassment.”
It’s not going to go away. It’s easy to like open data in opposition, says Maude. You can shine a light at others’ decisions. However, he pledged there were two key advocates – him and the Prime Minister.
The aim is to move influence away from the traditional centres – “information is power. This is a power shift,” says Maude, “to move the decision making away from Westminister.
Expect better decision making on spending – “Once you know you are being scrutinised you’ll be more careful. MP knows this all to well,” Maude says.
It’s FOI turbo charged – It would have taken journalists years of submitting FOI requests to build up the picture revealed in the £25k data sets, the Guardian say.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE PRIVATE SECTOR?
Contracts should allow for open data to be released – The presumption for contracts is transparency, says Maude.
It’ll create wealth – Open government data will create a £6 billion industry, says the Minister.
A website to point the spotlight on the private sector too – Chris Taggart has built opencorporates to shine the light at which big companies are doing well from public sector contracts.
HOW WILL ALL THIS BENEFIT GOVERNMENT – CENTRAL AND LOCAL?
Waste detection – By spotting where the waste is money will be spent better, Francis Maude says.
Procurement needs to get its act together – know what is in the contract before you sign a deal since the detail what it will purchase will be closely monitored, the Minister says.
WHAT IS NEXT?
Historical data will be released – There will be open data from previous administrations. This will help to compare and contrast with the current era.
More public agencies will follow – There are 100,000 public bodies. There’s no timescale for these just yet.
There will be a right to data – David Cameron has pledged that people will ask and receive data for a personal and business use. This is massive for local democracy.
Open data will move from spending into crime – Expect interactive crime maps in the New Year, Maude says.
SO, WHO WILL BE LOOKING THROUGH THIS DATA?
Journalists – the media needs to be data savvy. Data journalism will become more and more important, says Tim Berners-Lee.
“Chatting people up in pubs was one part of your job,” he told journalists in the room. “Poring over data and equiping yourself with the tools to look for the juicy bits will be important.
“Data journalism will be part of the future.”
Right now, local newspapers haven’t grasped what data journalism is. Don’t hold your breath just yet either.
Traditional news is emergency services calls, court and council agendas. It’s not data mining with csv files.
What may put it on the agenda are national stories re-written with a local.
Hyperlocal bloggers – many bloggers have geek tendancies that will happily work with online tools. Stories from all this will be broken by an 18-year-old rather than a laptop. That’s quite exciting. Tools such as timetric.com where graphs can be built using data and embedded in blogs can help with this.
Geeks – an inexhaustable army of geeks will pore over the data – “what happens when the flashflood of geeks go away?” mused Tim Berners-Lee. “It’s perennial.”
Industry – Data company Spikes Cavell have released spotlightonspend.org to interpret local government data. This hasn’t been without criticism from the opendata community who argue against councils dealing solely with the company and not releasing open data too.
Social entrepreneurs – Chris Taggart has built openlylocal.com as a platform for local government data and has been a pioneer in the field.
Real people – Fascinatingly, The Guardian had a team of four working for four days on the data before it was published. They didn’t think they could glean everything themselves. What they did do was make it possible for the public to use the tools to search for stories. This is the wisdom of the crowd as an extra pair of hands in the newsroom. You can download their app here.
BUT IT’S NOT ALL GOOD NEWS….
There’s no funding for people to cross check the data – As one questioner pointed out the tools that held government to account – journalists – have historically been cross subsidised by other sources such as small ads.
There’s no funding for these resources. There’s a question mark against the sustainability and effectiveness of tools.
Creative commons credits:
Tim Berners-Lee: Paul Clarke via wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee
Back in the olden days all a press officer had to do was a write a press release and book a photo call.
Boy, how things have changed and more to the point are changing rapidly.
How web 2.0 and web 3.0 will affect the communications unit – or press office in old money – is something that I’ve spent a great deal of time mulling over. Why? Because it’s my job.
I’m a senior press officer at Walsall Council. The job I walked into in 2005 is almost unrecognisable to the one I do now. Yes, it now includes, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media – or web 2.0 if you are a bit of a geek. But it’s also open data and the challenges of web 3.0.
The nice people from Local Government Improvement and Delivery have asked me to lead a session at their Local by Social online conference on November 3 2010 at 3pm. Looking at the speaker line up it’s something of an honour. There’s plenty for people to get their teeth into on a whole range of subjects.
I’d very much like to hear what your thoughts are. Take part ion the session. Chip in. Listen. It’s all fine.
Firstly, here is a presentation designed as a starting point and to get the ball rolling…
Secondly, here are a few thoughts I blogged a month or two back. You can read the full version here.
In the days before the web the press office needs to:
Have basic journalism skills.
Know how the machinery of local government works.
Write a press release.
Work under speed to deadline.
Understand basic photography.
Understand sub-editing and page layouts.
For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:
Add and edit web content
For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:
Create and add content to a Facebook page.
Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
Create and add content to Flickr.
Create and add content to a blog.
Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and the blogosphere.
Develop relationships with bloggers.
Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.
For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:
Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
Create a data set.
Use an app and a mash-up.
Use basic html.
Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.
But with web 3.0 upon us and the pace of change growing faster to stay relevant the comms team has to change.
Good pictures leap from a page to celebrate, amaze and tantilise.
Poor pictures shout loudly. But not in a way you’d like.
One source of good pictures is the website Flickr which has more than four billion images. It’s something I’ve blogged about before.
What’s on there? Think about any subject and there will be pictures. A whole heap of them. And Flickr groups too. It’s the civilised corner of the web where people are constructive and are happy to licence their images through a Creative Commons licence.
Residents have self-organised and are daily taking an avalanche of brilliant pictures.
It can be a community around a love of countryside. Or of cats. Or a geographical community brought together by an area.
In Walsall, a borough of 250,000 near Birmingham in the UK that’s expecially the case. There are more than 100 members, 5,000 images and a vibrant Flickr group.
People like Steph Jennings, Lee Jordan, Stuart Williams, Beasty, Tony M, Nathan Johnstone and others do brilliant things.
At Walsall Council, we looked at their shots we wondered aloud how good it would be to showcase their shots on the council website. After all, people taking pictures of the place they live and seeing them showcased on their council’s website HAS to be a good idea.
Our head of communications Darren Caveney and web manager Kevin Dwyer picked the ball up and ran with it.
As part of a web refresh, Kev designed a Flickr friendly header that woud apply across all pages.
Next the pictures. A comment was posted on the Walsall Flickr pages to flag up what we were looking to do. We asked people to add the tag ‘walsallweb’ to each individual picture if they wanted the shot to be considered.
We were staggered to get more than 400 shots tagged for consideration in three days. An amazing response that showed the community support.
The postbox shape of the header ruled out scores of images. We also steered clear of people shots because of any problems with permissions.
The first shot was a canalside image. By linking back from the council site to the original Flickr image we embraced the web 2.0 approach of sharing.
The image got more than 150 hits in just over two weeks.
How does an unconference – or Barcamp – work? Basically, four or five rooms are used with different subjects being discussed in each in hour long slots. Feel like saying something? Just chip in. It’s as simple as that.
They work brilliantly in and around government where there is a willingness to share ideas without being hampered by private sector hang up about competition and bottom lines.
They work well in the hyperlocal community too – Talk About Local have run excellent events – and they’ve even gravitated into the travel industry.
Some of the most exciting thinking I’ve come across has been at unconferences. It’s not exaggeration to say Localgovcamp Birmingham in 2009 utterly revolutionised the way I think and approach my job.
Elsewhere, UKgovcamp in January saw around 120 people with five rooms and eight slots. That’s 32,000 possible combinations. In other words, a lot of knowledge and conversations. Coming back from one such event in London as the train was passing through the Oxfordshire countryside one clear thought struck me.
Isn’t it about time we made the brilliance of the unconference fit into the day job?
Invariably, those who go are innovators. This is great. In local government, there is a need for these key events every few months if for nothing else than the sanity of those who blaze a trail sometimes with little support. But how do you get the message through to the 9 to 5-ers and policy makers who would also really benefit?
It’s an idea I’ve kicked around idly with a few people. Myself and Si Whitehouse mulled this over at the London Localgovcamp. I like the phrase ‘Locallocalgovcamp’ he came up with. It has the spirit of localgovcamp but it’s a lite version.
What it may be is this: A space where ideas could be kicked around in the informal, unconference style.
But crucially, there maybe an item or a hook pre-advertised that may encourage slightly less adept to come along. Besides, it’s easier to convince your boss to let you go to an event if you know you’ll get something out of it. The pitch of ‘Cheerio boss, I’m off now to drink coffee with geeks and I may just learn something’ is not as compelling as ‘Cheerio, boss, I’m going to this event to learn x and if y and z too.’
The idea of the local meet-up itself is not especially something new.
London digital people in government do something called ‘Tea Camp’. A 4-6pm slot in a department store cafe. Tea. Cake. Conversation. All seems dashed civilised idea. Besides, there’s a critical mass all working in a small area.
Perhaps it’s time for a regional version of this. The West Midlands where I live and work sees an inspiringly vibrant digital community. There is also seven councils within a 30 mile radius.
So what would an as-part-of-the-day-job West Midlands bostin social event look like?
Two hours? Two rooms? Two sessions? Or is that too short?