DATA HELP: A site to marshall arguments and explain open data

Nick Bilton - Earthquake dataThink there’s a lack of good resources to get your head around open data? Not any more.

Two bright people – and me – have drawn up an easy to follow blog post and data wiki

to marshall argument and counter argument.

There’s also a series of links to more resources, examples and case studies.

Why bother? Two reasons. Firstly, open data is a revolution that’s sweeping government both national and local. Politicians in the US, UK and further afield recognise it is a vital tool for transparency and just plain better democracy.

Second and most important reason for the sites? Because there are lessons to learn from social media.

In 2008 visionaries in local government were seen to be taking risks by adopting social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

What helped win internal arguments were websites like this (insert link) that helped marshall arguments and build a repository of case studies.

I’m convinced the local data blog can play a role in doing the same.

It’s a true collaborative effort between two hugely talented people Michael Grimes from the Citizenship Foundation, Stuart Harrison from Lichfield Council and myself whose day job is at Walsall Council.

It occurred to all of us that a resource like this would be helpful after meeting at the West Midlands local data panel which helps feed back ideas to the people behind the excellent UK data respository data.gov.uk.

It aims to be a place to read arguments and counter arguments for open data and also to help answer the question ‘what is open data?’

In the spirit of web 2.0 and open data we are throwing open our effort to colleagues from the public sector and importantly to citizens too.

Go and have a look. Comment. Add a link or an argument.

It was Charles Dawin who wrote: “In the long history of human kind (and animal kind too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

We’d be happy if you came to the site to collaborate. Or failing that just come and have a look at the trams scooting about on the Helsinki realtime tram map. They’re utterly brilliant.

Creative Commons credits

Earthquake map – Nick Bilton

Maths – Haags Uitburo

GREEN DIGITAL: How parks and countryside can use social media…

If William Wordsworth was alive today he’d be using Twitter.

Not the old stick-in-the-mud he became but the young man fired by revolution.

 

Why? Because he celebrated the English countryside through the media of the day.

How we think of the landscape was shaped by Wordsworth. Before him, mountains were frightful places. After? Beautiful. And Willie cashed in with an 1810 Guide to the Lakes that was the iphone app of its day.

Exploring how our countryside team could use social media made me trawl through some examples.

Whoever said places work can really well on social media were bang on. That’s especially true of parks and countryside. So how is social media being used by to promote the countryside? There’s some really good ideas in patches out there but nothing fundamentally game changing that makes you sit up and write verse. That says to me that there is plenty of potential.

Photography should be at the heart of what the public sector does with countryside and parks. Why? Because a picture tells a 1,000 words. Because they can bring a splash of green into someone’s front room or phone at one click. Criminally, many sites should be promoting the countryside relegate images to a postage stamp picture.

Here are 10 interesting uses:

1. The British Countryside Flickr group has more than 4,000 members and some amazing images. It’s a place where enthusiastic amateur photographers can share pictures and ideas.

2. Peak District National Park chief executive Jim Dixon leads from the front. He blogs about his job at www.jimdixon.wordpress.com and tweets through @peakchief. It’s a good mix of retweeting interesting content and puts a human face on an organisation.

3. Foursquare, Walsall Council added a landmark in a park as a location. The Pit Head sculpture in Walsall Wood was added to encourage people to visit and check-in. You can also make good use of ‘tips’ by adding advice.

4. On Twitter, @uknationalparks represents 15 UK national parks run a traditional Twitter feed with press releases, RTs and some conversation. With 2,000 followers it’s on 145 lists.

5. But you don’t have to be in a national park to do a goods job. In Wolverhampton, @wolvesparkies have a brilliantly engagingly conversational Twitter stream. There is passion, wit and information that make most councils seem the RSS press release machine that they are.

6. National Trust have an excellent Facebook profile. You may get the impression that members are 65 and own a Land Rover. That doesn’t come across here. They observe one of the golden rules of social media. Use the language of the platform. It’s laid back and it’ll tell you when events are planned.

Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee
Yorkshire Dales by Chantrybee

7. Even more relaxed is the quite new I Love Lake District National Park is quite brilliant. It allows RSS, it blogs and it really encourages interaction. Heck, they even encourage people to post to the wall so they can move shots into albums.

8.  On YouTube, West Sussex County Council have a slick short film on tree wardens that deserves more than 45 views in five months. Or does this show how much take up there is on YouTube?

9. The rather wonderful parksandgardens.ac.uk is an ambitious online tool for images of 6,500 parks and gardens and the people who created and worked in them. @janetedavis flagged this up. It’s a project she worked on and she should be proud of it. There’s a school zone to to connect to young people too and is populated by google map addresses and photographs. Really and truly, council parks and countryside pages should look like this but mostly don’t.

10. Less a government project, or even social media Cumbria Live TV celebrate the landscape they work in utterly brilliantly. Slick and powerful broadcast quality three minute films do more than most to capture the jaw dropping awe of the fells. They self-host some brilliant films on a changing site. Check them out here.

EIGHT things you CAN do aside from write bad poetry about daffodils and shepherds called Michael…

1. A Facebook fan page to celebrate a park or open space. Call it I love Barr Beacon. Yes, the Friends group can use it as a meeting place. But naming it after the place not the organisation leaves the door open to the public too.

2. Give a countryside ranger a Twitter account. Use @hotelalpha9 as an inspiration. Let them update a few times a day with what they’ve been up to. Post mobile phone pictures too.

3. Despite a dearth of amateur good examples there’s potential in short films to promote countryside. You only have to point a camera at something photogenic for people to come over all Lake Poet.

Flowers by Vilseskogen

4. Start a Flickr group to celebrate your patch of countryside. Walsall has 1,000 acres of parks and countryside with amazing views and vistas.

5. Start a blog. WordPress takes minutes to set-up and after messing around only a short time to master. Tell people what you are up to. Whack up a few images. Lovely. For no cost.

6. Make your countryside and parks pages a bit more web 2.0. Use mapping to set out a location. Use Flickr images – with permission – to showcase the place.

7. Add your parks and countryside to a geo-location site such as Foursquare. If the future of social media is location, location, location then venues, landmarks and places will score big.

8. Text. With more mobile phones in the UK than people sometimes the humble text message can be overlooked as part of the package of ways to connect with people. Most councils are also text enabled. Create info boards around a park or countryside with numbers to text to recieve info on what they can see. Change it for the seasons to make best use.

Picture credits:

Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.

Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Yorkshire Dales: Creative commons courtesy of Chantrybee http://www.flickr.com/photos/chantrybee/2911840052/

Flowers: Creative commons courtesy of Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/4182443498/

CASE STUDY: How Walsall museum is cooler than Ben Stiller

In Ben Stiller’s  blockbuster ‘Night at the Musem’ exhibits burst to life when the public aren’t around.

Cowboys and Indians come alive and a giant dinosaur plays fetch with a bone.

Walsall museum stores aren’t quite on a par with Washington DC’s Smithsonian but one thing is the same: You’d be amazed what you can find.

Thousands of items are stored as only a fraction can be put on public display at one time.

So how would social media connect a museum stores with residents? Here’s how. In a way that is way cooler than Ben Stiller.

THE EVENT ITSELF…

One Spring Saturday, photographers of the Walsall Flickr group were given special access all areas to take pictures at Walsall Council’s museum stores.

Street signs, an ARP helmet, and typewriters were just some of the treasure trove.

So were items of the nationally important Hodson Shop collection, a huge collection of working class clothes from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Eight photographers spent more than two hours poring over hundreds of artefacts.

What resulted in an amazing explosion of pictures of often rarely seen treasures. Take a look at some of the shots here.

More than 150 images were posted on Flickr in the days after and more than a dozen positive comments were posted on the group’s discussion board.

PLANNING FOR THE EVENT…

Why bother? Why arrange this?

It’s as simple as this: what’s not to like about pictures of Walsall artefacts taken by Walsall people?

Simple as the idea was, three months of planning led to the event itself.

Much praise needs to be given to talented photographer Steph Jennings (@essitam on Twitter) and the forward-thinking Walsall museum curator Jennifer Thomson supported by collections officer Catherine Clarke. Why praise? Because both parties started from different positions and arrived at not just a workable compromise but a groundbreaking piece of work that sets new standards.

REACHING AN AGREEMENT ON  COPYRIGHT CONCERNS…

At the heart of everything was copyright.

Museums traditionally are very careful to guard copyright of their artefacts.

On the flip side, photographers are very careful to guard their copyright too.

In the past, museums have allowed photographers to take shots only in highly controlled circumstances with copyright signed away.

The Walsall approach was different.

The compromise that was brokered was this: photographers retain copyright so long as they accepted that they wouldn’t be able to bring tripods to take saleable pro shots.

That was fine as the Walsall Flickr members didn’t want to sell images.

The group also agreed to limit the size of the shots they uploaded to 1MB and agreed to ask permission before they used the images.

Crucially, what made this process work was the genuine commitment to make the event work by both Steph and the museum team.

The compromise permission form can be found here.

When social media works well it sees a two way discussion. Brilliant things can happen.

An unexpectedly marvellous spin off led to the setting-up of a museum Flickr group to encourage people to submit images.

AN UNEXPECTED SPIN-OFF…

This isn’t just shots of the museum but a place where, as Steph suggested, pics can now be submitted for ‘shadow’ exhibitions. Planning an exhibition on seaside holidays? That shot of Great Aunt Maude paddling at Weston-super-Mare can be submitted and used as part of a revolving powerpoint of similar images. That’s something the whole family can go and see. Excellent.

This isn’t a Walsall Council success story, for my money. This is a Walsall success story. It was the coming together of museum staff, the communications unit and most of all the enthusiasm of the borough’s thriving and talented Flickr group that made this work.

What we found can work here can easily work anywhere.

Hosting a Flickr meet: Five benefits to the museum.

1. Connecting with non-traditional audience.

2. Showcasing exhibits and helping to find an online audience for heritage.

3. Art. Great pictures are just that. Art. What better way to showcase your artefacts?

4. A set of marketing pictures. At Flickr members’ suggestion the group were happy for their images to be used by the musem. Many amateurs are keen to get an audience for their work in return for a link to their Flickr page and a pic credit.

5. Pictures to link to via a Twitter stream.

Attending the Flickr meet: Four benefits to the photographer.

1. Rare behind-the-scenes access.

2. Being able to retain copyright of images.

3. A unique photographic challenge.

4. A chance – if you are happy to – to showcase your work through council marketing.

Thanks to: Jennifer Thomson and Catherine Clarke from Walsall museum. Steph Jennings and the members of the Walsall Flickr group who attended the session.

BOSTIN SOCIAL: Is it time for a #hyperlocalgovcamp?

As brilliant ideas go the ‘unconference’ is as good as tea and a slice of cake on a summers day.

Get like-minded people in one place and then decide what you are going to talk about on the day. You’d be amazed at the hot house ideas that emerge.

Believe it or not the first event described by such a term was the XML Developers Conference of 1998 in Montreal in Canada.

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?

Pork scratchings?

What do you think?

Creative commons photo credit: Barcamp: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid laughingsquid.com.

STOP PRESS: Are seven income streams the future of hyperlocal news?

 Unless there are six or seven income streams a hyperlocal site won’t pay for itself.

That’s the verdict from the excellent Future of News West Midlands event in Birmingham.

Depressing? Not really. Realistic? Absolutely. And there’s a surprising amount in common between hyperlocals and local government web experimentors like me.

This rather excellent event at Birmingham City University drew web entrepreneurs, hyperlocals and newspaper people.

Forward looking rather than finger pointing it looked for solutions and answers rather than blame.

The seven income streams idea for hyperlocals prompted debate about what those streams could be. Straight forward banner ads emerge from the print model. But then what?

Actually, a whole myriad of ideas that the show web as a vibrant place for entrepreneurs.

Picture framing, listings, ad features, hyperlocal t-shirts bigging up an estate or area and PR services all emerged as potential solutions. There was even a natty idea to maximise dead air time on pub TVs.

However, the danger is the cash cow you chance upon replaces the hyperlocal reason for doing it in the first place. Besides, what works in one town may not work in a different estate.

But surely this lack of sure funding means hyperlocals are doomed? If you were an accountant, yes. You could be right. And if you were looking at these sites to make piles of cash.

But then balance sheets don’t count the enthusiasm, community spirit and zeal many people are powered by.

So, wearing my local government what what does all this mean?

First, there’s still demand for local news, for one. And a passion for an area.

But if something really did become crystal clear it’s this: there are barriers to hyperlocals as we’ll as local government. They just have different labels.

For hyperlocals it’s lack of time and the prized extra time seven income streams can bring.

For local government, who can have a degree of funding, it’s lack of time and the barriers a chain of command – and IT departments – can bring. We may want to deploy leftfield ideas. It’s just not always possible.

Both sides can be forgiven for looking enviously at the other.

Yet, for all these obstacles there are some brilliant ideas taking shape in all corners of the web in the public and private sectors.

There’s no golden bullet for the future of news but I’m convinced the answers will be found through pioneering spirit plus a passion for an area.

That’s not unlike how good web ideas will succeed in local government.

 

Creative commons credits.

Abstract image www.imageabstraction.com.

Corrected journal Judge Mental

MAPPING FUN: Could Foursquare work for local government?

It’s relentless this social media lark. One minute it was MySpace. Then it was Twitter. Whatever happened to Friends Reunited?

The latest in this relentless onwards march is Foursquare. What the heck is Foursquare?  Basically, it’s a metrocentric social media platform that has locations and geo-tagging at it’s heart. That means places and plots on an online map.

By January 2010, according to compete.com, there were 600,000 unique users globally per month. Still way off the more than 300 million people signed up to Facebook. But it’s probably no coincidence that Google Buzz has emerged with mapping as an option.

How does it work? Basically, you ‘check in’ to good venues that you’d like to recommend, like museums, galleries and restaurants.

You can lay down recommendations too through ‘shouts’ at the locations. Maybe there is a great picture to see or a special dish that is worth a visit. The constituency of Foursquare are city-based 20 somethings who love exploring and being ‘seen’ at hot places.

It’s big in downtown New York. Not sure how it’ll work in rural North Yorkshire.

How it works is this. There is the tour guide part and the boy scout part. You are at somewhere good. You take out your mobile. You log onto Foursquare. You see if you can find somewher nearby that looks interesting. Maybe you are at somewhere good.  If it’s on you can check in. If it isn’t you can add it along with it’s address and postcode. You can ever make a ‘shout’ to your friends to let them know where you are.

And you can maybe leave advice for the next person to check in. That’s the tourist guide part of Foursquare.

The boy scout part?You score points through check ins. There is a weekly challenge to see who can score most points. New venues and other landmarks can see badges unlocked.

All fine, you are probably thinking. Great if you are 23 and live in Greenwich Village. But what exactly does this offer local government?

At face value, slim pickings. This won’t help you explain changes in council tax or let people know about school closures.

You also can’t take part directly as a council as you can on Facebook or Twitter. But after two months of using it as an experimentmyself  it’s started to emerge that some use could be made of it.

Where it starts to make sense is with leisure and culture. Your gallery, your museum and even your Town Hall and leisure centres could all be destinations. Why wait for them to emerge? Stick them on as locations.

You can also work with marketeers to put on offers for Foursquare users. For example, those with the highest number of check-ins at a venue can win the status of ‘Mayor’. The Mayor, once a week could then be rewarded with a free cup of coffee or a free swim. That’s the idea.

This is not going to be a game changer in the way that Facebook and Twitter have become. But it does offer interesting alternatives and what it does start to do is herald the era of mapping using mobile phones in a big, big way.

Remember, most mobiles that are sold come with GPS positioning capabilities. I’m convinced that the mapping capabilities of mobile phones will become massively significant in the future. This is the first platform to really take that seriously.

I also quite like the idea of encouraging people to be ‘friends’ with a venue. This kind of behaviour has worked well with Facebook, for example.

What local government social media visionaries could do…

1. Input key locations onto the Foursquare list. These can be picked up when people are nearby. Cafes, galleries and museums can all work. The New Art Gallery, Walsall for example, is on Foursquare as a location.

2. Offer a discount to the Mayor. You’d be amongst a few hundred locations globally that do.

3. Avoid cyber squatting by securing Mayor status on the Town Hall.

4. Check comments on your venues for feedback. Good service? Bad service? Listen and act.

5. Let the Mayor make a recommendation. Cecily Walker on her blog suggested that the Mayor of a library could be allowed to display their favourite book. Every week the Mayor could make their suggestion via a whiteboard. It’s an interesting idea.

Creative commons credits:

New York Philip Klinger

Walsall Lee Jordan

SOCIAL MEDIA: Your EIGHT step guide to getting started…

This blog post was inspired by #ukgc10’s local government hug session where one person asked for help in how to get started with social media. Some good pieces of advice came out. Here are some from the session and some that struck me afterwards…


THE 8 STEP APPROACH FOR GETTING STARTED….

You’ve read about social media. You may have thought it was a fad. Now you’ve been waking up at 3am with the gnawing thought that you’ll have to do something.

If you’re at this stage. Congratulations. You’re sharp. You’ve seen which way the wind is blowing. And, yes, it’s only going to blow harder.

So what to do?

Here’s some thoughts on how to go about turning your organisation into something fit for the 21st century.

It’s simply not enough to say that you must do it because Steven Fry does it. Or because it’s cool.

You need to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument backed by figures that will work with people who look on digital with the suspicious eye of a Daily Mail reader.

 

Step 1 – Look at the national picture.

More than 30 million people use social media in the UK, according to the most recent figures. Clicky Media’s figures are a good starting point.

You can compare this to national and local newspaper figures.

Locally, a 20 per cent dip in local papers is predicted by 2012 in weekly papers. In regional daily papers it’s more like 30 per cent.

In short: If you’ve always relied on your local paper to get your message out then think again.

Step 2 – Have a look at the sites.

There are dozens of social media sites.

For the sake of argument, look at six of the most popular sites.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all do different things. For blogging, WordPress and Blogspot are key.

Don’t worry if it all looks an unclimbable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Anyway, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has only just got round to joining Twitter himself. So, relax.

Join one if you like. See how it works. Get to know it.   

In short: Don’t worry about not getting your head around all of them.
Get your head around them one at a time.

Dive in! That water is great….

 

Step 3 – See what some inspired people say.

All you need is out there on the internet. The trick is, like anything, knowing where to look. You’ll find it a creative, inspiring and sharing place if you choose to join.

Check Mashable for basic guides to all this stuff. The guide to social media is a must. Follow the link and click download for Learning Pool Twitter guide.

There are some quality blog posts on the subject. Michelle Ide-Smith recently wrote a post that nails how to construct an argument in favour.

Have a look at these blogs for ideas an inspiration:

Nick Booth, Dave Briggs, Sarah Lay, Carl Haggerty.

If you join Twitter – and I’ve learned so much from it I’d seriously recommend it – I’d also recommend these:

@sarahlay – Derbyshire webbie.
@alncl – Alastair Smith, Newcastle web man.
@davebriggs – Local government social media specialist.
@timesjoanna – Former Birmingham Post reporter turned Times writer. Great for links.
@liz_azyan – Lives and breathes local government and social media.

@gecko84 – Teckie Arsenal fan.
@abeeken – Lincolnshire webbie.

@mmmmmmcake – A stream about cake, believe it or not.

@pezholio – Local gov webbie from Staffordshire who is borderline genius. Also likes real ale.

@talkaboutlocal – a window into the amazing world of hyperlocal blogs that can serve a town or even a housing estate.
@wv11 – a hyperlocal blog based in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. Shows how a local site can use it.
@philipjohn – a website developer who is a useful font of information.
@mashable – the Twitter version of the social media blog.
@doristhecow – Anchor butter’s well judged use of Twitter. I love it.
@scobleiser – Silicon Valley geek who writes about tech news.
@walsallcouncil – Because their use of social media is really, really, really inspired (disclaimer: I help write it).

 

Step 4 – Create a social media map.

Work out what activity there is in your area. These figures are a clincher so take an afternoon out to build this picture.

Paul Cole and Tim Cooper in Derbyshire did one for their area. They used mindmeister although you could use an exercise book. It’s just as good and you don’t have to re-boot it. It lists all trhe social media activity they could find.

How?

Before you do, I’d find out the circulation figures for newspapers in your area. This is good to compare and contrast. The Walsall edition of the Express & Star, for example has sales of around 22,000.

For Facebook, there are 23 million users as of January 2010. Want to see how many are local to you? Log onto Facebook, then click the button marked ‘advertising’. Fill out an ad. Don’t worry you won’t get charged just yet. It’s then you reach the section that gets really interesting.

Here, you can ask Facebook how many people are registered within a 10 mile radius of a town. This gives some staggering figures. Click the box marked ‘location’ and put in the town you want to aim at.

In Walsall, in January 2010 there are 170,000 people on Facebook within 10 miles of the town. The population of the borough is around 250,000 and the 10 mile radius also spills out into part of Staffordshire, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But, you get the picture.

There are therefore, around eight times as many Facebook users as buy copies of the Express & Star in the wider Walsall area, you may argue.

For Twitter, it’s harder to work out your area’s figure. Nationally, by November 2009 there are 5.5 million UK users. You’ll have to work out your area’s percentage of the national population, then divide the Twitter users by that percentage.

For YouTube, log on and search for your area or town. You’ll be surprised. Using the keyword ‘Walsall’ gave just less than 5,000 clips.

Same with Flickr. This is a photo sharing website. Count how many images of your patch there are. The Walsall Flickr group of more than 80 members, for example have around 5,000 iamges of their home borough.

WordPress and Blogspot. Search for your areas and they’ll crop up on blogs.

 

Step 5 – Get your arguments ready

There’s a brilliant few resources online with the most common arguments against social media and the counter arguments to deploy.

They work a treat.

Jeff Bullas’ blog on the subject is useful. So is this from SEO Blog. Google the word ‘reasons to use social media

 

Step 6 – JFDI Just flipping do it.

Now, if you are particularly brave you can cut to this one skipping step four entirely.

The argument goes like this. Just flipping do it. By the time anyone important notices it’ll have reached critical mass and harder to close down.

It’s not something I’ve done but other far braver people have and with great success. Will Perrin – @willperrin on Twitter – often talks about how he deliberately avoided asking permission to launch Downing Street’s petition site.

 

Step 7 – Call in an expert.

There’s a good quote about a Prophet never being recognised in his own land.

The translation of this is if you think they won’t listen to you they may listen to someone from outside.

It’s worked on several occasions with local authorities who have called in Nick Booth’s Podnosh company. Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council have done similar jobs.

However, do be careful of people who call themselves social media experts. Or ninjas. Or any such rot. They’re almost certainly not and there are plenty of snake oil salesmen about right now.

 

Step 8 – Keep winning the internal argument.

Now you are up and running as nobody will be able to counter such stunning arguments it doesn’t end there. No, sir.

The social media head of one of Britain’s main parties once said that up to half his job is taken up with winning the internal argument.

Report back progress and keep a measure of followers and activity.

Banning social media is rather like trying to outlaw the telephone in the 19th century.

It’s a communications channel. We need to embrace it. Smile. It’s the future. And your children’s.

 

Pics: Used under a creative commons licence, Amit Gupta (Facebook), Badjonni (swimmers),  Dan Slee (Newlands Valley), Sean Dreilinger (mobiles) and the Little Tea Cup (Dan Slee).

TWITTER GRITTER: Case study: Gritting and social media.

Tyre tracks in the snow. Pic by lovestruck from Flickr.
Tyre tracks in the snow. Pic by lovestruck from Flickr.

It’s 3am, freezing and snow is about to fall.

Within an hour roads will be covered with a snow blanket children will squeal at and commuters will swear at.

It’s a race against time. And a time when the myth ‘all local government clocks off at 5 o’clock’ is tucked up along with everyone else.

If roads are not gritted there will be rush hour chaos, anger and hell to pay. Just ask the councils who look after Reading and Basingstoke.

Gritting is one of 800 often unseen vital local government jobs.

So as local government isn’t it a good idea to use social media to let people know what we are doing?

Or in other words, it’s not enough to do the job and hope residents pick up on what you are doing. That’s trickledown public relations. It doesn’t work.

What is increasingly important is doing the job and letting people know you are doing a job.

Gritting is a perfect way to marry an important service with social media.

It’s fast, immediate and talks to the resident direct. No need to wait for the evening paper to come out and people – hopefully – turning to halfway down page 16 to read what you are doing.

At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. In winter time gritting is becoming – like school closures and the cancellation of markets and events – important to communicate by social media.

At Walsall, in the winter period we decided to tweet gritting information. That was on top of schools closures, household waste and which schools are open.

There is a winter service plan at Walsall. It’s a 49-page document that sets out the 16 gritting routes covering more than 250 miles of road – that’s 50.1 per cent of the network.

A duty engineer checks weather data and assesses the risk of freezing temperatures. It’s down to them to make the call to order the fleet out.

Why? We already had a twitter feed @walsallcouncil with 1,000 followers. As the result of regular press queries we had good relations with the transport officers responsible for it. It was a small step to actually tweeting the info.

How? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.

When? FHow? Engineers were primed to email when they made the decision to order out the gritting teams. Press officers are equipped with Blackberries and are able to pick up the email and use Twitter.
When? From December 28 2009 to January 8 2010 we tweeted 71 times. We’d warn we were going out. We’d also link to advice on our website and issue urgent advice. There was a spate of thefts from the 175 grit bins, for example. Two incidents were reported to West Midlands Police. That was tweeted too. We also retweeted relevant @wmpolice advice and @metoffice updates.

Here’s some examples:

Grit update – Careful on the roads tonight. We’re gritting at 10pm after a sharp fall in temperature.

Grit update – We’re out. You’ll not be suprised to know. Take it steady on the roads. We’ll be monitoring the weather through the night.

Thanks @richjohnstone_. Heard back from a gritting team in Pheasey. A trip through the night is highly likely.

How was it received? Very well. There were two negative comments about what we were doing. But overall, there was a heck of a lot more positive feedback. We even had a couple of positive blog comments.

Spotted a @walsallcouncil gritter in the Crescent, Walsall! Good work guys.

@WalsallCouncil How about gritting upper station street? Lots of pedestrians walk up it from the station into town centre. Very slippy today.

We also responded to incidents in almost real time. A burst water main was flagged up as an ice hazard at a busy junction. We called engineers who were able to send out an emergency gritter as part of rounds…

@WalsallCouncil looks like a water main has burst – leighswood ave / middlemore lane WS9 – traffic lights being set up – traffic chaos

We responded…

Thanks @stevieboy378. The Leighswood Ave / Middlemore Lane water leak has been added to the duty gritters’ list.

We got some positive, real time response. Forwarded to the team on the ground it was a boost to the drivers.

@WalsallCouncil thanks . . . best of luck to your guys – its damn cold out there . . . .

We also backed up the Twitter activity with a short film shot on a Flip camera and posted to YouTube.

We supported this with a press release to local media and trade press.

HOW OTHERS HAVE TACKLED IT…

The Walsall Council approach was by no means unique. There have been several other councils looking at gritting and social media.

In Warwickshire, a  gritter was fitted so that it could send out geotagged tweets on it’s route. It’s a great idea in principle. But I do reckon @warwickwinter will need a few tweaks. Or is four or five tweets a minute okay if you lived in the area?

The hugely talented @pezholio took a look at the Warwick approach and drew up a test geotagged map. It’s a fantastic idea that could realy work. You can see a map of where the gritter has been and at what time. It would solve at a stroke the argument from an angry resident that swears blind his road hasn’t been visited.

Kirklees Council has also some good things with @kirkleeswinter 

Essex Council have also been tweeting gritting through their mainstream Twitter account. As this is something that has a 700+ following it makes sense to inform as many people as possible.  Camden Council have also kept up a good output with snow updates through their central Twitter feed.

Also, big up Sutton Council who have provided a map of grit bins. However, with thefts taking place across the country of grit – and the bins themselves – would this escalate problems with crime?

ELEVEN THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND

1. GET PLUGGED INTO YOUR ENGINEERS – arrrange with your engineers to let you know when they’re gritting, find out what the standard questions are and find out what the answers are – or who can tell you them.

2. MONITOR TWITTER – Have someone monitoring who can use the corporate Twitter. Tweet out-of-hours. Explode a few myths.

3. CONVERSATIONAL – Be conversational. On-the-spot tweets are a good way to use Twitter and to turn around important inform

4. YES, YOU WILL GET FLAK – People will accuse you of not gritting. Even when you have. They’ll also want their side street gritted when you don’t do side streets. You’ll need to have a form of words ready. Bear in mind that social media is another form of communication. Those conversations you’ll have over the phone you’ll also have via Twitter. With this stuff you can be part of the conversation that is already taking place.

5. PASS IT ON – Even if you have an answer to the tweet cut, paste and pass it onto the engineers.

6. TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT – Make a log of your activity and pass it on internally. Don’t keep it t yourself. Create a Slideshare for your power point.

7. RESPOND TO @REPLIES – Where you can, try and respond. Even if it’s just to say ‘Thanks for your tweet. We’ll pass it on.’ People don’t expect a detailed answer within seconds. An acknowledgement is only what you do off-line. But if you can act, then respond quick.

8. YOUTUBE. A film of gritters shot on a Flip video camera is cheap and effective.
9. THINK PICTURES – Tweet pics of what you are doing. Add to the community’s Flickr group pool with your shots of council staff in action.
10. EXPLAIN, LISTEN, PROMOTE – It’s clear that everyone in your organisation won’t be an advocate of social media. Even if the person at the top ‘gets it’ you need to be aware that you may have to re-sell to managers. Possibly at times of great stress and pressure. Be patient.

11. THINK GEOTAGGING – Technology exists to geotag vehicles. It’s a small step to produce a googlemap where people can go to se when and where their street has been treated. Talk to engineers and you’ll find that hours are spent insisting to residents that yes, their street has been gritted. Wouldn’t it be simpler to let people log on if the technology already exists?

LINKS

Sarah Lay’s blog on Christmas social media activity. http://bit.ly/5AGZSG

Snow disruption: Shouldn’t we be using the internet more? By @johnpopham http://wp.me/ppLRZ-2I

An argument why #socialmedia in snow is vital for #localgov. Top piece by the excellent @timhobbs http://ow.ly/UdPB

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: And one way to tackle it

 
 
Do me a favour, would you? Stop. Just for a second and relax.I don’t want you to finish this blog more tense than you started.

Three things dawned on me today as a blizzard of amazing links poured through my Twitter stream.

One. My brain was capsizing. And I was starting to get tense.

Two. There are only 24 hours in a day and you only have one pair of hands. You can’t know it all.

Three. The answer became clear. Do one thing at a time. Bit like my Grandad did growing things on an allotment.

The scale and velocity of social media is exciting, inspiring and frightening.

“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload,” said Marshall McLuhan.

“There’s always more than you can cope with.”

He died in 1980. And all he had to deal with were three TV channels that finished at midnight and Pong. Lucky man.

I quitelike this one, too. “Getting information from the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Mitchell Kapor said that.

Information overload? Here’s me. I’m following 500 people on Twitter. I try to keep up. I do. Really.

Oh, and Right now I’d like to know more of geotagging, Foursquare, smartphones, Flip, Google maps, podcasting and Facebook.

I know it can’t all be done.

This is exactly why people who call themselves ‘social media experts’ are not. Because you simply can’t be.

So what? Here’s my answer. Be good at something rather than a dabbler in everything.

It’s okay not know everything. Why? Because you can’t. And besides, nobody likes a know-all.

Do one project at a time. One month at a time. Make it a good one. Understand it. Then maybe move on.

I forget where I heard that, but it’s a brilliant, brilliant piece of advice.

Philip John is good at WordPress because he has spent time on it.

Bristol Editor is good at blogging about journalism for the same reason.

And Liz Azyan with LGEO Research and Dave Briggs knows local government because she has knows her onions.

Sarah Lay got good at Google maps because she spent a bit of time on it. And listened to how Stuart Harrison did it.

Specialise. Relax. Have a little corner allotment plot of the digital universe and take time to grow something good there.

As my Grandad once said, do potatoes first. Watch them grow. Get good at them. THEN try something a bit trickier. Like carrots. Then try artichokes. Before you know it you’ve got a thriving corner of produce. You can try to be Sainsbury’s. You’ll fail. It’ll be more fun being an allotment market gardener with this stuff.

One step at a time.

Okay? Feel a bit better now?

Main pic credit: Will Lion

BROADCASTING CHANGE – Seven skills the BBC can teach social media

Pic credit:
Official_BBC_Logo
Originally uploaded by nguyenht_hk
 
 
 
 “Citizen journalists,” the sneer goes, “Whatever next? Citizen surgeons?”
 

It’s a glib, throwaway, catch-all comment designed to dismiss social media sites which spread news without the aid of shorthand, a spiralbound notepad and an NUJ card.

The argument goes that like a surgeon’s scalpel only someone trained can handle news properly.

But with the quiet opening up of the BBC College of Journalism website another brick in the ever shaky argument comes toppling down.

The website http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/ has been run internally for the corporation for three years. It is a treasure trove of skills refined from more than 60 years of award winning peerless journalism.

BBC economics correspondant Robert Peston recently warned that: “the traditional distinctions between television journalists, radio journalists and print journalists are quite close to being obsolete.”

To survive a 21st century journalist must blog, podcast, film, edit and interview and write.

In the era of multi-skilling the press officer will also do well to take a look at the array of skills the site offers coaching in. There is plenty there for them.

But where the BBC training site’s hidden strength really lies is in the trasure trove of skills it offers to the hyperlocal blogger.

Recently, there has been a fierce debate in the UK digital community about defamation and media law. The Talk About Local project to encourage hyperlocals has started to debate it. Bloggers such as The Lichfield Blog’s Philip John have come up with some hyperlocal friendly resources.

But what the BBC site offers is a more extensive, professional insight into what will and won’t get you into trouble.

I’m tempted to call the opening up of the BBC training site as their greatest contribution to digital since the BBC Acorn computer pushed home computing out of the science fiction pages into the spare room in 1981.

This website starts to put quality journalism within the grasp of anyone  who can operate both a WordPress site and the BBC’s training pages.

For a qualified journalist looking to embrace change this is a welcome resource.

To the press officer it is a reference point. But also another signal that the 21st century landscape is changing.

To a blogger it should be bookmarked and memorised.

SEVEN TOP TIPS FROM THE BBC THAT COULD PROVE USEFUL IN SOCIAL MEDIA….

1. A guide to defamation These tips will be especially useful to bloggers. But also with the ever changing media landscape handy for press officers and journalists a long time out of NCTJ college.

2. Contempt of court You don’t have to be in the dock to get on the wrong side of a court of law. The rights and restrictions that govern news – and yes, blogs – are complex and can be devastating if you get it wrong.

3. Using submitted content A great insight into how the BBC uses it. For hyperlocals where photography may rely heavily on submitted pics this could be of use.

4. Original journalism There are news rooms across the country drained of experience and talent that could benefit from this. High standards are never a bad thing.

5. Bloggers and the law A contribution from Birmingham City University leacturer Paul Bradshaw – @paulbradshaw on Twitter. Nice to know the BBC are listening to someone like Paul who has a foot in the blogosphere as well as journalism.

6. Making short news films With YouTube in the driving seat high production values are not needed. But a few tips that could transfer into making something watchable can’t be a bad idea.

7. Filming interviews A few minutes with a Flip video and you’ll know it’s a tricky business balancing the questioning with the filming.

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