WALSALL 24: Case study: 12 thoughts on tweeting what local government does in a day

Funny how an unremarkable Spring day in the West Midands can go down in history.

From 6am on March 4, an audience of 116,273 on Twitter got to hear about the Walsall 24 experiment staged by Walsall Council.

Those figures are tweetreach.com, by the way. Not mine.

Historically, this was the first time a council had tweeted a snapshot of what it was doing in real time in the UK. Quite possibly this was a world first. That’s worth a ‘woot!’ in anyone’s book.

Yet, every day local government does tens of thousands of things for its residents.

Trouble is, we rarely tell people about the bread and butter things leaving some people ignorantly thinking ‘all I get is my bins collected.’
It was this lazy myth we looked to explode with Walsall 24.

There’s a blog post one day in the brass tacks of how the event was done.

By the way, this is an idea I’m proud to have played a role in amongst quite a sizable cast.

Statistics


1,400 tweets

116,000 potential audience

10 per cent rise in @walsallcouncil audience

9 Twitter accounts used


But there’s also in the days after 12 things that struck me:


1. The tipping point has been reached. It’s not about whether or not local government should use social media it’s how.

2. The internal battle has been won. People who 12 months ago were sceptical were keen to get involved. How do we channel that?

3. It’s not about network access. In the opening minutes of Walsall 24 we tweeted on a Blackberry because the network decided it didn’t like Twitter.

4. It’s ALL about network access. ‘This is great,’ one member of staff said, ‘but I couldn’t log on to my PC to follow it.’ Opening up social media internally would have been a powerful way to tell the story to the staff.

5. This could only work through collaboration. It was a neighbourhoods officer Kate Goodall that did much of the groundwork to get people on board and head of comms Darren Caveney that secured very top level buy-in. Without this it would have looked threadbare.

6. People like being told how their council tax is spent. No matter how routine. One person said that they didn’t like the updates. That was after the event.

7. Having people in service areas savvy with social media is a good thing. Spread the joy. Don’t hog it.

8. Getting people together in a common cause makes a bigger noise. The noise made by more than a dozen is more than an individual.

9. Innovation is a good thing. It makes you look at things in a different light. In the old days something like this may have been bought in from outside. Not any more.

10. This is the future. It’s not a hypothetical theory. It’s real and it’s here.

11. Free is good. Doors opened because there was no charge to this.

12. I never knew local government had people out at dawn investigating noisey cockerels. But we do.

Blogs

Sarah Lay ‘A Day in the Life.’

Carl Haggerty ‘Even More Determined’

Adrian Short ‘#walsall24 – Whats the Point of a Tweeting Council?’

Resources

The Guardian ‘Walsall Council Live Updates.’

Walsall Council @walsallcouncil on Twitter

Walsall Council Walsall 24 diary

24 HOUR: A Twitter experiment in local government

As never before local government needs to shout what it does from the roof tops.

 In a 24-hour experiment colleagues across Walsall Council on March 3 aim to do just that.

 This is the first time in UK local government – and possibly the world – someone has tried something on this scale.

 The target is to tweet every day tasks such as potholes, parks, litter picking, school meals and many of our 700 services.

 On their own they’re routine.

 When pieced together they create a vibrant snapshot of the vital work dedicated people in local government do every day.

 It aims to include potholes, parks school crossing patrols, road repairs, out-of-hours care and many of the 700 services local government offers.

 It aims to shine a light on dusty corners of local government.

 It aims to show areas that do their jobs day in and day out without fuss.

 We’ve taken as inspiration the 24-hour Twitter exercises in Greater Manchester Police and South Birmingham.

 We’ve also taken inspiration from people across local government who used social media to alert people to school closures and gritting.

 You can take part too by following these Twitter accounts:

Walsall Council’s Twitter stream @walsallcouncil.

@walsall24_1

@walsall24_2

@walsall24_3

@walsall24_4

There’s also more than half a dozen Twitter streams from service areas including the New Art Gallery, Walsall Museum and the Walsall Local History Centre.

 It’s important to stress that this won’t just be for Twitter. It’ll be flagged up on Facebook and we’ll post pictures to Flickr too.

 It’ll also be highlighted on our website with tweets curated after the event.

 In 2011, there is a burning need to tell these stories.

 Walsall 24 doesn’t aim to be definitive or exhaustive and not everything we do will be listed.

 But this does aim to nail the urban myth that all we do is bins.

Disclaimer:  I’m one of several helping organise the event but colleagues right across the council have made this happen.

Creative commons credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/2096416037/sizes/m/in/photostream/

HISTORY TWEET: Connecting over cornflakes with @manal in Tahrir Square

So, there I was one morning watching TV coverage of protests in Egypt.

Across the cornflakes I’m seeing a bulletin with overnight pitched battles in Tahrir Square on the news.

This square in Cairo has been the symbolic battleground. Pro-democracy protestors hold it. The President’s men want them out.

Stones, bottles get thrown to dislodge them. Snipers too but the protestors hold on by their finger tips.

Checking Twitter the hashtag #egypt is filled with news reports, pictures and messages.

One catches my eye. A man proud that he knows one of the protestors who is there on the ground.

I retweet it thinking there may be people who follow me  interested.

Minutes later one of those whose name I retweeted thanks me and several others for this act.

Let’s get this straight.

One of the protestors in Tahrir Square who has been fighting for what he believes in sends me a tweet to say ‘thank you.’.

The historian in me can’t handle that.

The geek in me is amazed.

What would a tweet from the French Revolution look like? Would @marieantoinette RT Let them eat #cake…?

But this is the 21st century, baby.

Now, those protestors are not figures on a screen. I know one of their names and contact – fleetingly – has been made. It’s Manal Hassan. His Twitter name is @manal. He is from Cairo.

I know in years to come what I’m saying now will seem as naïve as the school teacher who marvels at the photograph from the Crimean War.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitpics are the first draft of history.

I see that.

I’m now just hoping for a peaceful outcome. And I’m hoping Manal is alright.

Pic: Twitpic http://twitpic.com/3whv3g

CASE STUDY: ‘I’m showing two colleagues Twitter. They say they don’t get it…’

It’s always good to show people Twitter when they don’t use it themselves.

Isn’t Twitter Stephen Fry talking about his tea? Isn’t it a load of noise? Isn’t it a waste of time?

I was sat with two people who don’t get Twitter.

Instead of explaining, I asked Twitter a question. It’s sometimes amazing the response you get.

I posted the following question:

Then several people started to chip in with what they thought.

@Mike_Rawlins posted something daft about #brewcamp. This is an event I’m looking to do with Mike and a few others.

Then @adrielhampton posted. It can amplify what matters to you. When I showed them his Twitter profile they started to get interested.

“He’s from America,” one said. “How do you know him?”

Through Twitter I told them.

“So who is Will Perrin?” they ask.

“Oh, he created the e-petition platform at 10 Downing Street. He does Talk About Local. They support hyperlocal blogs.”

I show them some hyperlocal sites they’ve not seen before.

I talk about Pits n Pots in Stoke-on-Trent and a few others.

We talked about how we could use the platform for the council.

Minutes passed.

I log back onto Twitter and there were a stack more replies waiting.

“Are they interested in anything?” one posted. “Find experts in that. Fast. Find their friends. Find themselves.”

It’s all good stuff.

Their faces change from confusion to awe.

“I’m starting to see the point now,” one said.

I show them hashtags. I show them how I can find out what’s happening at Stoke City, in local government and I show them the UK Govcamp hashtag #ukgc11.

I show them #xfactor because that’s a TV show that one likes.

I tell them that you can watch TV and get a real time running commentary on the programme you are watching via Twitter.

That gypsy wessing fly-on-the-wall programme they were talking about. I heard all that on Twitter and I hadn’t even got the telly on.

I navigate back to Twitter.

US people who specialise in emergency planning had started to contribute.

“Situational awareness, direct connectivity to public, better engagement,” one tweeted.

“Wow,” my colleague said.

One tweeter reminded me of the @savebenno campaign on Twitter.

What was that?

That was a campaign to highlight the unfair dismissal of a 2nd XI village cricket skipper.

It ended up with the team I was playing for playing a Save Benno XI.

“Wow,” my other colleague said.

“It’s starting to make sense now.”

LOCAL BY SOCIAL: What should Comms 2011 look like?

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 podcasts

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.

ICE INNOVATION: Ten case studies and ideas to innovate in the winter

Oh, the weather outside is frightful but the idea of doing cool things is always delightful.

Last year, the idea of tweeting when your gritters was going out was revolutionary.

Around half a dozen councils were leftfield enough to do it and the idea spread.

Public sector web standards organisation SOCITM picked up on it making it mainstream with their report for subscribers.

Is that enough?

Can we stand still now?

The fact is local government needs to innovate like never before.

Someone famous once said when you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.

So, where’s the innovation this year? Here’s some ideas and pointers on how straight forward they are…

1. MAP YOUR GRIT ROUTES

In the West Midlands, there’s some amazing innovation from mapping geeks.

Bright people from Mappa Mercia including the excellent Andy Mabbett last year built a grit map on Open Street Map to show grit routes in Birmingham. They dug out the routes from pdfs on the council website.

Now, they’re adding Solihull and Walsall too ready for the winter onslaught.


Birmingham City Council have linked to it from their transport pages and we at Walsall Council are tweeting it when the weather gets bad.

That’s a good example of working with a talented and community-minded online community.

Advantage: Community engagement.

Disadvantage: You need mapping geeks to be grit geeks too.

2. TWITTER GRITTER

Everytime you go out you tweet the fact. If you’re not doing it you should. It’s not enough to provide a service at 2am. You need to tell people. Why? Because they won’t know your council tax is being spent in such a way and they may well ring your harrassed staff at a time when they are thinly stretched.

It’s something I blogged about last year with a case study mapping more than 70 tweets.

Advantage: Community engagement. Cuts down unneccesary contact.

Disadvantage: You’ll need some kind of rota or it’ll all fall on one person’s shoulders.

3. YOUTUBE

A short clip to explain what the gritting service is all about. Shot on a Flip video It’s a good way of communicating what is being done.

Embedding the video in the service’s pages should be straight forward. Linking to YouTube and posting via Twitter and Facebook is easy. Tweet the link when you’re team are hitting the road

Advantage: Creates blog-friendly web 2.0 video content.

Disadvantage: You need a Flip video. The process isn’t instant.

4. MAP GRIT BIN LOCATIONS

Publish grit routes as open data? Why not.

But beware the perils of derived data that quicksand argument that means anything based on Ordnance Survey is mired in dispute.

Advantage: Publishing open data increases transparency

Disadvantages: It can’t be based on OS maps.

5 FACEBOOK

As local government Facebook sites mature and grow there’s more reason to post grit updates there too.

Drawbacks? Not all phones will allow you to post to fan pages and you may have to log on at a PC or a laptop.

Advantage: You reach the massive Facebook demographic.

Disadvantage: Your Facebook fanpage is harder to update than a profile.

6. LIVE TWEET

A trip around the borough in a gritter with a camera phone geo-tagging your tweets. It works as a one off and builds a direct connection.

At Walsall, we tweeted the testing of the gritters in a dry-run for winter including geotagged shots from the cab itself as it trundled around the streets.

Advantage: A service from a different perspective.

Disadvantage: Labour and time intensive.

7. TEXT AND EMAIL ALERTS

Sometimes we can be so struck by new gadgets that we can forget the platforms your Dad and mother-in-law have.

Simply speaking, there are more mobile phones in the UK than people.

Many councils are charged around 8p a text to issue an SMS. That’s a cost that has to be picked up from somewhere. But using the standard costs per enquiry of around £7 face-to-face and £5 over the phone the 8p charge starts to look viable.

Advantage: You can reach large numbers of people and cut down potentially on unavoidable contact.

Disadvantage: It costs.

8. BIG SOCIETY TWITTER GRITTER

Not every council has the resources to tweet its gritting. In Cumbria, the community of Alsthom high in the dales regularly gets cut off in the snow. Fed-up with the council response the town clubbed together to buy their own gritter.

Community and digital innovator John Popham floated the interesting idea of the community stepping in to tweet gritting activity. In effect, a Big Society Twitter Gritter It’s a fascinating idea, would share the burden and may fill the gap where a council doesn’t have the digital skills or the staff.

Advantage: If there are residents willing it’s a good partnership potentially.

Disadvantage: It’s dependent on volunteer power.

9. QR CODES

What are they? Funny square things that your mobile phone can identify and can download some information about. I don’t pretend to fully understand them and I’m not sure if they’ve reached a tipping point in society just yet. However, Sarah Lay of Derbyshire County Council is looking at adding QR codes to grit bins to allow people to report problems. It’s a fascinating idea that needs looking at.

Advantages: Tech-savvy citizens can use them to pinpoint problems.

Disadvantages: A format that is still finding traction amongst the rest of the population.

10. OPEN DATA

What can you publish as open data? Wrack your brains and consult the winter service plan. There’s grit routes themselves. There’s the amount of grit stockpiled. There’s the amount of grit spread day-by-day.

Advantage: Open data is good for transparency.

Disadvantages: Day-by-day updating could be tricky as engineers are snowed under. If you’ll forgive the pun.

Links:

Creative commons:

Walsall grit pile Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5087392858/

Four Seasons bridge http://www.flickr.com/photos/fourseasonsgarden/2340923499/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Twitter gritter Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5115786276/

Road m4tik http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/4259599913/sizes/o/in/photostream/

GROWING FLOWERS: 42 seeds for ideas for local government from Beyond 2010.

Some ideas take time to flower and bloom into a burst of radiant colour.

A good event gives you ideas that may come up with instant ideas but also ones that can take weeks and months to germinate.

Digital Birmingham‘s Beyond 2010 was one such event and hats off Birmingham City Council for organising.

Coming weeks after Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall it shows what a fine bunch of gardeners there are in the middle of the country.

Clay Shirky has a nice line about letting 1,000 flowers bloom when newspapers die.

Here are 49 seeds that I’m taking from the event and paraphrased in some cases. It’s new stuff I’ve come across or a reminder of a line of old stuff worth a re-telling.

John Suffolk, UK Government chief information officer:

  • Everybody realises technology is changing rapidly. No one individual is keeping pace with all of it.
  • A typical phone has enough power in 2010 to run a bank branch in 1980.
  • You have no choice but to change as government. Your citizens demand it.
  • It’s hard to turn off digital services once you turn them on.
  • You can’t predict the technology in three years. Look at the outcomes you want and accept some technology won’t be there.
  • Change the way we think. ‘We only do it this way’ is a barrier not a reason not to change.
  • At the moment 30 per cent are digitally unconnected in the UK. What does success look like? Single digit numbers in 10 years.
  • History says the less cash available the better analysis and decisions get made.
  • Look beyond the usual places. Africa is a world leader in phone banking. Why? People have mobile phones not PCs.

Richard Allan, Facebook head of policy for Europe:

  • You can remain anonymous but increasingly people want to do things in a social manner.
  • Social networks uses a distribution channel that goes through people. The fishing fan will share info about a fishing licence with his circle that will include fishermen. It comes endorsed from that person.
  • In the UK in October 2010 26m use a platform like Facebook. Half come back every day.
  • Data + people = new services.

Robert Bell, Intelligent Communities Forum founder:

  • Local government + business + third sector = transformed services.
  • The hardest thing to do in local government is to stop doing what isn’t working.
  • It’s easier to spot what’s wrong with new tech than what’s right. For example, the motor car was blamed for teens going off the rails.

Helen Milner, UK Online Centres managing director:

  • In the UK, 30.1 million people use the internet with 9.1 million using it every day.
  • Jobseekers who are online have 25 per cent more confidence they’ll find work compared to those not online.
  • It would save the taxpayer £900m if those who are not online got online and made one digital contact with government a month.
  • £38 is the cost of getting someone online and £88 is the saving in the first year if they acessed services from government online.
  • Don’t let the fact that not everyone is online from putting services online. You need to help people online.
  • Having broadband in the home will be a benefit of £276 a year.

Nigel Shadbolt, Government Open Data Panel advisor:

  • Mash-ups aren’t new. Cholera was proven to be a water supply problem by mapping deaths in a London community.
  • There are 4,200 data sets on data.gov.uk. You don’t know which one will be useful.
  • Some data may appear dull. It’s not at all to a handful of people.
  • Don’t presume to know what data people will want. Have a presumption to publish.
  • Don’t worry about misinterpretation. Newspapers have been doing that forever.

Kate Sahota, Warwickshire County Council:

  • An open data competition generated apps for free. The winner mashed up new book data, Amazon data and linked to the website that you could order a new book.

Stuart Harrison, Lichfield District Council:

  • Open data allows you to connect to a section of society you wouldn’t have previously connected with.

Will Perrin, Talk About Local and Local Data Panel advisor:

  • The internet is not magic. Twitter doesn’t change things. People do.
  • Allow the more junior younger people to do the innovating.

Dave Harte, hyperlocal blogger and Birmingham City University lecturer.

  • parkrun.com is a good example of Big Society. Runners organise a run every week. There’s been 3,000 events and 65,000 runners. They do it themselves.

Robert Harding, Kent County Council:

  • Most people get information from friends not local government.
  • Outside the chip shop was where youths hung out but now they tend to do it online.
  • Peer to peer is the secret. A few pounds of phone credit may help an older person to check if a friend is taking their medicine. Sending someone round will cost a lot more.
  • How does local government step aside to let people build social capital? They often know the solution themselves. Look at Alcoholics Anonymous.
  • It’s not more for less. It’s different for less.

Nick Booth, social media specialist.

  • Hands on Handsworth is an excellent blog that connects a neighbourhood officer to a community. It has 1,000 users a month.
  • Big City Plan Talk was built by bloggers angry that planners used planning speak on a consultation website you couldn’t comment on publicly. Around 300 comments were logged on the unofficial site – a quarter of all those made.
  • There are militant optimists in every organisation.
  • Tessy Britton’s book ‘Hand Made’ has more than a dozen stories of grassroots projects and is very good.

Karen Cheney, Birmingham City Council:

  • If you talk to people they’ll talk back.

Links:

Presentations from Beyond 2010 can be found here.

Creative commons:

Four flowers: Pink sherbert photography http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/5055630253/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Seeds: Vilseskogen http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/2675387853/sizes/l/in/photostream/

HYPER GO GO: John Peel and eight things to do after an unconference

John Peel once said Punk’s great lesson was that anyone could do it.

All you had to do was knock over a phone box, sell your motorbike and you had enough cash for a day in a studio and 500 7″ singles.

It’s those words that struck me after Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

Run on a shoestring, powered by enthusiasm, favours and goodwill it saw 70 people from across the local government, hyperlocal blogging and open data communities come together in Walsall.

It should never have got off the ground. Once off the ground it should have crashed. Several times. That it stayed airborne should make all those who came proud.

At an unconference there can be a massive surge of ideas powered by conversation and debate. It’s a chance to think and be creative.

All that’s great but is that it?

What’s next?

In the few days after the event, a new hyperlocal Pelsall Common People was started by Jayne Howarth, Dave Musson at Solihull Council started to do cool things with Facebook and the organisation I work for Walsall Council started to trial Yammer. That’s a tiny tip of a large iceberg.

Here’s eight things to do after an unconference.

1. Sit down in a darkened room. If it’s been any good your head is filled with ace ideas and you’ll need a good lie down.

2. Blog. It’s one of the best ways to get your head around an idea. Besides. Everyone loves a sharer.

3. Don’t be despondent. If the unconference has been really good you’ll experience mild depression three days later. It’s the ambition – reality axis. Don’t worry. See 4.

4. Do a small thing. Take out a Flickr account. Go and set-up a Posterous blog. You don’t have to add content just yet but you’ve feel a whole lot better.

5. Catch up. Read the blogs and presentations from sessions you couldn’t get to.

6. Stage an unconference yourself. No, really. Do. Find a few like minded people and do it yourself. They’re very rewarding.

7. Think of the phrase Just Flipping Do It. Write it on your pump bag if you like. JFDI It’s a good motto for life.

8. Think of it as training and not a jolly out of the office. Although if they serve cake it should be a fun experience.

I’ve long thought an unconference works short term and long term. It’s the ideas you can do straight away and it’s the slow burning suggestions that strike you 12 months down the line.

Do people have to wait for permission or someone else to create a bargovcamp?

Of course not. You can run one too. It would be hugely cool if from Hyperlocal Govcamp people were inspired to do it themselves.

To continue flogging the Punk analogy, when The Sex Pistols first played Manchester half the audience went out and formed bands. We got Joy Division, New Order, and The Buzzcocks. That we got Simply Red too shouldn’t be held against it.

For my money, and stay with me here, Localgovcamp in Birmingham was a local government equivalent of the Sex Pistols gig because a slew of inspirational things, events and projects came out of it.

Your unconference DIY toolkit

Dave Briggs’ guide to setting up an unconference we found indispensible.

Andy Mabbett said he’d blog on the things we learned and when he does I’ll insert the link [here].

There’ll also be a collection of resources from #hyperwm [here] very soon.

You can look at the images taken on the day at the #hyperwm Flickr group here.

John Popham points out here that an unconference is a cheap way of training in an era of austerity.

TWO TRIBES: What should the blogger – press officer relationship look like?

Jerry Springer built a TV career by making people in dysfunctional relationships sit down and talk to each other.

With burly minders flanking the stage Billie-Jo and her ex-lover Seth from an Arkansas trailer park would set-to in front of a studio audience.

Gripping stuff it was too, but you had this feeling nothing would change.

Two parties in a sometimes strained relationship came together at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

The session ‘What does a good blogger – press officer relationship look like?’ saw bloggers sit down with press officers.

For some, it was the first time they’d ever spoke to the other side.

Like a parish pump Relate, there were sometimes a few choice words. But unlike the warring couples on TV there was a growing appreciation of the points of view.

It’s a session that has been extensively covered.

Local government officer Simon Gray, who is not from communications, blogged brilliantly about the session here. When he said neither side appeared with full credit, he’s right.

He’s also dead right in calling on both sides to cut the other some slack.

Paul Bradshaw writing a guest post for Podnosh made some excellent points in how local government should make information easier to access.

Mike Rawlins, of Talk About Local, who also contributes to Pits N Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has written an excellent post from his perspective on this and dead badgers and does, as Simon suggests, cut some slack.

Paul Bradshaw wrote a good post from the session focussing on the call from bloggers to make information more easy to access.

Sasha Taylor has also blogged from the session from a police perspective.

Twelve months ago I wrote a blog post on how the blogger – press office relationship was a source of conflict.

The 10 points I wrote then I still stand by. The full post is here. The edited highlights are boiled down to this

FIVE THINGS A PRESS OFFICE CAN DO:

  1. Treat them as journalists.
  2. Put them on press release mailing lists.
  3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer.
  4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. Complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.
  5. Respect what bloggers do.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do you’ll find your voice getting heard far better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to check stories.
  3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.
  4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.
  5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists to save your life and potentially your house.

But listening to the both sides talk at the session, there’s also a few things a bright press officer can do.

1.  Create blog friendly content – A conventional press release is tailored for the print media. That’s not necessarily blog-friendly. A short film posted to YouTube or Vimeo is. A two minute film to explain with an interview the points made in the release would work.

2. Add pics as a matter of course – Even if it’s a stock pic. Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local made the point that there is a demand for images. They’re going to source a pic from Google images anyway. Why not provide a good one?

3. Judge when to respond – the excellent Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation re-purposed the US military’s flowchart of engagement with bloggers. It’s good advice when to engage and when to ignore the internet troll.

4. Build relationships – In print media you know you’ll get a better story about countryside placing it with a reporter who is passionate about green issues. So why not do it online too?

5. Put talking to bloggers in black and white. Make it a policy decision. Here’s one from Wolverhampton Homes to show you how.

6. Learn about open data. It’s not a geek topic anymore. It’s come into the mainstream and bloggers are at the forefront. Local data advisor and hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin has pointed out that press officers will need excel skills. Why? Because you’ll need to interrogate data sets just as you’ll need to leaf through council minutes.

Creative commons credits:

No papers today – Katmere http://www.flickr.com/photos/katmere/51065495/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Antique clippings – D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4799271086/


BAR CAMP: What’s this Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands?

Some of the best ideas are dreamt up in a pub or over tea and cake.

Many of those pearls just never get past the beermat scribble stage.

Once me and a mate had the idea for beeridea.com. This would have been a site to sanity test great pub ideas that may have emerged after pint number five.

It never got off the ground.

One wheeze that has got out of the pub is Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Staged at Walsall College on October 6 the aim is to be a half day unconference for local government with added flavour.

It’s followed by an uncurry. And beer, naturally.

Who is behind it? some bright people from local government and hyperlocal blogging. Namely, Simon Whitehouse of Digital Birmingham, Stuart Harrison of Lichfield Council, Andy Mabbett of Birmingham City Council and Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local. And me.

What’s the added flavour?

Two things: first, hyperlocal bloggers. These are either an important emerging news platform or untrained citizen journalists playing fast and loose with the law. Depends who you talk to.

The second? The open data movement. Once dismissed as box bedroom anoraks they are now slowly making an impact. In time this will be massive, I’m convinced of this.

For me, in Autumn 2010 Local government people, hyperlocal bloggers and open data geeks are at three points of the same Venn diagram.

It doesn’t make any sense to stage an event that doesn’t incorporate those elements.

The trick, if we can achieve it, is getting the three elements to talk and understand more.

Why a half day? We thought it interesting to see if the unconference format could fit into the day job. Events on a Saturday have worked well in the past but they attract the deeply committed. Would a mid-week event expose the 9 to 5-ers to inspiring ideas?

What is an unconference? It’s an informal conference that allows the agenda to be chosen on the day. I’ve lost count of the number of people who look back at Localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2009 as being a major source of inspiration.

Why Walsall? We’re from the West Midlands and the thinking was it may be good to do something in one of the Black Country boroughs. It’s also a town that does some surprsingly good things online.

Why Walsall College? Because they’re very nice people and they’ve got a Star Trek-esque 100 meg broadband.

Who are the nice sponsors who are allowing this to happen? Big hand for Public Sector Forum, Jadu CMS and Local Government Improvement and Delivery (formerly IdEA). Also very supportive have been: Replenish New Media, Talk About Local, Vicky Sargent at Boilerhouse, SOCITM, Walsall Council, Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Council and Lichfield Council. And Russell at Walsall College.

What resources are there?

Here is the eventbrite: Ticket info and sponsors.

Here is the Google map: Where it is and where to park.

Here is the govcamp discussion page Right here.

What is an unconference? This is what wikipedia says.

How to run a govcamp The Dave Briggs guide

Yes, but what does an unconference actually look like? Here is localgovcamp in Birmingham.

Here are a couple of places to go in Walsall if you’ve never been before. New Art Gallery Walsall and the Leather Museum (it’s right next to the venue. The cake is very good.)

Creative commons credits:

Logo: James Clarke of Replenish New Media

Walsall College: Dan Slee

Andy Mabbett and Dave Briggs: Jamie Garner

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