SOCIAL SURGERY: Building the Art of Good Listening

“Oh, so it wasn’t actually local government that won a prize for Social Media Surgeries?

“That’s a shame isn’t it?”

That’s more or less what someone from a local government organisation said to me. They weren’t really listening and it got me thinking.

What’s a social media surgery? It’s volunteers with digital know how being put together in a room with voluntary groups and charities who would like to know.

It’s about giving a voice to groups who really need a voice.

It’s an idea that emerged three or four years ago from the vibrant community of Birmingham bloggers.

Nick Booth of Podnosh has turned that idea into something truly remarkable that has outgrown the West Midlands (disclaimer: I just think Nick is great.)

Podnosh won a Big Society award for the project hence the conversation I start this blog with.

I’ve helped out at a handful social media surgeries. Not as many as I would have liked. But enough to know why people do it and enough to be applauding wildly those who truly deserve the award.

Is it sad local government didnt win this?

Not at all. Because this isn’t a local government idea. It’s a community one.

But it also got me thinking about local government’s role.

A lot of the early volunteers come from local government. Birmingham City Council’s Digital Birmingham arm recognised it’s worth quite early on and helped get volunteers, for example.

At the last Walsall Social Media surgeries, which is one of more than 80 registered, the majority of surgeons happened to be from local government too.

That’s more a yardstick of there being decent people at councils rather than some strategic thing.

But social media surgeries, from what I see, are built on far more than volunteers from local government and I wouldn’t want to overstate their role.

Social media is transforming council communications. Gritting updates now come via Twitter. Libraries have Facebook pages.

But local government is founded in Victorian Britain and can still act like it at times. Even the best Twitter stream unplugged into officers who don’t want to listen will ultimately fail.

Just recently, I’ve helped start a Facebook page to help regeneration officers understand how they can make Walsall a town where creative people will live and work.

It’s called ‘Can We Make Walsall A More Creative Place?’

It won’t change the world, but I’m gobsmacked at how if you plug into networks and listen they’ll crackle with electricity and they’ll tell you things. I’m a bit excited at how its playing out.

Just recently I spent a really inspiring hour or so at Shropshire Council with Nigel Bishop, Jon King and others. Part of what they are doing is looking at how to embed social media in every corner of the council and at every step of the way. Not just as the end stuck on as a megaphone to tell people. Jon writes about it here. In short, they’re after better listening as well as communicating. That’s quietly brilliant.

So, what can local government really get out of what’s built at social media surgeries?

They can be places to help build good listening.

That strikes me as being very important.

LINKS:

Andy Mabbett on Social Media Surgeries

Social Media Surgery Plus

10 Downing Street: The Social Media Surgery is the latest Big Society award winner

CREATIVE COMMONS CREDIT:

Chris and Mary http://www.flickr.com/photos/podnosh/3529022026/

Laughing at Dudley Social Media Surgery http://www.flickr.com/photos/gavinwray/5921616904/sizes/l/in/photostream/

PHOTO SHOP: How Flickr made a difference to an empty shop

Sometimes good things come to those who wait.

Worth waiting for has been an informal project between the Walsall Flickr group and Walsall Council.

Faced with an empty Tesco supermarket in the centre of town a debate was started on how to fill it.

A chance comment from a Flickr member Lee Jordan made some time ago came to the fore. He is @reelgonekid on Twitter.

Wouldn’t it be great, he said, some time before if shots of Walsall taken and posted to Flickr were displayed in an empty shop window?

Wouldn’t that be better than having an empty shop?

So, that’s just what we did.

Walsall Council’s regeneration town centre team have Jon Burnett working to improvce the town centre. He came up with the funding and picked up the ball. The landlord was agreeable. Jon helps run @walsalltown on Twitter, by the way.

I helped Jon ask the wider Walsall Flickr group if they’d like to take part and were pleasantly surprised at the response. You can see the original conversation thread here.

More than half  a dozen members submitted more than 30 shots and our print and design team who then pulled together a design with some town centre information.

We added a picture credit and a link back to the photographer’s Flickr stream. That was important.

There’s plans to redevelop the site and Primark and The Co-Operative are lined up to move in some months down the track.

When that happens the vinyl images will be taken down. But until then bright, creative people of Walsall have a chance to celebrate their work and their town.

According to a Local Data Company report there are more than 28,000 empty shops. That’s about 14 per cent of all the 202,000 shops in England, Scotland and Wales.

This isn’t an answer to all any town centre’s problems. It’s just a good thing to do to ask local people to display their work and brighten up empty shops.

LINKS

A slide show of the Walsall town centre Flickr window by Stuart Williams can be seen here.

Lee Jordan, whose inital idea it was, took a set of pics including this one.

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