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.
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.
You know the good thing about listening to different voices? Sometimes you get a different perspective.
That’s certainly true of Adrian Short, a web developer, who has written two excellent posts that comms people really do need to read. The first How to Fix Council News you can read here. It deals with a frustration that very few councils do council news on the web terribly well.
At best it’s a cut and pasted press release.
The second piece from Adrian is a 12 commandments for council news. It’s good thought provoking stuff and like the first post I don’t agree with all of it there’s enough there to think and reflect about.
Here are a few extracts:
Too long, too dull and far too pleased with itself. Little more than an exercise in vanity publishing. Irrelevant to the vast majority of people.
What’s this? 400 words on a benefit fraud case that didn’t even result in a prison sentence, complete with lengthy quotations from the magistrate and the lead councillor.
Now here’s 700 words on an upgrade to the council’s IT system that won’t be noticed by a single resident.
Sadly this useful information is presented, like the rest, in a turgid press release style. Residents are asked to plough through a huge slab of words that’s hard to scan for the essential details. The text is laden with contrived quotations from people no-one knows that rarely do anything more than state the obvious. It finishes without a call to action. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers at all.
There’s more points in the second blog post of commandments:
News is for residents. Press releases are for journalists. Thou shalt mark the distinction and honour it in all thy labours.
Thy reader is not an Editor and does not require his Notes. Likewise, his news shalt end when it ends, not when he espies “ENDS”.
Every comms person should read this stuff. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it’ll make you think.
What is true is that council news is often steeped in the traditions of print. Many press officers a drawn from newspapers which makes sense as for decades newspapers and the council newsletter have been a prime source of information. The press release is tailored for the newspaper. It has a snappy intro, a quote from the relevant elected member and notes for editors. For newspapers it works. For the web, less so.
What’s needed is one approach for print, a different approach for the web and a different approach for each social media platform.
News is print + web + social media. Each of these needs a different voice.
Trying to bolt one format onto each of those doesn’t work.
So, how long before someone gets hired for their Twitter skills alone rather than their ability to write a press release?
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?
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.
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 Facebookprofile. 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.
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.
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.
Newlands Valley, Lake District, UK: Dan Slee.
Wordsworth: Creative commons courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
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?