SOCIAL NATION: Further adventures with 24-hour Twitter

Like a wild flower seed a good idea can take root in unexpected places, grow and get better.

One such idea is the idea of using Twitter to tweet in real time what local government is up to.

Starting with snow, ice and grit alerts in 2009 the approach went stellar in 2010 when Greater Manchester Police tweeted calls it recieved.

As a local government approach, Walsall 24 saw a 24 hour snapshot of what local government does from crossing patrols, complaints about rats as big as badgers to missing people reported to social care staff at 1am.

As proud as I am to be involved with that project, we always hoped that a little further down the track that idea would be eclipsed by something far more impressive.

Go, Scotland!

With practically the whole of Scottish local government coming together to live tweet what it does that moment looks to arrived. And then some.

A total of 28 of 32 local councils in Scotland are taking part from noon on Tuesday September 27. You can read about it here.

It’s a fantastic achievement just to reach the start line and yet to me this is no surprise. There are some hugely talented people in Scotland. I met some of them on a trip to an LG Comms seminar in Dalkeith  near Edinburgh earlier this year.

I’m looking forward to meeting many of them again at the Public Sector Network event in Glasgow on Wednesday September 28.

It’ll be good to see how the Scottish Twitter 24 event develops. That hashtag for that is #whatwedo.

Go, Bracknell!

It’s also brilliant to see Bracknell Forest Council in Southern England look to stage a 24 hour event using 140 character updates. On Monday September 26 using the hashtag #yourbfc for Your Bracknell Forest Council. The single council approach definitely still works and the benefits both internally and for Bracknell residents in knowing more about what their council does will be worth it. You can read more here.

Should real time Twitter only be used on large scale 24 hour events? Hell, no although there’s a place for it. I’m convinced the approach can work on a smaller level and become part of the comms mix routinely. In other words, it can become something that’s part of everyday use.

For example, if you’re looking to explain a new traffic scheme, yes write the press release but also walk the route with the engineers, tweet in real time and take pictures or video footage to help explain the project.

Curating and storing 

The one thing I’d always suggest would be to find a way to store and preserve some of the content.

There was some recent research that showed the lifespan of a tweet to be three hours. Something like Storify can preserve what you’ve produced as well as allowing non-Twitter users to see what you’re up to. This is a Storify from Walsall 100.

Some other useful linked social events

Water Aid 24 Saw a water charity span the globe from Australia to Zambia over a 24 hour period to tweet from the frontline as well as from its support centres. It’s something I blogged about before. The press release is here. The piece in Brand Republic is here.

Shropshire 360 Saw Shropshire County Council tweet over the course of a week focussing on different areas of what it does every day. Press release.

Walsall 100 Saw West Midlands Police join with Walsall Council and public sector partners to tweet on topics over a seven day period. This covered a police initiative against errant drivers to a Q&A with regeneration staff LGC Plus, council web page, blog on the aims, council website, residents’ local history blog,

Mole Vale District Council during #molevalley15 became the first district council to use the linked social approach and tweeted day-to-day tasks. They reached 3,000 people against a following list of 300: Press release.

RSPCA the animal charity staged a 24 hour Twitter #rspca247 event to highlight the day-to-day tasks it does. Sky News.

Tameside Council. 24 hour Twitter in June 2011 focussing on day-to-day tasks. Council press release,  Manchester Evening News, The Guardian.

EMERGENCY COMMS: ‘Whatever you do, put social media in your emergency plan.’

Fire, storm, pestilence or just a burst water main, in an emergency local government can swing into action.

In the UK it’s known as emergency planning and in the US emergency management. Whichever part of the world you are in it’s the part of the public sector that has plans for every eventuality.

For a comms person, it’s often only when there’s a problem you’ll speak to the emergency planners. Don’t let that happe  n. Make a pact with yourself.  Go and speak to them as soon as you can and sort out what to do with social media. Here is why.

At localgovcamp in Birmingham this year Ben Proctor, who runs the Like A Word consultancy, ran an excellent session on emergency planning and the social web. It’s something he writes about well too. His blog is well worth a look.

Catherine Howe, who does things with Public I, made the closing but clear point: “Whatever you do put social media in your emergency plan.”

Of course, I reflected smugly, my council has. There’s 3,000 people following the our corporate Twitter stream. What could go wrong?

Overnight there had been a minor incident that I’d missed on my Blackberry which had ran flat. Thankfully, it wasn’t more serious. But it showed very clearly where we’re blindsided.

If only comms people have the keys to the Facebook and Twitter things can easily fall down. What’s the answer? Go to where the audience is. Give them access to the corporate account. They’re generally very sensible people and know what to say. If the situation develops you can always step in.

So, what sort of role does social media play in an emergency?

In a true disaster the web falls down before SMS. But people are instinctively running to it.

A tornado in Joplin – In in the Mid West US town when a milewide tornado struck, the community rallied by building their own space on the web. At first this was to search for missing people and then as the disaster turned to recovery it charted that phase too. The moral? People have the tools like this or this community Facebook page to build things for themselves. They’re not waiting for the council to do it. They just will.


The EDL in Birmingham – When the far right English Defence League first rallied they used Twitter to spread misinformation. The police monitored by were powerless.  Third time they came they had an officer monitoring Twitter, Mark Payne checking each claim and then re-butting within minutes point by point.

Facebook in Queensland – When floods struck 3,000 comments a day were posted on the Queensland Police site. It took a 24-hour effort to monitor, explain and rebuff wild rumour.

The report into the Queendsland event singled out social media as part of a range of channels to take action with. Ben Proctor has blogged on it here. A key finding is to talk, prepare and practice. That’s as just as much relevant to comms people as anyone.

An interim report into the Queensland flood made a series of comments and recommendations. On social media it stated:

“As it may be possible for the public to post information directly to an official social media site there are concerns that a member of the public may post false information. For example, inaccurate information was posted on the Western Downs Regional Facebook page. However, where there are enough staff to monitor content social media can be a useful tool to respond to rumours in the community.”

Seven things comms people need to know

1. Share the keys – Give emergency planning an awareness of what social media is, encourage them to monitor and respond and give them the keys to the corporate feeds.

2. You can’t control the message – As if the main message of our times is needed to be repeated.

3. There’s a shorter turn around time to respond – Speed may be of the essence.

4. It’s not just about social media – It’s one channel of several. Important and growing but don’t think that everyone will be on Facebook.

5. It’s good for combating rumours – As a comms person that can save yourself time.

6. Journalists will follow and like – You can save time and effort by creating channels of communications.

7. If the balloon goes up it’ll take resources – Social media is free is a bit of a myth. The platform is free. The time spent to manage it, listen and update isn’t. The lessons of Queensland are that it can take up resources. But you do get valuable return on investment for doing so. Regular monitoring when there is a crisis is absolutely critical. Don’t link to a press release and forget about it.

Creative commons

Fire http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5075758029/sizes/m/in/photostream/

SOCIAL TOWN: Using social media to tell a town centre’s story

With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.

With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.

We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.

It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.

In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.

All these factors make up the life of a town centre.

In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.

There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.

It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.

What are the channels?

We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.

The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.

It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.

How can you follow it?

You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.

@walsallcouncil from the council.

@walsallpolice from the town’s police force.

@walsalltown from the town centre management team.

There’s also historic updates from @walsalllhcentre.

There’s a web page on it to tell you all about it here.

Why more than one organisation?

Because what happens in an area isn’t just down to one. It’s down to several.

Why use social media?

Because it’s a good platform to communicate and listen.

What will it look like?

If you’ve seen Walsall 24, that was a barrage of information in real time. This is slightly different. There may be a background noise of tweets with more focussed on events this time.

For example, We’re live tweeting a pubwatch meeting, a day on the market and a Friday night with the police on patrol. All this is part of what makes a town centre tick.

What else?

There’s a Peregrine Watch staged by countryside officers, RSPB Walsall and the West Midlands Bird Club, a walk in the Arboretum and other things.

There will also be a chance to ask questions with Q&A sessions.

The full list is here.

Why seven days?

To show all parts of the town centre from Saturday morning shopping to a Friday night on the town to a regular weekday morning.

This is what linked social is about. It’s a range of voices from a range of places with input from residents and shoppers too.

Will there be resources from it?

With Twitter being the live action, we’ll look to pull together Match of the Day-style  highlights with storify.com.

Hats off to the following for their role: Kate Goodall, Jon Burnett, Jo Hunt, Gina Lycett, Darren Caveney, Morgan Bowers, Helen Kindon, Kevin Clements and Stuart Williams.

Pictures:

Peregrine Falcon on Tameway Tower http://yfrog.com/hs90k9j

Walsall images from my Flickr stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/

SOCIAL NEWTWORKING: A case study on how to use social media to promote countryside

Some things work better on social media than others.

Parking wardens and council tax collectors struggle.

Libraries, parks and countryside can work brilliantly. Why? Because people love them.

There’s several good librarians using social media. Not least the excellent @orkneylibrary.

But  there isn’t many examples of good countryside and park use I’ve seen.

Until now that is.

Countryside ranger Morgan Bowers  is doing some truly great things at Walsall Council. She works for the same authority as I do. But I’d be saying it whichever authority she was working for.

Morgan has set up @walsallwildlife on Twitter and tweets as an real person.

She is leading a team of volunteers recording wildlife across Walsall.   I don’t get newts. But her enthusiasm for her subject I do get.

She tweets about her subject and celebrates a newt find in the same way a football supporter celebrate a 93rd minute winner.

She also talks to people. How refreshing is that?

Rather wonderfully, it works across several platforms. She has also set-up a Facebook page to share her work and also has a lively Flickr stream.

All three are really good examples on how to use each platform. Morgan isn’t alone in Walsall Council’s countryside team in using social media.

Countryside manager Kevin Clements is gradually taking a more active role with Twitter too as @countrysidekev.

Their approach is similar in many ways to @hotelalpha9, the tweeting police officer in North Yorkshire.

A personal face and real time updates that are conservational. It’s a blend that seems to work.

Often, people who work in the public sector think their day-to-day job isn’t that interesting to people.

The fact is any job that you don’t do yourself is interesting to people.  And in 2011, in the public sector why not fly the flag for what you are doing?

Here’s why I think this approach works:

Twitter

A human voice helps put a human face on an organisation.

A niche Twitter stream can appeal to a cross-section of the population.

Responding and listening are good things for an organisation to do. It can drive traffic to other web pages.

It can work in real time.

Facebook

It can connect with people who use Facebook and no other network.

Because half the population are on Facebook in the UK.

It’s good to post pictures here as people can connect with a strong images

Flickr

It’s a good way to showcase images and connect with a wider community. Remember, there’s five billion images on Flickr.

It’s a good way to keep a record of images of what a project has discovered.

It  can can act as a bulletin board to the group and a wider community.

It’s a good way to map the changing of the seasons in an accessible way.

There are a few things that can work in parks and countryside and it’s fascinating to watch innovation in a corner of local government that people have a real connection with.

Pic credits: (c) Morgan Bowers.

CASE STUDIES: The place of social media in the marketing mix

Traditional comms is as dead as the boozy lunch with the Town Hall reporter.

Back in the old days a few beers with the right person may have been enough.

Not in 2011 it isn’t.

Not just because that reporter may now be based in an industrial estate 20 miles away.

The changing face of communications is something I’ve blogged about before.

There’s a whole list of things a press officer needs to do.

For some nice people at LG Comms Scotland I distilled much of this thinking into a presentation.

At their seminar in Dalkeith it was good to see people realising times have changed.

There were some excellent resources posted afterwards to the Communities of Practice site – log in is required.

Here’s my presentation too.

Basically, it covers the following ground:

  • Basic principles – What is social media? How does it work. Some basics.
  • Creating your media map – to see how things have changed on your patch. So you can work out where to put your resources. Not least a cunning way to get stats from Facebook.
  • Some case studies – What works in Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare and Facebook.

It’s not about abandoning the traditional approach that puts print journalists first. More it’s a long overdue re-calibration.

Social media should be part of everything that we do and the last thing it should be is an obstacle.

Or a bit scary.

It should be part of everything that we do.

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

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.”

TWELVE STEPS: Twelve lessons for using Twitter in local government


It’s now not why local government uses Twitter but how.

More than a hundred UK councils are on the micro-blogging platform.
That’s progress.

Since late 2008 we’ve been using Twitter at Walsall Council to inform and engage.

We’re fortunate our head of communications Darren Caveney and head of press and PR Kim Neville were quick to spot the potential.

More than 6,000 tweets on and there are a series of lessons we’ve learned.

In one of the first blogs I ever wrote I talked of the 27 things that work on a local government Twitter stream.

For a presentation at LG Comms in Nottingham I boiled that down to 12 key lessons.

The slides are available on slideshare (click the link above).

#12 LESSONS FOR USING TWITTER IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

#1: Realise that the landscape has changed (and your skills need to too.) You know that a few years ago that writing a press release and booking a photo call was enough? That’s still a great skill. But you need other things too.

#2: The channels of communication have changed. In the old days there was the newspapers. Maybe the radio. Every now and then TV would show up and it would be a really big thing. They’re still there. In some cases just or not at all. It’s just that people get their news in different ways now. Remember, Facebook is the fourth biggest news site on the internet.

#3: Learn the language of the platform first (by messing about with it yourself.) When you start to use Twitter – or any other platform – you’ll notice that there is a different way of talking to people. It’s a lot more relaxed and conversational. Get to know how things work under your own name. Once you build some confidence up you’ll be up to speed on how to use it for your organisation.

#4: You can’t control the message. It’s a big one for press officers this. In the old days there may have been key messages. There’s still things you want to say. Just realise that this stuff works as a conversation. So be conversational.

#5: It’s okay to be a human voice. What works best on Twitter is a relaxed tone. It’s not about linking to an RSS feed and tweeting the first 140 characters of a press release. That’s just shouting. A police officer once told me that as a beat officer he would start conversations with people. Then he’d slip in some information he thought may be of help. That’s what Twitter does. It’s probably why many police officers are very good at it.

#6: Link. Share. Retweet. Be web 2.0. It’s okay to retweet. So long as it’s third sector or public sector. Spotted a police witness appeal on Twitter? Link to it. Charity car wash in your borough? Link. Share. Earn social capital. Be a responsible council. Share interesting content.

#7: Take the argument offline. It’s never a good idea to have a row in public. Point people to the place where they can get information that can help. Most non-trolls are fine with this.

#8: Take the re-buttal online. Is your local paper circulating via Twitter a link you have a major issue with? Have they failed to include your statement adequately? Post the statement online. Link to it. Tweet it to them – and your followers.

#9: Service areas work well on Twitter (so be prepared to share). It’s fine for comms to use it. Others can too. There’s no-one better at knowing what’s popular with libraries than librarians. So if your library want to use it, let them. Give them some pointers first.

#10: Have a simple to understand social media policy. A hundred pages won’t work. Something that fits into a screen does. Make it simple.

#11:  Make sure it connects with other channels of communications. Write the press release. Send it. But also send it via your other channels too.

#12: Cut, past and send your positive feedback to off-line officers. It’s amazing how effective this is at breaking down barriers to social media. If you are doing something residents approve of they will thank you for it.

Hat tip: Nick Booth who first told us about Twitter and what it could do.

TRUE GRIT: A localgov winter social media case study

Every mile is two in winter, the Elizabethan poet George Herbert wisely said.

True words then and true today and he never had to drive a Vauxhall Astra on the M6 in minus five degree weather.

In local government its worth going the extra mile in wintry weather.

Get things right in sub zero weather and you’re laughing.

Get it wrong and you’re not. Just ask the Scottish transport minister who resigned after scathing criticism.

For the past two weeks Walsall Council – the council I work for –  has been using social media as a key way to keep people updated on wintry weather.

It’s not the first time. Last year, we were one of a small number to use social media. We used Twitter to flag up gritting and service disruption.

This time, we expanded a touch. During the icy period of November 26 to December 11 2010 we used the council website, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

What did we do this year?

Staff were primed to email the communications unit, members of the team by 8am every day as well as individuals. When the gritters went out the engineers e-mailed and even called to flag up what they were up to.

Council website www.walsall.gov.uk

With new digital channels taking all the attention you’d be forgiven for overlooking your website. Don’t. It’s where a lot of your content can go.

We used one page on the website as a links directory to more than half a dozen potential service areas so people didn’t have to search around the website.

It’s where most people will go first.

Twitter @walsallcouncil

Stats: 2,200 followers (a five per cent rise in two weeks)

261 tweets at almost 19 a day.

Content: Updates on gritting, school closures, service disruption.
Links to council gritting pages, school closure page organised by education provider Serco.

Links to winter shots taken by residents and posted on Twitpic and Flickr.

Links to BBC weather.

Link to the @mappamercia grit map.

Did we RT?: Of course. Social media is supposed to be social. We retweeted the Met Office weather forecasts, neighbouring authority grit updates and advice on

Facebook: Our Walsall fan page

Stats: 345 likes (up 10 per cent in two weeks)

Daily post views up 3,105 or 82 per cent.

Updates: 27

Each status update received between 159 and 783 page impressions.

Content: Three to four updates a day with links to a general page.

Flickr and Twitpic

Stats: 6 pics posted on Flickr and 12 pics crowdsourced and retweeted on Twitter to provide content from residents themselves. Shots varied from the amateur twitpic to the almost professional here.

A set of pics were posted of the gritters in action at a training event in late autumn designed to test out the routes. These were posted to Flickr but the best pics came from residents themselves. In the spirit of web 2.0 we posted links to good shots.

One pic was crowdsourced for the council website header shot.

Content: snowy scenes taken by residents as well as shots of gritters posted by the press office.

Open data

It’s one of the great jobs of this winter to see a mapping project really take off in Walsall. The Mappa Mercia group are people I’ce blogged about previously. Last winter they drew-up a grit map on open street map for Birmingham. You can take a look here. They spotted the grit routes for Walsall and Solihull too and quietly added them. So, when winter came we were quite happy to link to their map. It shows residents spotting a need and doing it themselves.

Content: grit routes.

EIGHT things we’d suggest:

  • Get service areas to tell you what they are doing.
  • Communicate to residents in good time.
  • Monitor, respond and communicate every four hours. Have a rota to do this.
  • Put the same message across different channels. But in the language of the platform. Don’t RSS it across everything. It won’t work.
  • You can crowdsource good picture content.
  • Have an idea what the frequently asked questions are and think about the answers before you are asked.
  • Take a screen shot of the positive and negative comments from Facebook and Twitter. It gives the service areas an idea of what is being said if you email it to them. The positive stuff will go down very well and make them more supportive of what you are doing.
  • You can reply to negative comments. But if people swear or are sarcastic think twice. You may not have a constructive conversation.

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/

%d bloggers like this: