#COMMSCAMP14: Did That Really Just Happen?

14421903699_6fd42b66a6_kA couple of days have now passed since the rather glorious Monday in July that was commscamp.

First thought is ‘did that really just happen?’ and second is ‘how the hell do I process all that information?’

The answer to the first is ‘yes’ and to the second: ‘with a bit of time and space, if that’s okay?’

This isn’t going to be your traditional list of things I learned at an event post but rather a quick chance to chuck up a few paragraphs after a bit of time has passed. There will be a proper ‘thank you’ post in the next couple of days and there’s a load of people to thank.

It isn’t just about eating cake. But cake is a trojan horse that disarms people. How serious can you be when discussing the merits of Victoria sponge as an introduction?

There is value in an unconference. I’ve said repeatedly, that I started to think differently after the first unconference I went to. That was localgovcamp in 2009 a rather seminal moment for myself and a whole load of other people too. There’s something in the format that allows people who don’t get the chance to have a voice and that’s really powerful.

There’s a cycle in event organising that runs from having a great idea, then starting the ball rolling and then doing the work, then wondering if this thing will work, then realising that it will and then repeating. If someone came to commscamp and is a bit inspired to run something the advice is to do it.

Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation… is the thing that’s going to either save pr and communications or kill it. And there’s a blog post brewing about what you can do and how to do it. If you evaluate you can show your worth and show how you are making a difference. Without it you are an expensive luxury that people think that they can do without and let’s face it, if you are not telling your story, who can blame them? Forget the new shiny channel for a second. Think of the fundamentals and spend time on this. It’ll save your life.

If you think that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn are the last word in social media you’re dead wrong. One of the conclusions of the IEWM survey was that local government in the West Midlands isn’t touching Whats App and Snapchat. 14586772736_3317557b05_kStats would tell you that it would be a good idea if we all did. The web keeps moving. But the lessons pioneers learned in the foothills of 2008 when convincing places to use things like Facebook are lessons that will see us all through.

The thing that makes me smile is people with light bulbs going on above their heads. It’s the thing that makes my day worthwhile now comms2point0 is a company. Going somewhere and training and then seeing someone’s face when they realise how powerful the web is and how they can use it. It’s brilliant. I think at commscamp there were people with light bulbs popping all over the shop and that for me is brilliant.

There’s never enough time to blog and I’ve counted five I’d like to tackle in the next few days. Why blog? Because it’s working things out that lets me go back and look at the workings out a bit later down the track.

Thank you for helping make commscamp a success. There really are some great people out there.

Creative commons credits

@Blangry eating cake: https://flic.kr/p/nYq2w4 by Ann Kempster

Two people talking: https://flic.kr/p/odZ2kE by Leah Lockhart


SOCIAL VOICE: Corporate Criticism Shouldn’t Be Taken Personally

136999986_e410a68efb_oThere’s a thing about people who put their heart and soul into making a social media account work.

They go the extra mile, they’re pushing at the margins and they take a real sense of pride about what they are doing.

But there’s also something that connects them whether profile they are running whether that’s a town centre Facebook, a corporatel Twitter or an NHS Trust YouTube channel.

Because they put heart and soul into what they do their skin is that bin thinner when they face criticism of the organisation or service they front-up online.

Is it aimed at me? It feels like it… 

“I used to go onto our social channel in the evening and answer questions,” one said to me recently. “I don’t bother now. When I’ve spent all day being told that I’m rubbish and the service we provide is dreadful I’m worn down. I just don’t want it in the evening as well.”

Of course, that person isn’t rubbish and the person making the complaint isn’t singling out that individual. They just happen to be the person operating the place where people can make a voice heard.

It’s a feeling I can relate to. A one-off project I helped run went well but the numbers we produced were lambasted by a lone voice in the early hours of the morning and that made me far more angry than it probably should.

That’s not to say that there should be no criticism or even that it’s always, always unwelcome.

We should just acknowledge that when a half brick comes flying towards an organisation’s social media it’s not meant for you but the organisation you work for. It’s rarely personal.

Creative commons credit
Dandelion https://www.flickr.com/photos/51194339@N00/136999986/

#LOCALGOVCAMP: And where are we now?

3656735854_b2c629e54f_o

A good thing is about to happen.  Localgovcamp is taking place in Birmingham.

Local what?

Localgovcamp. It first happened in 2009 and has happened sporadically since.

You put more than 100 people in a room and you let them to set the agenda about what’s discussed. Ideas, connection and inspiration emerge and  ideas, magpie others and make connections.

For one day job titles are left at the door and everyone has a say in working out how the internets plus people and enthusiasm can make a difference. I learned more about the social web in its early days from people who went to localgovcamp than I did from anyone from PR.

So much has happened…

The first one made me think differently. It was a Road to Damascus moment. I realised my view counted and that the future was going to be digital. We could see the future and that we could shape it.

But not all for the good…

And yet change hasn’t happened as quickly as it needs to. Some of those early travellers have fallen by the wayside gone but not forgotten. The revolution didn’t happen overnight and austerity has stopped much innovation in its tracks. Yet the pace needs to pick up. Change in a sector shouldn’t be left to enthusiasts doing things in their spare time.

And the trajectory is onwards….

Some bright people are doing good work in part because of the freedom of thought and network attending a govcamp has brought. The Localgovdigital group is one of those heading forward though not nearly as fast and with none of the resources the sector needs.

And a bunch of freelancers emerged…

A long while back talking to Al Smith on Twitter I tried to guess how many from the first event had left local government. A while later using the orginal eventbrite and LinkedIn I worked it out.

118 went.

28 were from local government itself.

Of the 28 from local government 13 have left and 8 now run their own businesses. I’m one of them.

The Google doc with the attendees from localgovcamp 2009 and what they are doing is here.

I used to think unconferences like localgovcamp would change the world. I was wrong. Not on their own they don’t. They can provide the ideas and inspiration. But it’s the action that counts. Yet, if they do things like this they must carry on…


PODCAST: My Podcasting Guest Debut With Dave Briggs

4693366430_48c3e2fdf0_bA good podcast educates, informs and leaves you wanting more and I don’t listen to anywhere near enough of them.

I’m delighted to say that the excellent Dave Briggs has started a podcast where he talks to someone about what they’ve been doing that week and talks to them about some links they may have come across.

Dave has done some fantastic work understanding how the internet and the social web can work in government and local government and he continues to do great work most recently looking at how digital skills can benefit the workplace through his worksmart project.

I’m even more delighted to say that Dave asked me to be a guest on the first podcast he recorded and we spent an engaging 45-minutes talking.

You can hear the podcast here:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/davebriggs/ep1-danslee.mp3

We spoke about quite a few things including failure and the benefits of failure, the content14 event in Cardiff, Pete Ashton, infographics, Helen Reynolds and ChannelShiftCamp North.

The full links and show notes can be found on Dave’s blog here.

It promises to be an interesting series with more guests and I’d urge you to pay attention.

Creative commons credit

Dave Briggs https://flic.kr/p/89JJjS


PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.

So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.

A)      Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B)      Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C)       Tell people that this is what cuts look like.

All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?

What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means

You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?

Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?

What telling people that they’ve had their chance means

You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?

What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like

In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.

But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.

A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.

Creative commons credit 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/


FAIL FORWARD: Don’t Fear Failure – blog and slideshare

IMAG0519It’s such a damning word isn’t it, failure? It’s the bowler hatted man falling on a banana skin or the wrongly sent tweet that leaves us falling about LOL-ing.

But the truth is, failure is beautiful. From failure we learn and we can do a better job. We shouldn’t fear failure. We should leave space for failure so we can have the confidence to do bigger better things.

I was faced with a real dilemma just recently. I’d agreed to speak on the topic of failure at the commshero event in Manchester. Fantastic, I thought. A chance to have people rolling in the aisles at a parade of digital fails. Like the subbing mistake on the front page of a magazine that led you to think of how the cover star was a dog eating cannibal.

Or the British Gas #askbg hashtag.

Or maybe even struggling Aston Villa’s Twitter chat with a fringe player that went badly wrong. I could maybe even tell the story of the Walsall Council Twitter fail and what we learned. And that’s the key. What we learned. When you fail you learn.

There’s a matrix that shows the bigger the fail the bigger the learning. It’s what happened on the north face of the Eiger in the 1930s where one of the most famous mountaineering disasters in history killed the four members of the climbing party told in mountaineering epic ‘The White Spider’ by Heinrich Harrer and the excellent film ‘The Beckoning Silence.’ A fixed rope was gathered in trapping their retreat when their summit attempt turned into a retreat.

Every attempt since has seen climbers leave the rope in place. See? We learn. Don’t laugh at failure. Learn. But what was also tempting was just to look at digital fails when there is more to communications than that.

Because if you are not thinking about strategy you are failing. If you are not finding out what keeps senior people awake at night and planning your comms around that you are failing.

If you are not leaving space to experiment, learn and even fail, you are failing. That’s all a bigger crime than a tactical. blunder.

So, what are you doing about that?

Commsheroes danslee-final from Daniel Slee

CHART POST: My top 10 at being in the top 10

2782376836_7de66e1f4a_bLadies and gentlemen, I’ve made the charts new in at number four.

An unexpected email dropped the other day from the nice people at Cision. They’ve rated this blog as 4th in their list of UK PR blogs.

I haven’t a clue what metrics they’ve used but I suspect pictures of cake have played a role in this. Still, this did make me smile.

It also prompted me to take a look back at what I’ve written and knock up a quick top 10.

If you’ve not come across this blog, then hello. If you’ve read it before, welcome back. It’s a blog that looks mostly at digital communications in local government and whose ideas, I’d suggest, can transfer to other sectors.

Why blog? To contribute to the debate, to float an idea and to chuck up an idea to see if it works. Even though I’m posting a lot to comm2point0 these days I’ll always look to cross-post here too.

A top 10 of posts

‘Die Press Release Die’ and Six Other Things PR People Need To Know - In 2006 Tom Foremski wrote a blog that was a scream of frustration at how public relations hadn’t grasped that the world was changing. I loved it and when presenting to LGComms gave a presentation on the idea and what it now means.

Channel Shift – A Future for Public Sector Comms in 2013? – A post about why we need to have an end result to what we do and how that can be powerful when its linked to a major aim for an organisation.

Why Solutions Not Shiny Matter Most  – A post about a comment from a chief executive that we should stop being evangelists and go with digital as a solution if we really want to make a difference. He was right and still is.

5112453782_90e3801e25_b37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person – A post about the skills we need today’s comms landscape. I wrote this in a deckchair in Devon with a cup of tea which is why I’m particularly fond of it. I’m sure cake was involved too.

11 Rules of Social Media in an organisation - A post about the ingredients you’ll need to make things work using social media in an organisation.

Twitter Gritter: Gritting and Social Media – A post about the idea of when local government goes out and does something that it tells people. What a fine idea is that?

27 Ways To Give Your Organisation a Smiley Face With Twitter – Which was the first blog post I wrote where I found a voice back in 2009 and began to hit my stride. We’d been using Twitter for six months and looking back it’s a bit perscriptive and you can pick and choose I’m still rather proud of this.

Stop Being Irrelevant: Five Things Every Comms Person Should Know – For a while I was getting quite irritated at the stick-in-the-mud head-in-the-sand attitude of the PR industry. It still irritates. But I get the sense that the penny has dropped and things are evolving. This was a shouty wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee post.

‘I’m Showing Two Colleagues Twitter. They Say They Don’t Get It.’ – When I wrote this @twitter picked it up and shared it and 23,000 people came and saw it in the space of a month. Mad, really.

Why I Blog And You Should Too – Sets out why I do this and still do.

And 10 blogs you need to look at

Comms2point0

The Face of the Matter

Bentham Towers

Paul Bromford

Stephen Waddington

A Day Without OJ

Kate Reynolds

Asif Choudry

Weekly Blog Club

LG/WWW 

Comms4health

So, thank you for reading and thank you for sharing.

Picture credits 

Rolling Stones http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/2782376836/sizes/l/

Beer http://flic.kr/p/8MLEoS


CHANGE THE MODEL: 10 predictions for local government communications in 2014

4554851174_87e6b96177_o“I’d rather not predict,” US Democratic strategist James Carville once said, “I’d rather affect.”

Seeing as the only thing I’m affecting between Christmas and New Year is a large cake tin and a box of celebrations I’ll be ignoring the man who helped put Clinton in the White House.

But first here’s a few things I predicted 2013 would have in store for us in my corner of local government communications on my own blog in 2012.

For those who’d like to point and laugh here is my 2011 predictions too for 2012

The ones that came off…

Comms teams have been becoming smaller. The recent comms2point0 survey revealed to 31 per cent thinking their team would shrink as against 19 per cent who thought they would grow.

Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. Partly true. The Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow settled in the High Court over a defamatory tweet and action was taken against scores of others. But ambulance chasing hasn’t quite happened yet.

Innovation will wither as spare capacity is cut. True. It’s certainly harder to experiment in a far smaller team just as the need for experimentation has increased.

The private sector has been better at innovating in digital comms. They’ve the budget and the will. But this doesn’t always mean private is better than public in all cases. They have different decision making processes.

5743993819_fe0f9e9f05_oSocial media box ticking needs to be guarded against. True. “We need Twitter,” is replacing “we need a press release,” as the non-comms call to action. No you don’t. Not all the time any way.

The LGA-backed localgov digital project is a good idea whose time has come. Is bang on the money and chair Carl Haggerty winning a digital leadership award at The Guardian awards proves this.

Social media is fracturing. Is true. While 10 platforms were mentioned in the 2012 comms2point0 poll it now stands at 30 in the same poll a year later.

The ones where it’s too early to tell…

Smart comms people will realise that channel shift may the reason they survive. The jury is still out although it’s fascinating to hear some case studies where people have been experimenting with this.

People will see social media isn’t a golden bullet. People are gradually waking up to the idea that while this is important it’s part of the mix and a Facebook page on its own won’t change the world.

Digital comms specialists are needed. Skills need to be developed and shared.

The one that didn’t…

Facebook as a local government platform is over. There are some god ones but with fewer and fewer people seeing updates from pages it is no longer the wunderkind. Give this one time.

10 predictions for local government digital comms in 2014…

5165377895_ccd93e6654_bThere will be more shared comms teams. People will look at how this can work across a geographical area and also between authorities.

Teams will continue to get smaller. The ones that fail to grasp the nettle and look at what they are doing will wither.

Heads of comms will become fewer. As a result of the first two.

Better evaluation is needed. The 1980s idea of story counts and positive, negative and neutral need to go. Now. What will replace will be shaped by results. Like channel shift or user growth targets. Failure to do this will see teams become irrelevant.

Local government comms will become the poor relation of public sector PR. With training budgets gone, workloads increasing teams will struggle to do the basics without major recalibration.

Digital will continue to mainstream. But the digital specialist will need to be a jack of all trades and must be able to shape content for all manner of platforms – from the village magazine to YouTube to Twitter to a press release and web content.

Teams will be outstripped by the pace of change. When revolution is needed slow evolution will be allowed to occur.

Digital comms will step up a gear from simply tweeting press releases to tackling the really thorny problems. In local government these insoluble issues are called ‘wicked issues.’

Digital comms will continue to be a frontline officer task. Giving people the tools in the field will continue. Policy and training will need to come from the centre as the role of digital comms becomes part of all areas and not just a specialist.

There will be a major emergency in 2014 where digital comms plays a decisive role. And they’ll do a good job and more people will see the worth. But senior officers will still roll their eyes.

Teams will need content creators. Not press officers.

Teams that overlook internal communications – and in particular telling their own story internally – will suffer. 

Picture credits

Change the model http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4554851174/sizes/o/

Learn or retire http://www.flickr.com/photos/blairpeterson/5743993819/sizes/o/

Share http://www.flickr.com/photos/carlos_maya/5165377895/sizes/l/


LOVE THESE: 13 Inspiring Links from 2013

8298068701_59923f3d46_bFor a good long while now I’ve strongly felt that if you stop learning you stop growing and with the pace of change learning has never been more important.

The ideas that fire me are not from one organisation or institution. They come like refreshing drinks from the firehose of the internet that shares and spreads ideas.

Every working day myself, my colleague Darren Caveney or from time-to-time a guest editor will trawl the social networks looking for content that will help make sense of this fascinating landscape we find ourselves in.

Now the year is coming to an end I racked my brains for some links that really stopped me in my tracks. There was plenty and this is just a snapshot.

Good? Jim Garrow isn’t good he’s brilliant. He’s a blogger who works in public health and emergency planning in Philadelphia in the US. Nobody has written more challenging stuff than him in 2013. From a fistful of possible posts The Rise of the New Media on how journalists have lost their pre-eminent position is excellent at describing the landscape we live in.

And that’s the secret. I am the new media. You are the new media. They are the new media. Anyone can be. While the media laments their diminished (but absolutely not disappeared) role as, “breakers of news,” there are still other roles in the news-making world that they can fill.

Monmouthshire County Council’s digital manager Helen Reynold’s post Your Organisation Doesn’t Need a Social Media Expert It Needs Its Experts on Social Media articulates perfectly why social media shouldn’t be the preserve of PR people.

I work in PR though, there’s a great need for PR. But it can’t be about polishing turds, smartening up text to make press releases and pushing out stories on Facebook and Twitter. That’s old news. PR should be helping our experts to communicate well.

8626239915_8ecbf13d31_o

US blogger James Altucher in 10 Reasons Why You Have To Quit Your Job This Year takes the last 10 years of your career levels them, scoops them up again and repeats it. Ten times. You should read it.

You’ve been replaced. Technology, outsourcing, a growing temp staffing industry, productivity efficiencies, have all replaced the middle class. The working class. Most jobs that existed 20 years ago aren’t needed now. Maybe they never were needed. The entire first decade of this century was spent with CEOs in their Park Avenue clubs crying through their cigars, “how are we going to fire all this dead weight?”. 2008 finally gave them the chance.

German art students shot a short film about getting closer to nature. It was a surprising internet sensation.

We miss you.

In 2013 I was involved in Best by West Midlands a white paper that celebrated social media use in local government across the region. Why? Because we’re quite good at it. And because there are more than 30 case studies worth celebrating.

Contained in this document are some case studies from the towns, cities, villages and – quite literally – farms across the West Midlands.

Many councils across the UK have one bright person who is shaping their digital presence. Often, they don’t look at the clock and care passionately about what they do. One such is Claire Bustin at Sandwell Council who deserves to be revered as someone who shaping the best Facebook page in local government. Her 11 Things You Should Do With Your Facebook Page should be read and re-read.

There’s nothing that will turn people off your page quicker than warning people about “inclement weather” when what you really mean is snow. And say “I” or “we” rather than “the council”. It reminds people there’s a human being updating your Facebook page. Use smiley faces where appropriate.

The best social accounts come from unexpected quarters. To prove this, here’s a sheep farmer from Cumbria. The @herdyshepherd1 account gives insights from a thousand feet up and it is breathtakingly good. This a piece in The Independent.

I’m feeding a flock of our sheep surrounded by the fells of the Lake District. So a mass of grey fleeces and bright white heads… I see it every day, but I never get bored of it.

Eddie Coates-Madden’s post for comms2point0 on the world where we are is compulsory reading. PR is Dead and Just For Good Measure Newspapers are Dead Too tells the tale of a talk he gave.

And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that  broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.

There’s much to admire in Service Before Self an anonymous post on the We Love Local Government blog. But most to admire is the sense of heart-on-the-sleeve honesty. This is what it feels like to be a senior officer trying to make cuts.

“My lifeline has gone; I am alone. No-one has explained why the cafe has shut. Doubtless some suit I will never meet will write a strategy to tell me what I need. I know the cafe isn’t coming back.”

I am the person that writes strategies like that. I am the person who will have to decide where to find the savings from. I am The Suit. I constantly try and apply the so-what test to everything I do. I am 8510599726_27c28f402f_hmy own greatest critic.

When diplomats leave they leave a valedictory. It’s a note where they can be brutally honest as a kind of payback for years of diplomatic silence. Emer Coleman left a valedictory when leaving the government digital service. We have a choice, she wrote:

You will remember the scene when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill everything stays the same – if he takes the red pill (like Alice in Wonderland) he falls through the rabbit hole and sees things like they really are. We are at a juncture in society and technology where the system (and government) keep taking the blue pill struggling to deal with a new generation who swallowed the red one years ago. It’s a bit like the arrival of email – I still remember colleagues who used their PC monitors as a place to stick post-it-notes (this computer-email-thingy-will-never-catch-on).

Intranet Directions dropped into my Twitter stream the other day with a series of downloadable cardsbased loosely on the Oblique Strategies cards that Brian Eno drew-up in the 1970s. They were there to help musicians make decisions but these tweaked can make anyone make decisions. They look brilliant.

Use them at your desk, in a team meeting, in a workshop or pop them straight into the recycling bin, it’s completely up to you. We’ve got four suits of themes.

Matt Bowsher is assistant director for social care for Dudley Council and on leadership that can work elsewhere too.

One of my favourite maxims is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can design the best strategy in the world, if people don’t shape it, buy in to it and then have a clear role in delivering it, expect it to be confined to the dustbin of history.

One of the most inspiring things from 2013 I was involved with was commscamp which was staged along with Ann Kempster and Darren Caveney. Both brilliant people. More than 120 people came from central and local government and ideas were shared and debated. It was ace. This link rounds up an explosion of ideas that emerged from the event.

Well, that was fun. The day was great… but sitting back and reading what comes out of it is even better.

Commscamp for this co-organiser was tiring, exhilarating, challenging and rewarding. But most of all worth it.

Sometimes on the day you can be so busy talking to others to see the whole picture and it’s only in the days and weeks later that the full picture does emerge.

Picture credits

Love: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/8298068701/sizes/l/

Fear http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixfav/8626239915/sizes/o/

Commscamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/8510599726/sizes/l/


DIGITAL STEP: Can we use the web to solve the big problems now?

#7 DecaySo, if the high water mark of social media in local government is tweeting gritting call-outs we’ll have failed.

Sure, getting those messages out represents a big step to what went on before but the achievement as I’ve said before shouldn’t stop at that.

I’ve pondered for a while what the next steps may be from my own corner of the digital allotment. Occasionally I look across at people like fellow local government officers Carl Haggerty and Phil Rumens who think big picture digital things and I sit back on my shovel and I ponder.

For comms people it’s getting involved with channel shift and helping an organisation score some savings while offering people a better service. Yes, but what else?

As barriers blur and the internet changes everything it’s fascinating for a comms person like me to think beyond the argument that press releases are dead.

There’s been a fascinating debate just recently by a post from SOCITM president Steve Halliday who suggested that digital in local government should be helping to solve ‘wicked’ problems.

What’s a wicked problem? It’s the term given to particularly uncrackable local government issues that tend to crop up in places like social care or planning.

In this world he suggests information sharing using a secure web to network could maybe bring professionals together to crack those particular thorny headaches. It’s a measure of how things have evolved that people are thinking of using this social media stuff to tackle the real grown-up problems.

On the question  of whether we should use digital to tackle these ‘wicked’ issues he’s absolutely right.

Then a few things that keep nagging at me like the clunk of a mobile phone left inside a coat that’s being put through the washing machine that asks you to do something about it.

Firstly, there was a bold call to action from Coventry City Council chief executive Martin Reeves who at the #10by10wm event 12-months ago in Coventry told a room full of geeks to stop evangelising about social media but come armed with solutions… which incidentally may have some social media in them.

On that, he’s absolutely right.

And there’s a third snippet which has lodged in my head from former civil servant Gerald Power. He  said that to make a big difference you need to tackle the big problems in your organisation the really big ticket issues need to be tackled. Not the little ones.

On that he’s right too.

But all that Big Problem tackling would take time, effort and resources at a time when there is none. But if that Big Problem affected 100 of the 350 or so councils and cost, say, £1 million a year then would a one-off £50,000 project make sense?

Of course.

But who is there to identify the problem and scrape together the time, effort, collective will and resources?

The mantra of JFDI – just flipping do it – has taken us a long way but this feels too big and too important to leave to people working under the radar.

What’s the answer? I’m just a comms person fascinated with how we can use the internet better to make a difference. I’ll leave that for other people to ponder.

Picture credit

Allotment notice http://www.flickr.com/photos/48778414@N04/8536372179/


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