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:
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.
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Dave Briggs https://flic.kr/p/89JJjS
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.
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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?
Government communicators have been asked not to do anything unless it’s based on data.
The argument goes that this cuts out the vanity campaign or the SOS – the Sending Out Stuff – that sees press releases and other things shovelled out the door because some action is better than nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see real merit in having a get out of jail free card when faced with a senior request ‘for stuff.’
But I’m starting to think about if we need to create some space for experimentation. Things like Trojan mice. These are things that see you try something out low budget just to see if it works and you can learn from.
One example of this skunkwork lab is the excellent Torfaen Council Elvis gritter YouTube that’s been around for a while. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the low budget Elvis impersonator from the Valleys singing about how the council can’t be everywhere and not to panic buy bread. It’s brilliant. It was done on a shoestring to make people smile, to tell them some important things and done entirely without research.
It works because it’s human and is entirely without strategy.
I was helping train a local government comms team last week when this clip came up and we showed it just to see the reaction. There was disbelief. Then laughter. Then real affection. It works. It just works. I rememberdiscussing it 12-months ag with someone who works for an authority who ruthlessly apply the research-led ROSIE logic.
“It’s really, really good and I love it,” she said. “But of couse we could never do it where I work.”
So how do you create the space needed to make the Trojan mice flourish?
Google famously give staff a day a week to work on their own projects. Some of those projects have become key to their future strategy.
Tectonic plates in the world of communications are shifting. The centre cannot hold. Different channels are emerging and with them the demand for new skills. If you want the evidence, more than 70 per cent in our survey four months ago said the job was getting harder.
So, the task facing the the comms leader is how to create some safe space to experiment.
And if you are a comms person in the trenches, how are you going to carve out some Google time for yourself to look after your future?
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