BREW EXPORT: 22 things I learned at two events with tea and cake

8597572574_a81f34dcee_bAn ace thing happened this week. Twice.

We saw the brewcamp idea exported first to Dudley and then to Stafford.

It worked beautifully in both places too.

What’s a brewcamp? It’s an idea that has its roots in unconferences. It’s shared learning through conversation, coffee and cake. Like a coffee morning for militant optimists.

How does it work?

Find a cafe willing to open up after work. Find three topics and people happy to lead a discussion on them. Set up an eventbrite. Tell people about it.

It’s that simple.

But the value is less what the speakers tell you, but the connections you make and the realisation that even after a difficult day you are not alone. Other people still care about the public sector. What’s the value of knowing that it is not you, it’s them?

In truth, both were quite individual. In Dudley, it was called Bostincamp. Bostin being a Black Country word for ‘great.’ In Stafford it was Oatcakecamp. Oatcakes being a North Staffs delicacy that doubles as an expression of regional pride.

ELEVEN things that struck me at  Bostincamp…

  • In Dudley CCG’s media officer Laura Broster they have someone busy re-writing what a comms person should look like in 2013.
  • There are people at Dudley Council who are starting to wake up to social. What they’ll do with it will be amazing.
  • Barriers are being eroded all the time. Often by the people who used to build and maintain them.
  • You can’t argue against case studies that West Midlands Police have. They are a tweeting trojan horse for doing good digital things.
  • Academic red tape is gummier than local government.
  • Lorna Prescott is amazing.
  • The Secret Coffee Club in Pearson Street, Brierley Hill has free WiFi and would be a good place for co-working.
  • If you can’t trust your frontline staff with digital how the hell do you trust them to do the rest of their job?
  • Comms people still need to convince their managers that digital conversations on the frontline are a good idea. Jim Garrow has written well about the Edelman Trust Barometer here. It basically gives a pile of research to back up the idea that people trust the postman more than the chief executive of Royal Mail.
  • There are issues for doctors to use social media. But they are not insurmountable.

ELEVEN things I learned at  oatcakecamp…

  • As training budgets vanish we face a critical challenge of where our learning comes from.
  • At some point there will be a price to be paid for training ending. It may take years but it will come.
  • Bright people do their own learning.
  • If something is free, does that make it have less worth than something that costs £500 to attend?
  • Some people won’t look out of their sector for learning. Some won’t look out of their town.
  • Wolverhampton Council have a cracking Facebook page. But they need to tell people about what they do.
  • Comms people can learn more about good comms from people who in the past we wouldn’t let near comms.
  • The MOD still invest in people. Local government has stopped doing this in many areas.
  • Emma Rodgers is amazing.
  • An oatcakecamp in a fire station sounds cool.
  • Hyperlocal blogs can be patchy in quality but there are some gems like WV11 and A Bit of Stone. If we add some content they may be interested in to general releases we can amplify our message.

I absolutely urge you to go along to one of these when they are staged next.

If there’s not one near you, start your own. Here’s how.

Picture credit

Tea pot http://flic.kr/p/e6C3Yx


COLLIDE BEAUTIFULLY: How idea sharing can create brilliant paths

There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come.

It washes around obstacles and travels ever forward like a stream of water running down hill. Follow the path you can end up in exciting places.

One of those ideas is about doing and then sharing.

It’s something that powers what loosely can be called the UK govcamp unconference movement.

Every New Year a couple of hundred get together one Saturday in London to plot and scheme, share ideas and kick around new ones.

It’s a powerful idea to put people in a room and leave job titles at the door.

For me, I’ve never been the same since going to localgovcamp – a UK Govcamp spin-off – back in 2009.

It made me think differently and connected me to people who were thinking differently too.

Now, there’s a whole range of such events splintering to cover such things as libraries, emergency planning and hyperlocal blogging.

For two days the centre of digital Britain was IslandGovcamp in Orkney organised at first half jokingly then quite brilliantly by Sweyn Hunter and others. It drew people from hundreds of miles away.

A question was asked if there are too many unconferences these days. My first thought is there’s not nearly enough.

But its not just about 100 people in a room. It’s about niches too.

In London with TeaCamp, Cambridgeshire, Scotland the West Midlands and other places there’s after work sessions in cafes.

All this is an underground network of ideas connected by Twitter planning better things with tea, coffee and Victoria sponge.

Just last week I met up with half a dozen West Midlands public sector comms people in Coffee Lounge near New Street station in Birmingham.

People came along and were happy to talk for five minutes or so on something that they did recently that worked and for five minutes on something that could work as a collaboration.

There were some great ideas.

Jokingly called mini cake camp it worked rather well. There’s one idea in particular that we’re now working on that’s going to fly.

But what really connects all this – the big event and low level get together – is the willingness to connect and share ideas to make what you do better.

That in itself is a powerful idea.

I’ve sometimes wondered what excites me about this journey.

Spencer Wilson, a local government blogger I admire greatly, has.

I’d commend you to read the original but this is an extract:

More and more of us are becoming a part of this journey, for pleasure, for work, both; intertwined. We are going at full speed, while each of us at our own pace. We are being swept along in progressing our knowledge, often without knowing where we began or where we’re going. There are no landmarks, only the wake of others froth and bother as they speed along. All our paths cross constantly, a mass of tracks. Sometimes we collide beautifully, creating fleeting moments of shared vision, before speeding off again.

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing”, and right there is the ultimate pondering moment, of social media, open data, new web technologies in local government. Progress is being made. I read it. I’ve seen it. I’m forever being amazed by the new ways people speak about what they’ve done and what they’re doing.

Change will come, when its ready, subtly slinking its way into everybodies conciousness. It will begin to apply itself in new ways of thinking, about how services are delivered. We will keep on going at full speed, lost in the fog, and it will be brilliant. Paths of navigation will be left in the wake for others to follow (I’ll be following), by the dreamers who dare to hurtle along, unbound by beginnings or ends or safety of landmarks.

That’s a beautiful way to describe it.

Creative Commons credits:

Waterfall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13521837@N00/2460538823/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Ken Eastwood: http://www.flickr.com/photos/47624301@N06/5850402204/sizes/o/in/pool-1155288@N23/

Beach: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5252258146/sizes/l/in/set-72157627676358389/


CLICK INSPIRE: 20 golden links from 2011

If links are the web’s currency of inspiration then some shine as bright as a gold coin on a summer’s day.

Vivid and memorable as wild flowers they can sow seeds that bloom into bright ideas.

Some challenge while some crysyallise half thoughts.

They can be blog writing, tweets, news stories or images.

Over the past 12-months I’ve read thousands. Mainly in spare moments. As December trudged towards Christmas in downtime I’ve reflected on those that have shaped my outlook.

I’ve not gone online to remind myself but instead racked my brains for writing that has stayed with me.

There are scores of good writing. Many of them can be found on the pages of the blogroll on the right of this webpage.

A couple of them are mine. Mitigation for this is that they capture collaborative working.

Using Twitter to Stop Riots. As rioting spread and London police hip shootingly spoke of switching off the internet Wolverhampton shone. Superintendent Mark Payne used Twitter to shoot down rumours circulating online and off. Blogs such as WV11.co.uk and Tettenhall.co.uk plugged into this to retweet and shout via Facebook. Public I did a useful study.

The Icelandic Facebook page. With the country in financial tatters the Icelandic government started a root and branch review. The constitution which dates from 1944 was being re-drafted. Rather than whack up a 500 page pdf they broke down proposals into bite sized chunks and crowdsourced it. More than 2,500 Icelanders took part. In a country of 250,000 that’s astounding. You can read how here.

Twelve commandments for council news. Adrian Short isn’t a comms person. But his insight into how news online should be presented really needs reading by comms people.

Changing how council news is done. In a second post Adrian points out the folly of presenting press releases verbatim on a different medium. It needs reading if you care about local government and what it does. Read it here.

Birmingham City Council Civic dashboard. Critics say open data stands more effective in theory than in practice. This website starts to answer that and stands as a landmark.

Trust me I’m a follower. Scotland has some amazing people in the public sector. Carolyn Mitchell’s piece on the changing landscape is essential. As a former print journalist she has an eye for a line. That a senior police officer spoke of how he trusts his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account is one of them.

Stop being irrelevant. Explains why I think comms people need to see their changing landscape and evolve to stay relevant. It drove my thinking throughout the year.

Localgovcamp. The event in Birmingham in June brought together creative thinking, ideas and inspiration. The posterous here captures blogs that emerged from it.

Brewcamp. I’m proud to be involved in this. It’s a platform for like minded people to come together, share ideas and drink tea. You can read it here.

@walsallwildlife on Twitter. That a countryside officer can attract 800 followers by tweeting about her day job of bats, ponds and newts astounds me. It shows what can happen when bright people share the sweets.

Joplin Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when a tornado levelled the town. It was residents who self-organised with sites like these. This shows the power of community sites.

Queensland Police Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when flooding struck. 200,000 signed up. This shows the power of official sites when given a flow of regular information.

Look how not on fire this is. When the shadow of rioting overshadowed Walsall in the summer rumour the town police station was burning was dismissed in real time by a police officer with a phone camera and a dry wit. PC Rich Stanley’s image had more than 2,000 hits.

The Walsall Flickr group. There are more than 9,000 images here from 130 members.  This shows the power of community sites and the good things that can be achieved when local government can work with them as equals as we did on this town centre empty shop scheme.

The Dominic Campbell youtube. I love the idea of ‘militant optimists’ pressing for change in unlikely corners of local government. It strikes a chord. This is a good 15 minutes to invest.

Twicket. Because John Popham and others live streaming a village cricket match is a good idea and shows good tech is less about the tech and more about fun and community. The big picture stuff sorts itself out. Read it here.

The end of crisis communications. Jim Garrow is a US emergency planner. It’s called emergency management over there. He writes with foresight. Not least this piece on why real time social media is replacing the set piece emergency planning approach. I’m proud he talks about one of my projects but this wider piece crystalises why real time events work.

Comms2point0. I’ll blog about this more at a later date. But this is a place where comms people can share best practice and best ideas. It’s largely Darren Caveney’s idea. It’s brilliant and so is the photographic style guide.

Digital advent calender Number 1. Many say  the media is dying. David Higgerson, of Trinity Mirror, proves that there is a home for good journalism on the web. His collection of writing is a directory of excellent tools of gems.

Digital advent calender number 2. Steph Gray steers Helpful Technology and helps people understand that technology is an opportunity not a minefield. He is that rare thing. A geek who can communicate with non-geek by speaking human. His advent calender will be pulled out and consulted far into 2012 like a Playfair Cricket annual is to a summer game enthusiast sat on the boundary at Worcester.

Creative commons credits

Yellow flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2808827891/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Iceland http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/3830938078/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Police officers http://www.flickr.com/photos/glamlife/4098397848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Stickers http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclosedcircle/3624357645/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcampers http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656742460/in/set-72157620328138849


TEA AND INNOVATION: Are we, like, getting mainstream, now?

It’s a bit rubbish following an event online if you know they have good cake, good people and good ideas.

Especially when you’re hungrily sat work at 9 o’clock at night and could really murder a slice of Victoria sponge.

 Last night I followed Brewcamp’s first outing to Coventry, this time organised by Kate Sahota and Karen Ramsey-Smith.

 What’s Brewcamp?

 It’s a few like minded local government people in the West Midlands who want to innovate, share ideas and learn things. We speak nicely to a cafe or bar owner who has wifi to set aside some space for free, set a date, set-up an eventbrite for tickets and then come up with a few topics people want to talk about.

 Looking down the list of attendees for the Coventry event the name of Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton stood out.

 Jan has already carved something of a reputation with his blog. It’s accessible to members of the public as well as staff. It’s a great thing and you can see it here.

 Unconferences like Brewcamp are great for sharing ideas and learning things. They’re informal and, heck, they make work fun. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to turn up.

 Previously these things have always been the haunt of the enthusiast willing to give up their time and often pay out of their own pockets to attend.

 A running undercurrent debate at them is often that ‘this is great but how do we get the suits here?’

 In other words, how do you get senior management?

 Three things have made me think this brilliant approach is dangerously close towards making a breakthrough to the mainstream.

 First, to have a first local government chief executive like Jan Britton to attend one of them is actually pretty significant. Let’s stop and think. He’s a talented man. He’s also busy. By actually coming to an unconference he’s opened up the door for others in his organisation.

And in other people’s organisations.

 Second reason? The media are starting to take notice. Sarah Hartley at The Guardian ran an excellent piece on her time at localgovcamp in Birmingham. The LGC ran a two page spread on what makes things like localgovcamp work. They put some of it up online to non-subscribers.   Hats off to it for covering it.

As Ken Eastwood, an assistant executive director at Barnsley, wrote of those who attended:

“In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation. It seems clear to me that this needs to change. We need to be more agile, more adaptive and better able to encourage and nurture grass-roots, low cost creativity.”

 A third reason? It’s clear also that the traditional events sector has woken up to the creative side of unconferences too. The PSCF event in Glasgow will have an informal side to it in the afternoon with masterclasses.

The SOLACE conference in October, for senior officers, will also incorporate an element of unconference creativity too.

It would be hopelessly naive to think that we’ve won the war. But we’re slowly winning lots of important battles.

In local government in 2011 it’s clear we need to innovate and encourage new ideas. It’s not if but how.

As the excellent Nick Hill from PCSF says, mainstream is essential otherwise you basically remain like ‘Fight Club.’

Creative commons credits:

Paul Clarke UKGovcamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/set-72157625889557000/

Modomatic Tea http://www.flickr.com/photos/modomatic/2724923829/sizes/z/in/photostream/


BREWCAMP: How we can innovate with tea and cake

As Mrs Doyle herself said, didn’t the Lord himself pause for a nice cup of tea?

With a cup of tea comes conversation, learning and sharing.

And cake.

Over the past few months, I’ve been involved with something called Brewcamp.

This is about 20 people meeting up at the end of a working day at a cafe in Birmingham.

How did it come about?

Back in 2010 myself and a team of others – Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Mike Rawlins and Andy Mabbett – staged the unconference Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

This was a big shindig. We hired Walsall College with catering, there was 12 sessions and it all cost just over £1,000 to put on.

It dawned on us that the planning meetings were actually a sociable chance to catch-up and bounce ideas.

We looked at the idea of Teacamp in London and quite liked the idea of a meet-up between like minded people with a £0 budget and minimal organisation. All power to the Teacamp people.

A few Warwickshire people Kate Sahota, Sasha Taylor and Kaz Ramsey-Smith have now come along too.

There is now talk of similar events in the North of England and Derbyshire.

How does it work?

There’s three topics of about 30 minutes, a ban on powerpoint and space for questions and debate.

I’m increasingly struck how this happy accident with milk and one sugar has something more to offer than just a post-work chance to eat Victoria Sponge.

What does one look like?

A bit like this. Storify is a good way of capturing resources. Andy Mabbett spoke about how wikipedia can be used by local government, a debate about transport open data here and Walsall 24 here.

Why is this a good idea?

  • Because tea and cake are good.
  • Because as training budgets vanish the informal offers a good alternative.
  • Because it’s a chance to meet like minded people.
  • Because some good work is being done by people who are just innovating.
  • Because anyone can go.

What’s the Brewcamp recipe?

A budget of zero.

An eventbrite page like this one.

A cafe. Or a pub with an owner who doesn’t mind reserving some space.

Wifi optional.

A flip or a livestream if you like. But it’s not vital.

A few people who have a case study to share or a problem they want help cracking.

A supply of tea.

Some cake.

And if you don’t fancy those rules you can tear them up and make your own.

Simple.

http://danslee.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/teaandcake/


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