CROSSROADS: 12 predictions for local government digital comms in 2013

3905842249_7dd2e55bf9_bNever make predictions, especially about the future. Wise words I feel.

With a bit of time to pass about 12 months ago I rather boldly made some 12 predictions for local government digital which is an area I work in a bit. You can read them here.

So, 12 months later I thought it maybe an interesting experiment in pointing and laughing at myself to see how accurate they were and make 12 more.

What was right? 

JFDI did die. What’s JFDI? It’s Just Flipping Do It. It’s putting something up as an experiment without having to go through layers of policy and permissions. Chucking up a Facebook page had the whiff of revolution in 2009. Now everyone is using it and there’s strategies wrapped in HR policies it’s hard to have the space to innovate.

Digital customer services are growing. Norfolk County Council have blazed a trial on Twitter that others are following.

Someone did do something really stupid and it didn’t see their operation shut down. Little did I think it would be my own organisation. A member of staff accidentally tweeted from the corporate account that they soon wished that hadn’t. It wasn’t fun. But it wasn’t fatal, thankfully.

Emergency planners are using digital channels as second nature. The gift of big-powerful-ultra-storm-but-not-quite-a-hurricane Sandy which struck New York showed how powerful real time updates, cleaning-up and myth-busting became.

The local government social media star was someone you’d never heard of in place you didn’t think was digital friendly. For me, this was @whocareswalsall who stage pop-up campaigns around social care. Their live tweeting from the home of a dementia sufferer and his carer was breathtakingly good. Why? It painted a personal story that would not have been possible without digital.

4734206265_cba1558b2d_bLinked social has grown. This is a move away from just a corporate account to a range of accounts and platforms from the same authority.

Good conferences had an unconference element. Or were unconferences. The days of £200 a ticket events have gone. The days of £100 a ticket seem dated. There was a lively online debate on the merit of unconferences but the best bits of inspiration I found came from barcamps and in the West Midlands there was an explosion of them.

Newspapers have carried on dying. Bit of a home banker of a prediction this. Although there are signs with live blogging and other tools that they are seeing the value of social media.

What was wrong?

Data journalism didn’t grow. Nationally, maybe. But locally not and bloggers were not in the main building mash-ups to hold instutions to account.

What was half right?

Comms is still fighting for control of social media and not sharing the sweets nicely, like they need to. They’ll learn eventually.

Data visualisation didn’t boom. There were isolated pockets of how it could be used well but it’s far from being an accepted part of the comms armoury.

Some amazing things happened in Scotland. There were events planned across the country on Twitter and people like Carolyne Mitchell, Leah Lockhart, David Grindlay, Kate Bond and others are doing great things but I get the feeling it’s not quite in the mainstream.

Here’s 12 rash predictions for 2013

1. Comms teams will become smaller. Always in the frontline for criticism they will become bigger targets.Which leads to…

2. Smart comms people in local government will realise that channel shift comms may be the reason they will survive. It costs money to talk to people face-t0-face. It’s cheaper on the web. But how do you tell people about the best way to get a job done? By good comms which needs to be evaluated to see how effective it has been not by a potential audience but by the number of people who stopped calling and started reporting online.

4399722909_b77b178be8_o3. Twitter defamation lawyers4u will become a reality. The wild west days of the social web will be over. The row over tweeting false allegations against Tory Ministers has changed the landscape. How soon before ambulance chasing gets replaced with tweet chasing? How soon before a local politician takes legal action over a rogue tweet?

4. Innovation will wither as as spare capacity is cut. With less people doing more things they room for ground breaking projects will shrink and ever disappear.

5. The private sector will be doing the best innovation. Up until now JFDI has taken the public sector very far. Well resourced private sector comms teams will do the best creative thinking. Seen what Gatwick Airport do with social media? You simplty must. Twitter as an engagenent channel. Pinterest to promote shops and offers. Soundcloud for audio books for children parents can play their fractious children. Brilliant.

6. Digital comms specialists are needed. Yes, we all need to be doing it. But there needs to be a hand on the tiller of any organisation just to steady the ship, see what is on the horizon and think creatively. Sorry. But there is. The evidence of Gatwick tells us this.

7. Digital box ticking needs to be guarded against. As the argument has been won it becomes mainstream. Bad social media will become more prevalent as the box marked ‘we’ve tweeted from our own special account’ is ticked.

8. People will see that social media isn’t a golden bullet. Social media has had a great run. It’s promised lots and has delivered an awful lot. But it’s one of several channels.

9. Facebook as a local government channel is over. With the change of algorithm Facebook at a stroke has reduced the number of people who see your updates to around 10 to 15 per cent. That’s like the postman keeping 90 per cent of your birthday cards. No, really it is. Matt Murray and Jim Garrow have blogged well on this subject.

10. The localgov digital project is a good  idea whose time has come. A practitioner network with support from the LGA and DCLG this has potential. Big potential if there is enough time and resources.
11. Social media is fracturing. It’s not a case of Facebook + Twitter. It’s knowing YouTube, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Audioboo, Google Plus, Pinterest, Instagram and other emerging platforms in the right place and at the right time. That may be a series of small communities to service.
12. Digital projects to make a difference must be big. If we’re still here talking about Twitter Gritter as the finest use of digital in local government we’ll have all failed horribly. Small projects are great. Ones that tackle big issues are what are needed to make a difference.
Creative commons credits
Clock face http://www.flickr.com/photos/adesigna/3905842249/sizes/l/
Atari http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/4734206265/sizes/l/
Atomic http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/4399722909/sizes/o/in/set-72157622098292751/

OPEN FLOODGATES: What publishing Whitehall data means for local government

As one wag said: “A Prime Minister addressing a room full of geeks about open data? I’ve waited years for this.”

At the Wellcome Trust in London more than 200 people gathered for the International Open Data conference.

David Cameron delivered a recorded message and Minister Francis Maude was there in person. So was uber-geek Tim Berners-Lee.

Arranged by the Open Knowledge Foundation This was a chance to launch the UK Government’s data set of its department’s spend over £25,000.

That’s 194,000 lines of text and £80 billion of spending. The link to it is here.

What’s the point in that? The aim is to open the Government’s books to allow residents, journalists and business a chance to have a look.

Pithily one newspaper commentator posed the question: ‘A great leap forward or masochistic folly?’

It is madness isn’t it?

Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim Berners-Lee.

Actually, no. It’s a movement supported by left and right alike which has the aim of cutting waste, allowing entrepreneurs to flourish and a fairer society.

The event may have been Whitehall focussed but there are powerful golden strands that run through all government. Local and national.

Local government has already been asked to publish items of spend over £500 under the label ‘spending transparency.’

They have until January 1 to do it and as Cameron and Maude 100 of more than 300 odd councils had published.

There is a feeling within Whitehall that some will quietly choose not to publish calculating the flak they get for not completing a slightly arcane process is less than the grief a particular financial skeleton may pose.

It’s unlikely Whitehall will allow this to pass without prompting closer inspection.

Walsall Council House.

It’s also unlikely local government will not be asked to publish more as open data. There is more to come. Much more.

Here are some broad messages from the day for local government:

SO, WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE?

Open data won’t be an easy ride for people in authority. As Francis Maude said: “It’s going to be very uncomfortable for government and local government. Media outlets will find things that will cause embarrassment.”

It’s not going to go away. It’s easy to like open data in opposition, says Maude. You can shine a light at others’ decisions. However, he pledged there were two key advocates – him and the Prime Minister.

The aim is to move influence away from the traditional centres – “information is power. This is a power shift,” says Maude, “to move the decision making away from Westminister.

Expect better decision making on spending – “Once you know you are being scrutinised you’ll be more careful. MP knows this all to well,” Maude says.

It’s FOI turbo charged – It would have taken journalists years of submitting FOI requests to build up the picture revealed in the £25k data sets, the Guardian say.

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THE PRIVATE SECTOR?

Contracts should allow for open data to be released – The presumption for contracts is transparency, says Maude.

It’ll create wealth – Open government data will create a £6 billion industry, says the Minister.

A website to point the spotlight on the private sector too – Chris Taggart has built opencorporates to shine the light at which big companies are doing well from public sector contracts.

HOW WILL ALL THIS BENEFIT GOVERNMENT – CENTRAL AND LOCAL?

Waste detection – By spotting where the waste is money will be spent better, Francis Maude says.

Procurement needs to get its act together – know what is in the contract before you sign a deal since the detail what it will purchase will be closely monitored, the Minister says.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Historical data will be released – There will be open data from previous administrations. This will help to compare and contrast with the current era.

More public agencies will follow – There are 100,000 public bodies. There’s no timescale for these just yet.

There will be a right to data – David Cameron has pledged that people will ask and receive data for a personal and business use. This is massive for local democracy.

Open data will move from spending into crime – Expect interactive crime maps in the New Year, Maude says.

SO, WHO WILL BE LOOKING THROUGH THIS DATA?

Journalists – the media needs to be data savvy. Data journalism will become more and more important, says Tim Berners-Lee.

“Chatting people up in pubs was one part of your job,” he told journalists in the room. “Poring over data and equiping yourself with the tools to look for the juicy bits will be important.

“Data journalism will be part of the future.”

Right now, local newspapers haven’t grasped what data journalism is. Don’t hold your breath just yet either.

Traditional news is emergency services calls, court and council agendas. It’s not data mining with csv files.

What may put it on the agenda are national stories re-written with a local.

Hyperlocal bloggers – many bloggers have geek tendancies that will happily work with online tools. Stories from all this will be broken by an 18-year-old rather than a laptop. That’s quite exciting. Tools such as timetric.com where graphs can be built using data and embedded in blogs can help with this.

Geeks – an inexhaustable army of geeks will pore over the data – “what happens when the flashflood of geeks go away?” mused Tim Berners-Lee. “It’s perennial.”

Industry – Data company Spikes Cavell have released spotlightonspend.org to interpret local government data. This hasn’t been without criticism from the opendata community who argue against councils dealing solely with the company and not releasing open data too.

Social entrepreneurs – Chris Taggart has built openlylocal.com as a platform for local government data and has been a pioneer in the field.

Real people – Fascinatingly, The Guardian had a team of four working for four days on the data before it was published. They didn’t think they could glean everything themselves. What they did do was make it possible for the public to use the tools to search for stories. This is the wisdom of the crowd as an extra pair of hands in the newsroom. You can download their app here.

BUT IT’S NOT ALL GOOD NEWS….

There’s no funding for people to cross check the data - As one questioner pointed out the tools that held government to account – journalists – have historically been cross subsidised by other sources such as small ads.

There’s no funding for these resources. There’s a question mark against the sustainability and effectiveness of tools.

Creative commons credits:

Tim Berners-Lee: Paul Clarke via wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

Hand: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davedugdale/5099605109/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Parliament: http://www.flickr.com/photos/olastuen/3784184031/sizes/o/in/photostream/


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