HYPER GO GO: John Peel and eight things to do after an unconference

John Peel once said Punk’s great lesson was that anyone could do it.

All you had to do was knock over a phone box, sell your motorbike and you had enough cash for a day in a studio and 500 7″ singles.

It’s those words that struck me after Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

Run on a shoestring, powered by enthusiasm, favours and goodwill it saw 70 people from across the local government, hyperlocal blogging and open data communities come together in Walsall.

It should never have got off the ground. Once off the ground it should have crashed. Several times. That it stayed airborne should make all those who came proud.

At an unconference there can be a massive surge of ideas powered by conversation and debate. It’s a chance to think and be creative.

All that’s great but is that it?

What’s next?

In the few days after the event, a new hyperlocal Pelsall Common People was started by Jayne Howarth, Dave Musson at Solihull Council started to do cool things with Facebook and the organisation I work for Walsall Council started to trial Yammer. That’s a tiny tip of a large iceberg.

Here’s eight things to do after an unconference.

1. Sit down in a darkened room. If it’s been any good your head is filled with ace ideas and you’ll need a good lie down.

2. Blog. It’s one of the best ways to get your head around an idea. Besides. Everyone loves a sharer.

3. Don’t be despondent. If the unconference has been really good you’ll experience mild depression three days later. It’s the ambition – reality axis. Don’t worry. See 4.

4. Do a small thing. Take out a Flickr account. Go and set-up a Posterous blog. You don’t have to add content just yet but you’ve feel a whole lot better.

5. Catch up. Read the blogs and presentations from sessions you couldn’t get to.

6. Stage an unconference yourself. No, really. Do. Find a few like minded people and do it yourself. They’re very rewarding.

7. Think of the phrase Just Flipping Do It. Write it on your pump bag if you like. JFDI It’s a good motto for life.

8. Think of it as training and not a jolly out of the office. Although if they serve cake it should be a fun experience.

I’ve long thought an unconference works short term and long term. It’s the ideas you can do straight away and it’s the slow burning suggestions that strike you 12 months down the line.

Do people have to wait for permission or someone else to create a bargovcamp?

Of course not. You can run one too. It would be hugely cool if from Hyperlocal Govcamp people were inspired to do it themselves.

To continue flogging the Punk analogy, when The Sex Pistols first played Manchester half the audience went out and formed bands. We got Joy Division, New Order, and The Buzzcocks. That we got Simply Red too shouldn’t be held against it.

For my money, and stay with me here, Localgovcamp in Birmingham was a local government equivalent of the Sex Pistols gig because a slew of inspirational things, events and projects came out of it.

Your unconference DIY toolkit

Dave Briggs’ guide to setting up an unconference we found indispensible.

Andy Mabbett said he’d blog on the things we learned and when he does I’ll insert the link [here].

There’ll also be a collection of resources from #hyperwm [here] very soon.

You can look at the images taken on the day at the #hyperwm Flickr group here.

John Popham points out here that an unconference is a cheap way of training in an era of austerity.


TWO TRIBES: What should the blogger – press officer relationship look like?

Jerry Springer built a TV career by making people in dysfunctional relationships sit down and talk to each other.

With burly minders flanking the stage Billie-Jo and her ex-lover Seth from an Arkansas trailer park would set-to in front of a studio audience.

Gripping stuff it was too, but you had this feeling nothing would change.

Two parties in a sometimes strained relationship came together at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands in Walsall.

The session ‘What does a good blogger – press officer relationship look like?’ saw bloggers sit down with press officers.

For some, it was the first time they’d ever spoke to the other side.

Like a parish pump Relate, there were sometimes a few choice words. But unlike the warring couples on TV there was a growing appreciation of the points of view.

It’s a session that has been extensively covered.

Local government officer Simon Gray, who is not from communications, blogged brilliantly about the session here. When he said neither side appeared with full credit, he’s right.

He’s also dead right in calling on both sides to cut the other some slack.

Paul Bradshaw writing a guest post for Podnosh made some excellent points in how local government should make information easier to access.

Mike Rawlins, of Talk About Local, who also contributes to Pits N Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has written an excellent post from his perspective on this and dead badgers and does, as Simon suggests, cut some slack.

Paul Bradshaw wrote a good post from the session focussing on the call from bloggers to make information more easy to access.

Sasha Taylor has also blogged from the session from a police perspective.

Twelve months ago I wrote a blog post on how the blogger – press office relationship was a source of conflict.

The 10 points I wrote then I still stand by. The full post is here. The edited highlights are boiled down to this

FIVE THINGS A PRESS OFFICE CAN DO:

  1. Treat them as journalists.
  2. Put them on press release mailing lists.
  3. Use blog comment boxes as a press officer.
  4. Accept not everything bloggers write is going to be favourable. Complain politely – and constructively – if things are wrong.
  5. Respect what bloggers do.

FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR BLOGGERS:

  1. If you have courage of your conviction put your name to what you do you’ll find your voice getting heard far better.
  2. Don’t be afraid to check stories.
  3. Respect press officers. They have a job to do too.
  4. Be accurate. The same rules for newspapers apply to blogs.
  5. Buy a copy of McNae’s Essential Law For Journalists to save your life and potentially your house.

But listening to the both sides talk at the session, there’s also a few things a bright press officer can do.

1.  Create blog friendly content – A conventional press release is tailored for the print media. That’s not necessarily blog-friendly. A short film posted to YouTube or Vimeo is. A two minute film to explain with an interview the points made in the release would work.

2. Add pics as a matter of course – Even if it’s a stock pic. Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local made the point that there is a demand for images. They’re going to source a pic from Google images anyway. Why not provide a good one?

3. Judge when to respond – the excellent Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation re-purposed the US military’s flowchart of engagement with bloggers. It’s good advice when to engage and when to ignore the internet troll.

4. Build relationships – In print media you know you’ll get a better story about countryside placing it with a reporter who is passionate about green issues. So why not do it online too?

5. Put talking to bloggers in black and white. Make it a policy decision. Here’s one from Wolverhampton Homes to show you how.

6. Learn about open data. It’s not a geek topic anymore. It’s come into the mainstream and bloggers are at the forefront. Local data advisor and hyperlocal blogger Will Perrin has pointed out that press officers will need excel skills. Why? Because you’ll need to interrogate data sets just as you’ll need to leaf through council minutes.

Creative commons credits:

No papers today – Katmere http://www.flickr.com/photos/katmere/51065495/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Antique clippings – D Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/4799271086/



BAR CAMP: What’s this Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands?

Some of the best ideas are dreamt up in a pub or over tea and cake.

Many of those pearls just never get past the beermat scribble stage.

Once me and a mate had the idea for beeridea.com. This would have been a site to sanity test great pub ideas that may have emerged after pint number five.

It never got off the ground.

One wheeze that has got out of the pub is Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Staged at Walsall College on October 6 the aim is to be a half day unconference for local government with added flavour.

It’s followed by an uncurry. And beer, naturally.

Who is behind it? some bright people from local government and hyperlocal blogging. Namely, Simon Whitehouse of Digital Birmingham, Stuart Harrison of Lichfield Council, Andy Mabbett of Birmingham City Council and Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local. And me.

What’s the added flavour?

Two things: first, hyperlocal bloggers. These are either an important emerging news platform or untrained citizen journalists playing fast and loose with the law. Depends who you talk to.

The second? The open data movement. Once dismissed as box bedroom anoraks they are now slowly making an impact. In time this will be massive, I’m convinced of this.

For me, in Autumn 2010 Local government people, hyperlocal bloggers and open data geeks are at three points of the same Venn diagram.

It doesn’t make any sense to stage an event that doesn’t incorporate those elements.

The trick, if we can achieve it, is getting the three elements to talk and understand more.

Why a half day? We thought it interesting to see if the unconference format could fit into the day job. Events on a Saturday have worked well in the past but they attract the deeply committed. Would a mid-week event expose the 9 to 5-ers to inspiring ideas?

What is an unconference? It’s an informal conference that allows the agenda to be chosen on the day. I’ve lost count of the number of people who look back at Localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2009 as being a major source of inspiration.

Why Walsall? We’re from the West Midlands and the thinking was it may be good to do something in one of the Black Country boroughs. It’s also a town that does some surprsingly good things online.

Why Walsall College? Because they’re very nice people and they’ve got a Star Trek-esque 100 meg broadband.

Who are the nice sponsors who are allowing this to happen? Big hand for Public Sector Forum, Jadu CMS and Local Government Improvement and Delivery (formerly IdEA). Also very supportive have been: Replenish New Media, Talk About Local, Vicky Sargent at Boilerhouse, SOCITM, Walsall Council, Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Council and Lichfield Council. And Russell at Walsall College.

What resources are there?

Here is the eventbrite: Ticket info and sponsors.

Here is the Google map: Where it is and where to park.

Here is the govcamp discussion page Right here.

What is an unconference? This is what wikipedia says.

How to run a govcamp The Dave Briggs guide

Yes, but what does an unconference actually look like? Here is localgovcamp in Birmingham.

Here are a couple of places to go in Walsall if you’ve never been before. New Art Gallery Walsall and the Leather Museum (it’s right next to the venue. The cake is very good.)

Creative commons credits:

Logo: James Clarke of Replenish New Media

Walsall College: Dan Slee

Andy Mabbett and Dave Briggs: Jamie Garner


BOSTIN SOCIAL: Is it time for a #hyperlocalgovcamp?

As brilliant ideas go the ‘unconference’ is as good as tea and a slice of cake on a summers day.

Get like-minded people in one place and then decide what you are going to talk about on the day. You’d be amazed at the hot house ideas that emerge.

Believe it or not the first event described by such a term was the XML Developers Conference of 1998 in Montreal in Canada.

How does an unconference – or Barcamp – work? Basically, four or five rooms are used with different subjects being discussed in each in hour long slots. Feel like saying something? Just chip in. It’s as simple as that.

They work brilliantly in and around government where there is a willingness to share ideas without being hampered by private sector hang up about competition and bottom lines.

They work well in the hyperlocal community too – Talk About Local have run excellent events – and they’ve even gravitated into the travel industry.

Some of the most exciting thinking I’ve come across has been at unconferences. It’s not exaggeration to say Localgovcamp Birmingham in 2009 utterly revolutionised the way I think and approach my job.

Elsewhere, UKgovcamp in January saw around 120 people with five rooms and eight slots. That’s 32,000 possible combinations. In other words, a lot of knowledge and conversations. Coming back from one such event in London as the train was passing through the Oxfordshire countryside one clear thought struck me.

Isn’t it about time we made the brilliance of the unconference fit into the day job?

Invariably, those who go are innovators. This is great. In local government, there is a need for these key events every few months if for nothing else than the sanity of those who blaze a trail sometimes with little support. But how do you get the message through to the 9 to 5-ers and policy makers who would also really benefit?

It’s an idea I’ve kicked around idly with a few people. Myself and Si Whitehouse mulled this over at the London Localgovcamp. I like the phrase ‘Locallocalgovcamp’ he came up with. It has the spirit of localgovcamp but it’s a lite version.

What it may be is this: A space where ideas could be kicked around in the informal, unconference style.

But crucially, there maybe an item or a hook pre-advertised that may encourage slightly less adept to come along. Besides,  it’s easier to convince your boss to let you go to an event if you know you’ll get something out of it. The pitch of ‘Cheerio boss, I’m off now to drink coffee with geeks and I may just learn something’ is not as compelling as ‘Cheerio, boss, I’m going to this event to learn x and if y and z too.’

The idea of the local meet-up  itself is not especially something new.

London digital people in government do something called ‘Tea Camp’. A 4-6pm slot in a department store cafe. Tea. Cake. Conversation. All seems dashed civilised idea. Besides, there’s a critical mass all working in a small area.

Perhaps it’s time for a regional version of this. The West Midlands where I live and work sees an inspiringly vibrant digital community. There is also seven councils within a 30 mile radius.

So what would an as-part-of-the-day-job West Midlands bostin social event look like? 

Two hours? Two rooms? Two sessions? Or is that too short?

Pork scratchings?

What do you think?

Creative commons photo credit: Barcamp: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid laughingsquid.com.


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