POST CRISIS: Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description

11138377833_1aeb483ec6_b

So now ‘Rotherham’ is doomed to enter the lexican of towns long shadowed by failure.

It is a town where 1,400 girls were abused between 1997 and 2013 and where a report pointed the finger of blame for failing to do enough to stop the attacks at Rotherham Borough Council and South Yorkshire Police.

Times journalist Andrew Norfolk who helped expose the story welcomed the council’s recent openness but warned the council’s successors not to be ‘tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings.’

This warning isn’t small town politics. It should be taken seriously.

It should echo through the corridors of town halls, police stations and hospitals across the land and the first people to stop and listen should be public sector communicators.

There will always be more bad news to emerge from somewhere in the public sector. It could be a council, a police force or a hospital. That’s life.

Let’s not forget every day lives are saved and changed by the public sector but when things go wrong the public sector is often damned more loudly than the perpetrators of the crime.

So what should public sector PR people do? Two things. First, the strategy.

In the past the default comms strategy was about painting the best picture possible. At worst this was ‘spin’ and at best it was telling the positive stories residents would often not be told of. There were stories of success to tell and investment. There still are in some cases. But after eight years of working in a local government comms team I’m convinced there needs to be a realism and honesty in public sector communications. There needs to be the ‘sorry, we won’t be able to do that anymore and here are the reasons.’

There also needs to be the ‘actually, there’s a problem here and we want to take a look at it. Will you bear with us and help us fix it?’

The feeling is that Rotherham Borough Council by ordering the report and by the resignation of the Leader is now starting to acknowledge the problem.

The strategy for public sector communications should be to listen, to be human and to accept when things go wrong. Do this and you won’t be chasing leaks and you’ll be acting upon failings.

One story from my own life illustrates the culture shift of what is needed. I’m from Stafford. Stafford is where the Mid-Staffs Hospital scandal was centred where hundreds of people suffered because of poor care. When the news broke my Facebook timeline was filled by personal stories shared by people I grew up with that floored me. The mother who had died in pain. The grandfather who was wrongly sent home and never recovered.

A few weeks later I heard two NHS comms people from another area talk dismissively about ‘whinging patients.’ ‘It would have been better,’ I challenged them ‘if some of the whinging patients at Stafford had been listened to. Some of them may still be alive.’

Of course, they accepted that. But back in their office surrounded by the culture of fear and blame I have to ask myself, would they? I’m convinced that it is the role of comms – especially in the public sector- to challenge and be the grit in the oyster. Being an informal whistleblower should be part of the job description in theory. It in practice, though, I know of at least a couple of people whose careers were blighted by objecting too strongly.

One was asked to leave when concerns were raised about an appointment. Another fell foul of their chief executive and had to leave. This all points to the age old concern of public sector communicators to be near the ‘top table.’ In other words close to those making the decisions. A comms professional close to the top table may get sight of the problem earlier and can advise. They also find their words carry more weight.

Of course, it’s fine to challenge if the PR officer is in a position to know what is going on at all times. There are 700 services provided by local government alone. There is no way a comms team can be across all of these areas. Often, when I worked in local government comms office door would fly open after 5pm with an 11th hour request for some help on an issue that was about to hit the papers. My worry is that at this point it is too late.

To learn the lesson of Rotherham public sector communicators should be mindful that glossing away the problem won’t solve the problem. Honesty and openness may be a start.

Creative commns credit 

Rotherham magistrates court sign.


 


EVENT BRIGHT: Why We’re Staging A Fab Event Called #commsforchange14

5537457305_8758d78ac0_oI’m pleased to say that comms2point0 is joining forces with Public Sector Customer Services Forum to stage an event which we think will deliver a stack of value.

We think this will work for comms and PR people but we think this will also be valuable for people who are working in your organisation on projects big and small that need communicating.

We could just give you a list of speakers but want to tell you about how this came about.

We had a conversation with someone a while back about big public sector projects and what separates the good ones from the bad.

As we talked we pictured a very real scenario and we came up with two options to choose from.

First, the scenario… part of your organisation has a great idea that could change how something is done, save money and lead to a better service.

What could go wrong?

 Well, here are the options…

Option one: Project team don’t really bother with the comms until the end because they’re too busy and anyway, they don’t see the point. The comms team get left in the dark by the project team until the end… and the idea fails. “Clearly, it was the comms team,” the project team mutter. “There was nothing wrong with our idea. That was brilliant.”

“If only they’de spoken to us earlier,” the comms team mutter back.

Result: failure, unhappy project team, unhappy comms team  and an angry chief executive.

Option two: Project team sit down with the comms team from the start. They shape a comms plan that they both know will work. There’s a project objective. There’s a comms objective that’s identical. There’s something to measure to know if the comms is working. The idea gets well communicated by the comms team. It’s a success.

“Hooray,” say the project team. “Our idea that we had in a room with six people in it has become a success amongst thousands,” say the project team.

5319988695_22db1bded5_o“Hooray,” say the comms team, “we took that bright idea and we worked with you to tell the right people outside the room about it at the right time and got them to do the right thing.”

Result: happy project team, happy comms team, success and a happy chief executive.

Of course, we’d all choose the second scenario, wouldn’t we?

The thing is, life is not like that, and we can all reel off a long list of times when it hasn’t and fewer times when it has.

What you’ll get out of #commsforchange14

So, at the end of our conversation we grew convinced of the need to put on an event that would set out the reasons for getting the project team and the comms team together early to make the thing a success.

We wanted comms people and project people speaking to share how they did it.

We wanted comms people to be fired up to go back and knock on  the doors of big project people so they could get involved to help make a difference.

3685880130_c6d9102cba_bWe wanted public sector people to be fired up to go back and make friends with their comms teams to see how they could make their project a success.

We wanted the event to be partly traditional, with speakers and slides so the success stories could be articulated and you’d know what you’d get.

But we wanted an unconference element in the afternoon because we’ve run them before at commscamp and for LGComms and with PSCSF and we know they will work. This sees that part of the agenda drawn-up based on what the people in the room wanted to talk about. Maybe there were lessons to be shared.

We wanted an event that showed why getting comms involved early and them being on the top table will help the organisation.

Of course, the great thing about doing comms2point0 is being able to turn a conversation and an idea into reality and with the excellent Nick Hill of Public Sector Customer Services Forum we’ve done just that andon Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham #commsforchange will become a reality.

Who will be speaking?

There’s a range of hand picked people for you here:

  • John McPherson, Internal Communications Manager, Leeds City Council

  • 8630582806_1eb1fb0020_oVictoria Ford, Head of Communications, DVLA

  • Iain Patterson, Chief Technology Officer, DVLA

  • Adrian Capon, Senior Communications Manager, Yorkshire Housing (TBC)

  • Dan Slee, Co-founder, comms2point0

  • Darren Caveney, Co-founder, comms2point0

You can find more out about the event on Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham by clicking the link here.

Picture credit

Change 

Make things better

Change machine

Better Future

 


AUTHENTIC: How to do frontline social media: Morgan Bowers (a podcast, a video and a blog)

With social media dedicated frontline people can brilliantly provide a human face to champion the work an organisation is doing.

Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s senior countryside ranger, is a pioneer of this approach and has worked to innovate around how people outside the comms team in the public sector can do to really connect with people.

Seeing what she does blows away any institutional objections that comms people may have to opening up the gate to allow people outside comms to use social media. She connects using Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and a range of platforms not because they are there but because they serve a useful purpose.

Morgan is what happens when you open up social media use at an organisation to allow people to use social tools not as a one-off project but every day.

For my own part, I’m hugely proud of Morgan because I helped shape the open door access for frontline staff when I was at Walsall Council. In short, this was an appproach which saw people invited to come forward with ideas on how they could use social media. If their manager was fine and they were willing to have a chat we let people get going. One thing we did make sure of was that we got people to undergo some basic training for a couple of hours wiith a reminder that the code of conduct still applied online as it does offline. We also had six golden rules based around common sense that we asked people to abide by. Then we let them get on with it and were at the end of a phone if they needed help.

I’ve lost count of the number off times during training I’ve pointed to what Morgan is doing.

So, it was great to catch-up with her sat on a log in the middle of Merrion’s Wood surrounded with birdsong to chat to her to create a Soundcloud podcast you can hear here:

Twitter

Morgan started the @walsallwildlife Twitter account in March 2011 which has grown to 1,700 followers. She looks to update every working day and finds that pictures work well. This may be a newt survey or volunteers repairing a fence. She’ll look to respond to people and will try and answer when people have a question. For events, the real time element of Twitter works really well as well as joining in wider discussions.

Email

With more than 300-people added to her email list people who aren’t on social media can still keep in contact. If you come to a session you can get added to the mailing list to get updates on events being staged by the Walsall Council countryside services team.

Facebook

For Morgan, the people liking  her page are more from Walsall than further afield. Why? Maybe this is because Walsall people sign-up for it and when they comment thekir friends comment when they see them commenting or sharing an image. It becomes self-fulfilling but people are less inclined to click on a link to navigate away on Facebook than they are with Twitter. But they are more likely to share an image and ask what that particular plant or animal is.

Flickr

Pictures are taken by Morgan at events and while she is out and about and then posted to her own Flickr stream as a record of where and what things have been done.It builds up a useful image library not just of the places Morgan looks after but provides sharable content that can drive traffic.

Eventbrite

In the old days there used to be a telephone number and an answering machine and an email address too. Now, the eventbrite platforms allows Morgan to issue tickets for events for free.

Scribd

Being passionate about wildlife Morgan was keen to get information out about the bee populations in Walsall and how people could help. She created a download which was titled very ambitiously The Bees of Walsall: Volume One. It got 2,000 downloads in a short space of time. If a niche subject like bees and Walsall can achieve wuite a lot in a short space of time just imagine what will happen with a more mainstream subject that people are really, really keen to hear.

Audioboo

Morgan has recorded audio trails around places like Merrions Wood in Walsall where she can record short sound clips. She makes QR codes on laminated paper cheaply and then puts them up across the wood so people with smartphones can directly access the clip. The beauty is that it is cheap to do.

What’s the downside?

Is it all good? Are there times when there is a chalk mark in the downside column? Absolutely. ForMorgan, the grey area between work and life can be a problem. She has her own Twitter account where she can talk about other things on days off. But she does often respond when someone on Friday night asks what to do with a baby bird.

So, what’s Morgan‘s return on investment?

For Morgan, the drive for using social media is not to do it for the sake of it but to connect with people. Still do the traditional commss like the press release to reach some people but overwhelmingly the web of Twitter, Facebook and email can be the way that Morgan sells out her activities and sessions which is an important way that she can quantify how effective her and her department is.

The Meteorwatch events that draws people to Walsall venues to help observe meteor showers has gone from attracting just 20 people to brining along up to 3,000 people which is a staggering figure.

A short clip of Morgan talking about her work

Morgan Bowers talks about how she uses social media as a senior countryside ranger out and about. from comms2point0 on Vimeo.


SOCIAL PROPOSAL: Proposals to Improve Health and Wellbeing Board Social Media… what do you think?

179279964_8e0675c135_oThere’s a new network of key bodies across England that work to improve the health and wellbeing of their local residents and reduce health inequalities.

Known as ‘health and wellbeing boards’, they bring together the local council, clinical commissioning group, Healthwatch and other key local players in a genuine partnership and they do a really important job.

By their own admission they are not always great at using social media and, while there are some good examples, we think some light-touch guidance would encourage people to explore the opportunities of increased or improved digital engagement.

We’re very pleased to say that we have been chosen by the Local Government Association to help them draw up some proposals for this guidance and we’d like to ask what you think of it so we can polish and shape it.

We think better social media can lead to better engagement, better transparency, better communication, better curation and better listening.

Our broad thoughts in six points:

  • Rather than have a one-size fits all set of guidelines we think they should be phased from the entry-level one star right up to the top-of-the-class five star.
  • We think there should be some thought given to the name of whichever social profile is used. It may be that the name ‘health and wellbeing board’ is off-putting to some people.
  • We think there is enough guidance out there for professionals and we’d like to signpost people towards that. Doctors, for example, have the BMA social media guidelines. Elected members have some of their own too. We don’t want to replace these but we do make some suggestions for how social media can be used by the health and wellbeing board as a whole.
  • It’s not just Twitter. There is a range of different platforms. So when slides are shown, for example, they can be posted to a platform like slideshare so people can follow at home.
  • Yes, livestreaming meetings on the internet is a good idea and we’d not only encourage that but we’d ask that space be given for the public to ask questions via a social channel too.
  • We think engagement between meetings is key too. Not just during.

We think there should be some broad principles too:

The Five Be’s of an effective social Health and Wellbeing Board

Be engaging: it should interact wherever possible with users and reflect the debate.

Be timely: it should post information at a time that is most convenient to the audience.

Be jargon-free: it should use language that works on the platform of choice. It should not use jargon and language that people outside the health and wellbeing board would struggle to understand. It should be informal wherever possible.

Be connected: it should look to share content from partners and from across the public or third sector where is relevant. It could work with the partners who make-up the board to collectively focus on an issue to amplify a message and a debate.

Be informative: it should look to inform and to educate.

The five levels of social media

We’d love people to be on the fifth level but we have to be realistic. These proposed five levels give a low barrier to entry on level one and encourage councils to progress.

Level  Requirement
Level One -       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free
Level Two -       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

-       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

-       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

Level Three -       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

-       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

-       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

-       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

-       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

Level Four -       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

-       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

-       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

-       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

-       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

-       Digital engagement through social media between meetings that is fed back into the entire decision making process

Level Five -       Post meeting date and time on one social platform-       Jargon free

-       Cover meeting discussion on one social platform and curate content.

-       Publish slides of presentations given at the meeting and post to a health and wellbeing board page or microsite.

-       Livestream or allow residents to livestream and curate content.

-       Enable questions to be asked of the meeting from social media

-       Digital engagement through social media between meetings that is fed back into the entire decision making process

-       Searchable agendas that used metadata

-       An interactive website that the public can comment on.

-       Members enabled to use one or more platform during and between meetings

 

So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? We’d like you to have your say on this.

Please complete our online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LGAforHWB.

Visit the LGA website for more information and a Word doc version of the survey.

The consultation closes on 2 July.

 Creative commons credits

Jumping http://www.flickr.com/photos/40645538@N00/179279964/


SPACE LAB: We need to create time to experiment to survive

3105377322_82475318c6_oThere’s been a real drive for evidence based campaigns in the public sector just recently.

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?

Creative commons credit 

Pencils http://www.flickr.com/photos/67958110@N00/3105377322/


11 Things A Public Sector Social Customer Services Should Have

4040455314_97690b76ea_o

It’s always good to see slow burning success… and even more so when it comes for people who have worked hard on it.

John Fox spent a fair chunk of time at Sheffield City Council on a range of projects and working to get customer services engaged with the social web was one. I helped John wearing my comms2point0 had for a couple of days with this by showing what was possible. The baton has now been taken up after John’s departure which is good to see.

John has moved on to other things but Sheffield City Council has emerged on Twitter and has a dedicated customer services stream. It is early days but shows all the signs of being a success with a human voice.

It’s prompted me to re-blog the customer service post I made a while back and re-issue the reminder to comms teams to demonstrate their worth as a nit by making friends with this service and see how they can work better together – particularly on the social web.

11 things a public sector social customer services stream should have…

Have a dedicated customer services Twitter. Yes, I know your organisation probably has at least one already. But plan with scale in mind. You may be answering three or four a day now. But once your generic enquries email was doing that too. Just as you have different email accounts for different things you need different social accounts for different things too.

It should say when it’ll be monitored. 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday is fine so long as you make that clear. You’ll get more brownie points dealing with things out-of-hours but sometimes this just ain’t possible.

It should be staffed by real people. It should be authentic. Human. It should talk about the weather if it’s raining cats and dogs. That’s fine.

It should speak human. It should talk in a recognizably human way. Like real people do. It shouldn’t talk in jargon.

The actually doing it…

Start the day with a tweet from a real person. Close it the same way, too. Train operator London Midland do this beautifully.

Acknowledge the query. People don’t expect fully formed answers within the hour to complex problems. They know life isn’t always like that. But they do want to know you are on the case. The tweet that says: ‘Thanks for your tweet. Will find out for you’ is fine in the short term.

Get back in 24 hours or less. And make a point of saying this on your Twitter bio.

 Have a few people trained up. Not just one.

Never argue with an idiot, is what my Uncle Keith once told me. How right he was. How much of a web visionary he was, too. If you can help then help but if people shout, swear or troll you are probably better off spending your time answering other queries. Michael Grimes of the Citizenship Foundation’s seminal blogger engagement guide works well.

When in doubt think what you’d do if this conversation was taking place on the telephone. Which, when you think about it, is a lot more tricky than Twitter. You have to talk to people directly in real time. How tricky is that?

Use the channel as two way. Getting a flood of telephone calls about bin collections? Maybe a Twitter update and a piece on the website can help.

Creative commons credit

Help duck https://www.flickr.com/photos/16289690@N00/4040455314/


FUTURE COMMS: A comms plan to help people sleep at night 

4131391566_f24e225475_o

Well, it’s had a great innings but can we now finally bury the idea that using social media ad hoc in an organisation is going to change the world?

But what great days we did have.

We had a mantra of JFDI in local government – just flipping do it – and we did things under the rader without permission.We would chuck up a Facebook page knowing that IT didn’t know what it was so they couldn’t block it.

We could tweet election results without too much interference, snigger behind our hands and we could push the envelope.

But those days are over. We learned lots but no, we didn’t take over the world even though it felt as though we would. Today, many public sector teams have been cut back too far to have space to innovate. Even more worryingly, teams haven’t found a way to tackle the big issues that really matter to make a difference. They haven’t found a way to get the resources to do so either.

Sure, the trojan mouse idea of testing out four or five ideas to see where it’ll take you is one I enthusiastically believe in to help you experiment and see what works. But to really make a difference bright communications people need to take all that experience and find out what is keeping senior people awake at night. Then go hell for leather to tackle that, that and only that. But make sure the senior people know exactly what you are doing by reporting back using every means neccesary. Infographics are particularly good. Make yourself a sandwich board if you have to but just flipping do it.

Here’s a few ideas to help you…

Are you helping senior people sleep at night?

Here’s an exercise I came across during the LGComms Future Leaders programme at a session at Leeds Metropolitan University with Anne Gregory and Paul Willis. It was the best piece of training I had in the eight years I spent in local government and I suggest you do this quick exercise.

  1. Get a piece of paper and draw a blob in the middle. 
  2. Think of six people you do most of your work for in your organisation and write their names on the paper… the more important they are the closer to the blob you can write their name.
  3. Write down some things – let’s say six things – that keep those six people awake at night.
  4. 5612074901_1378aec493_bAsk yourself, are you really spending time with the really key people? 
  5. Ask yourself, are you really doing things to help the really key people  sleep at night?

My own conclusion to doing this exercise was that I wasn’t really tackling the issues that matter for the people that matter and I’ll bet you a slice of Victoria sponge that you aren’t either.

The goal of the bright communications team should not be vague ‘reputation’ or ‘awareness’. It is to prove in pounds, shillings and pence if needs be the value of the team before it is too late. It’s why I’ve long been convinced that channel shift and customer service are things that comms teams need to be closely involved with.

So how can we help tackle the issues that keep senior people awake?

If I had a pound for every time someone told me the words: ‘What we need is a comms plan,’ I’d have been rich. What they meant was they wanted you to tick a box for them. What they really wanted was to outsource the responsibility to you when we all know to be effective it should be a joint thing.

What you really need is a comms plan agreed jointly with the senior people around a table. This can take many forms but they need to have the following:

  1. Where they are now.
  2. Where they want to go.
  3. Something measurable and tangiable to show when they’ve got there.
  4. Who they want to talk to and how they can do it.
  5. Some ideas of resources.
  6. Some idea of evaluation.

Some of what’s in your plan will be traditional comms and some will be digital. You’ll have a mix of both and you’ll be working to make a difference to your organisation for the people who are going to be making big budget decisions in the not too distant future.

If yuo get this right your bosses’ boss will sleep at night.

And you won’t be sleepwalking towards a cliff either

By the way, I’m now available to help you with all of this and would love to do so. I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee on Twitter.

Creative commons credits

3:33 http://www.flickr.com/photos/7774088@N08/4131391566/

We will awake https://www.flickr.com/photos/25028863@N00/5612074901/


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 753 other followers