BOW SKILLS: 37 skills, abilities and platforms for today’s comms person

Before the internets were invented life must have been so dull. Y’know, really dull.

You wrote a press release, you organised a photocall and once in a while TV and radio would show an interest.

A few years back the yardstick of success where I work was getting the local TV news to come host the weather live from your patch.

There’s been a change. Like a glacier edging down the mountain valley blink and not much has happened. Come back a while later and things have unstoppably changed.

Truth is, it’s a fascinating time to be a comms person. We’re standing at the intersection between old and new.

Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loves newspapers but he’s intoxicated by the speed and possibility of the internet. That’s a quote I love.

Here’s another quote I love. Napoleon Dynamite once said that girls only like men with skills. Like nunchuck skills, bo staff skills or computer hacking skills. For a digital comms perspective Napoleon’s quote could be applied there too. What you need are social media skills, press release skills and interactive mapping skills. And a bit more.

Sitting down recently I calculated the many strings to the bow that are now needed. I counted 37 skills, abilities and platforms I’m either using on a regular basis or need to know. Some more than others. Or to use Napoleon’s parlance, bow skills.

Out of interest, and to save me time in googling their associated links, here they are:

TIMELESS SKILLS

The ability to understand the detail and write in plain English.

The ability to understand the political landscape.

The ability to communicate one-to-one and build relationships.

The ability to work to a deadline.

The ability to understand comms channels and what makes interesting content on each.

WRITTEN CONTENT

Write a press release. The ability to craft 300 words in journalese with a quote that’s likely to tickle the fancy of the journalist who you are sending it to.

Use Twitter. To shape content – - written, audio, images and video – in 140 characters that will be read and shared.

Use Facebook. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

Use Wikipedia. To be aware of what content is being added knowing that this belongs to wikipedia.

Use LinkedIn. To shape content – written, audio, images and video – that will be read and shared.

IMAGES

Arrange a photocall. The ability to provide props and people to be photographed and to work with a photographer and those being photographed so everyone is happy.

Use Flickr. To source pics, to post pics to link to communities, to arrange Flickr meets.

Use Pinterest. To source pics and share your content. To build a board around an issue or a place.

Use Instagram. To share your pics.

AUDIO

Arrange a broadcast interview. The ability to provide an interviewee when required and give them an understanding of the questions and issues from a journalists’s perspective.

Record a sound clip to attach to a release, embed on a web page or share on social media. I like audioboo. I’m increasingly liking soundcloud too. It’s more flexible to use out and about.

VIDEO

Create and post a clip online and across social sites. Using a camera or a Flip camera. With YouTube or Vimeo.

WEB

Add content to a webpage. That’s the organisation’s website via its CMS.

Build a blog if needs be or add content to a blog. That’s a blog like this one or a microsite like this one.

To know and understand free blogging tools. Like wordpress or tumblr.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

To know when to respond to questions and criticism and how. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes has done some good work in this field.

To know how to build an online community. Your own. And other communities.

HYPERLOCAL

To engage with bloggers. Like Wolverhampton Homes’ policy suggests.

To be search for blogs to work with. On sites like openly local.

LISTENING

To be aware of what’s being written about your organisation, issue, campaign or area. By tools like Google Alerts.

MAPPING

To build and edit a simple map. Like a Google map. And be aware of other platforms like Open Street Map.

ADVERTISING

To understand the landscape to know which audience reads which product. Like the local paper, Google Adwords and Facebook advertising.

MARKETING

To understand when print marketing may work. Like flyers or posters. Yes, even in 2012 the poster and the flyer are sometimes needed as part of the comms mix.

INFOGRAPHICS

To understand when information can be better presented visually. Through a simple piechart. Or more interestingly as a word cloud or via wordle. Or if its packets of data in spreadsheets or csv files through things like Google Fusion Tables or IBM’s exploratory Many Eyes.

OPEN DATA

To understand what it is and how it can help. It’s part of the landscape and needs to be understood. Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee’s TED talk is an essential six minutes viewing.

NEWSLETTERS

To understand what they are and how they can work. In print for a specific community like an estate or a town centre or via the free under 2,000 emails a month platform mailchimp to deliver tailored newsletters by email. There’s the paid for govdelivery that some authorities are using.

CURATION

To make sense of information overload and keep a things. With things like pinboard.in you can keep tabs on links you’ve noticed. Here’s mine you can browse through. For campaigns and useful interactions you can also use storify to curate and store a campaign or event. You can then embed the storify link onto a web page.

SOCIAL MEDIA

To know the right channels for the right comms. Social media shouldn’t just be a Twitter and Facebook tick box exercise. It should be knowing how and why each platforms works for each audience. Same goes for the smaller but important platforms like Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.

HORIZON SCANNING

To know what’s on the horizon and be prepared for it when it lands. Same for emerging fields like Augmented Reality. What is science fiction today will become commonplace in years to come. People like hyperlocal champions Talk About Local who are already working in this field.

ANALYTICS

To know how to measure and when to measure. The measurement for traditional comms have been around. Potential readership of newspapers. Opportunities to view. Opportunities to see. The new digital landscape doesn’t quite fit this and new ways are being worked out. There isn’t an industry standard means just yet. But the gap has been filled by those who claim to be. The very wise Dr Farida Vis, who took part in the Guardian’s acclaimed research into the English riots of 2011,  pointed out that sentiment analysis wasn’t more than 60 per cent accurate. There’s snake oil salesmen who will tell you otherwise but I’ve not come across anything that will be both shiny and also impress the chief executive. Tweetreach is a useful tool to measure how effective a hashtag or a tweet has been. Google Alerts we’ve mentioned. Hashsearch is another useful search tool from government digital wizards Dave Briggs and Steph Gray.

CONNECT

To connect with colleagues to learn, do and share. Twitter is an invaluable tool for sharing ideas and information. It’s bursting with the stuff. Follow like minded people in your field. But also those things you are interested in. Go to unconferences. Go to events. Blog about what you’ve learned and what you’ve done.

WEB GEEKNESS

To truly understand how the web works you need to use and be part of it. That way you’ll know how platforms work and you can horizon scan for new innovation and ideas. It won’t be waking up at 2am worrying about the unknown. You’ll be embracing it and getting excited about it’s possibilities.

Good comms has always been the art of good story telling using different platforms. No matter how it seems that’s not fundamentally changed. It’s just the means to tell those stories have. That’s hugely exciting.

This blog was also posted on comms2point0

Creative commons credits 

Who are you talking to most? http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/6810200488/sizes/l/

Reading a newspaper upside down http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2542840362/sizes/l/in/set-72157623462791647/

Photographer http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2744338675/sizes/l/in/set-72157605653216105/

Reading http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2477046614/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Eternally texting http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4473276230/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Toshiba http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4711564626/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/

Smile http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/5542156093/sizes/l/in/set-72157614042974707/


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/


OPEN DATA: A warning from history

Was this the first data visualisation? Florence Nightingale uses statistical data to argue for healthcare reform for soldiers in the Crimean War.

Open data cutting edge? Like top hats, Christmas trees and giant factories the Victorians got there first.

They may not have built a chimney sweep Google death map.  But their approach was similar. Collect the data. Publish it. Draw conclusions. Argue for change.

Don’t believe me?

Look at Florence Nightingale in her funny lace bonnet. Historian Dr Stephen Holliday in BBC History Magazine August 2010 writes about how she used statistics to

Florence Nightingale - 'funny lace bonnet.'

revolutionise the care of soldiers in the Crimean War.

By using statistics – data  - she painted a picture to show a revolution in care was needed.

“When she reached Scutari the base for casualties from the Crimea,” Halliday writes, “Florence calculated that deaths from disease were seven times those arising in battle and used the campaign to campaign for better food, hygeine and clothing for the troops.”

Battered by the force of Florence’s figures and cutting edge reporting that forged the reputation of The Times the British government was forced into changes.

After the war Nightingale used her Royal connections coupled with arguments based on charts and tables to press for better standards for soldiers who even in peacetime had death rates double that of civilians.

The result? Death rates fell by 75 per cent.

Florence herself said that statistics were “the cipher by way we may read the hand of God.”

We may have lost that religious zeal but it’s an argument Tim Berners-Lee would recognise as a modern-day Florence Nightingale with a passion for data.

Tim Berners-Lee - 'a modern Florence Nightingale'.

Tim Berners-Lee - 'a modern Florence Nightingale'.

Did she get it right all the time?

No. Here’s the warning from history.

By misreading available data Florence Nightingale later helped kill thousands of people.

How?

She used statistics to wrongly argue cholera was an airborne disease.  It wasn’t.

It took London GP Dr John Snow to collect his own data on death rates in his patch to argue they were caused by a contaminated water supplies.

So what’s the message to today’s open data pioneers?

That first data visualisation you have in front of you may not be the whole picture.

The map that Dr John Snow drew to discover that cholera was a waterborne disease.

There may be more to it.

Remember the phrase ‘lies, damn lies and official statistics?’

Statistics were once hailed as the magic cure-all that revealed a hidden truth.

It’s been said that all data in some form or other is political. Let’s not see open data similarly tainted.

LINKS

Florence Nightingale -http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/cms/

BBC History Magazine August2010 http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/issue/august-2010

Creative Commons:

Crimean War data visualisation: Wikipedia.

Cholera map: Wikipedia

Tim Berners-Lee: Paul Clarke via Wikipedia


DAY TO DAY DATA: An idiot’s guide to what the open data revolution means for local government

Okay. Cards on the table. For the last 12 months I’ve been coming across geeks who have been banging on about data with a religious zeal.

You can see them wherever digital people meet-up with their Atari t-shirts and their Mash the State badges.

Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee a while back got an entire conference to chant ‘free the data!’ over and over.

Why?

What the flip is data? Why the flip should I be bothered? I’m just a local government press officer.

It was Tom Watson MP who I first heard talk about data in the summer of 2009 at the Black Country Social Media Cafe.

Gradually, after scores of conversations, blog reading and thinking it’s started to make some sense.

What has emerged to me is a picture of the potential for nothing short of a revolution. In life and by extension in local government.

What is data?

It’s information. It may be bicycle accidents. It may be crime figures. It may be the location of street lights or a leisure centre.

Pretty boring, yes?

On it’s own probably. But it starts to get really, really interesting when that information gets presented in an easily digestible way. Like on a map, say.

It gets even more interesting when several streams of information are put on the same map. It can make the world we live in look a different place.

The bicycle accidents map is a brilliant early example of how this can work.

Isn’t that only of interest to cyclists?

Yes, but that’s the whole point. It’s information – or data – that’s buried away which is fabulously interesting if you were a cyclist. You could find out where the accident blackspots were and avoid them. Or maybe campaign for something to be done about them.

The open street map is one such editable map with scores of snippets of data.

In the West Midlands, the MappaMercia project have kicked some ideas around. The gritting map of Birmingham is one example of turning data into something interactive. It plots gritting routes around the city which are treated in icy weather.

Start to make sense?

Here is a Q and A. It’s an idiot’s guide to data written by an eejit after talking and listening. It’s not a definitive. But it’s one take on what data will mean for local government.

What is data?

Data is information. Simple as that. Broadly speaking, this can be on a whole range of subjects. It could be weather data, news data, scientific data or government data. Even what time the 404A bus route runs from Cradley Heath to Walsall can be classed as data.

What about personal data?

All that stuff isn’t really of interest to enthusiasts who want to build maps and mess about with things. However, every time you use your Tesco Clubcard that data gets stored by Tesco. The supermarket giant then use that to build a picture of what lines are doing well and also a snapshot of your shopping habits.

Isn’t data available anyway?

If you are Sherlock Holmes and you look hard enough there’s a stack that could be found. But that’s just it. In the 21st century we expect more than just that information is stored in filing cabinets that may or may not be open to the public twice a year. In 430 different locations (one for every local council).

But isn’t data about bus routes and bus arrival times like, really, really boring?

To you maybe. But if you catch the 404A from Cradley Heath you’d want to know when the buses left and – here’s the nub – how reliable they were.

What is a ‘mash-up’?

This is where information has been taken and presented in a different format. On a fun level, the United Cakedom mash-up plots where cake reviews were carried out. There’s also a picture and a link to the blog that carried them.

Yes, but what does this mean for local government?

It means more transparency.

It means that people can see what is going on. It can also means that better informed decisions can be made by decision makers. That has to be good.

What would the average council officer think of making data freely available?

Frankly, they may be terrified.

Why?

If you are working at a particular coalface you may think that the information you are collecting is actually yours.

It can be sat on an officer’s hard drive and jealously guarded.

The officer may be worried at how this information plays out amongst residents. It could lead to criticism and awkward questions being asked. That’s democracy.

Why should local government officers not worry?

Frankly, many of the decisions about releasing data are being made at a very senior level in Government. More than 3,000 data sets – that’s packets of useful information – have been made available by the British Government via data.gov.uk.

Are there any amusing examples of data worry?

The Localgovcamp event in London recently heard of an example of how the Royal Mail stepped in to ask a council to stop mapping Victorian postboxes as the information ‘could be of use to terrorists’.

There was also the worry that a grit bin map could be used by grit thieves at a time of short supply.

What’s all this fuss about data.gov.uk?

This is a website for masses of data to be made available.

What sort of information can be found there?

It’s a range of public information from birth rates to accident statistics to death rates.

Isn’t data.gov.uk difficult to understand to the lay person?

Yes and no. It’s all in one place which makes a start. But the real beauty is when web developers get their hands on it and make easy to use applications like the iphone ASBOmeter that tells you where and how often anti-social behaviour orders are handed out by courts.

What about council websites? What does this mean for them?

Previously, there was effectively one door to knock on for council information. The council website. That’s changing.

As data becomes freely available anyone tech-savvy can build a website and display council data. Remember, as taxpayers it is effectively theirs.

Remember the bicycle accident site? People would be more inclined to go there rather than turn detective. See? See how it starts to work?

Do council websites do nothing then?

No, not at all. It means that as the bar has been raised to present information council web people will have to learn new skills. Interactive mapping is a must. Simply posting a pdf that won’t show up in a google search just isn’t good enough.

Is this political?

Different political parties are starting to construct policies around it. It’s not for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of those parties.

Undoubtedly, in local politics the trends and anomolies thrown up by open data will enter into the political arena.

So, this is all about big government then isn’t it?

Not really. There’s a stack of data collected by government both local and national.

There’s also a lot more which individuals create, either consciously or unconsciously. It happens every time you use the web, for example. Google checks where you are clicking so it can rank pages accordingly. When you follow someone on Twitter data is collected. Add a picture to Flickr and more gets created.

Can we go off as local government officers and build Google maps? And what about Ordnance Survey?

Err, no. No blog about the public sector and maps is complete without a line about Ordnance Survey. This is the state-owned organisation that licenses people, companies and state owned bodies, such as councils, for the right to use maps.

Open data people get really cross with OS. It’s our data, they argue.

Right now, there is a row going on between OS and Google which means that local government people can’t use Google maps. This may change in the near future.

Not heard enough? What does world wide web creator and brains behind data.gov.uk Tim Berners-Lee say about it?

There is a brilliant TED talk on data which should be required viewing. You can view it here.

During it (at about 4 minutes 30 seconds) he shows a clip of Hans Rosling using data visualisation to shatter a commonly held myth about poverty. People in non-western countries die early with big families. Right? Wrong. Not any more they don’t. He used birth and death data to create an animated chart to bring alive his argument.

The original talk by Hans is here.

This is what Tim Berners-Lee says: “Data drives a huge amount of what happens in our lives.

“I want to think of a world where everyone has put data on the web and so everything you imagine is on the web.

“I’m calling that linked data. It’s about making the world run better.”

If you were looking for a starting point, take a look at Tim Berners-Lee’s six minute film here on how that data stuff and people who knew what they were doing helped save lives in Haiti in 2010.

SIX things local government people can do:

1. Remember that data collected by local government doesn’t belong to local government. Or the officer that collected it. It belongs to residents.

2. Realise it’s going to happen anyway. It’s not your decision. Open data is often Government level.

3. Start using data to feed back into the decision making process. Maybe there is a site out there that can be used?

4. Raise the bar when presenting information on council websites. Think maps. Think RSS feed too.

5. Realise that data no matter how boring to you is madly interesting to somebody somewhere.

6. Look for data that can be made public. A map with layers to show who your councillor is, where the leisure centre is and where the library is is a start. Add past election results too.

Start to make sense now?

Creative commons credits

Data – Patrick Hoesly, Bike – Kicki, Seventies computer – AJ Mexico, Caramel – Matthew Murray, Handheld – Zach Klein, Tim Berners-Lee – Farm4Static.


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