YOU AND ME: Why we’ll all make #commscamp13 fly

bond3A passion for tea, cake and sharing brilliant ideas work is what will make the first unconference for communications people work (disclaimer: I’m biased.)

It’ll be staged Bond Company in Fazeley Street, Birmingham.

This place used to be a warehouse that shipped ice to London. I mean. How cool is that?

Now it’s a meeting space and offices for Birmingham’s creative industries.

Commscam will see more than 150 people come to put their collective heads together for a barcamp around comms, pr, marketing digital stuff. You can mention the word ‘press release’ too. That’s allowed.

I’m pleased to say there’s a real mix between local government, government and people outside these fields and a mix too between unconference veterans and newbies. That’s just how it should be.

Why am I biased? Because I’m helping organise it with Ann Kempster from the Cabinet Office and Darren Caveney from Walsall Council two quite brilliant people.

Why are we doing it? Because we’ve seen enough of how unconferences work to see that they can be hugely successful and we think there’s things to be discussed and ideas to be shared in our field.

So, what’s the agenda? There isn’t one. It’s a big blank sheet of paper that those who are coming along will help to shape. That’s the beauty of an unconference. It all gets pulled together by those who are coming along. You can find out more about the event at it’s website here and if you haven’t already feel free to mention a session here. You don’t even have to have a ticket as we’ll be livestreaming some of the sessions and we’ll be tweeting too on the #commscamp13 hashtag.

So why are we doing commscamp?

Well, I can’t speak for Darren and Ann but for me… 

We need to share ideas and inspiration. In 2013 it can be tough working in comms in and around government. But those who work in the field can be a hugely passionate bunch. A good idea at the FCO could well work somewhere in local government. Without big budgets sharing the ideas can work.

5847098219_83ee1f5deb_bYou don’t have to be an unconference veteran to get something out of it. Just last week I was up in Manchester for the LGComms social media event. Rather bravely, they tried a loose unconference element. Of the 60 in a room about six had been to an unconference. Was I worried? Yes. People were only too keen to suggest the 12 sessions we had. Commscamp was roadtested and passed.

You need to plug into the West Midlands. Okay, so I’m a bit biased (but I declared that right there at the start) but there’s been a stack of good things in the West Midlands for some time around digital and innovation. Perhaps it’s the beer or the geographical closeness but there’s ideas to be had and shared.

You need to learn from people outside comms. Some of the best ideas and approaches I’ve had have come from talking to bloggers, engineers, police officers and coders. Listen. Talk. Learn. While there’s a focus on PR people there’ll be some input from those outside the sector too.

Local government people need to talk to government people once in a while. There are ideas in Shropshire that may shape what’s done by a government department to communicate to people. Vica versa too.

6743879607_578df3e4aa_bOur sponsors are lovely. There’s a big list of them down the side of the blog here.

If you’ve ever been told: ‘what we need is a comms plan’ and wanted to scream you’ll be in good company. There’ll be a session of primal screaming just to get over this, I’m sure.

Cake is good. Underpinning any unconference is the cake table. Baking is the first social media, I’m sure of it.

Sounding good?

Here’s your call to action right here: 

1)  If you’ve got a ticket say ‘hoorah!’ and think of something that you’d like to see cracked or maybe think of something you are proud of and would like to share. Post it here on the discussion thread.

2) If you haven’t got a ticket go to February 26 in your calender and put the date in your diary along with the words: “Dammit, I  missed a ticket but I can still follow #commscamp13 on Twitter.” There’ll be a livestream posted to this hashtag on the day too.

3) If you’ve a ticket and you can’t go tell us, say: ‘oh no!’ Tell us and we’ll release it to the frankly large waitlist.

4) Take a look at the commscamp blog here.

5) Can you help? See how you can help here and share the buzz. Or as we’re in Brum, point people where to catch the buzz. Take a look here to see how you can help.


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/

HYPER GO: Why bother with an unconference?

Hoorah. For the third time in three years there will be an unconference for those in and around local government in the West Midlands.

Called Hyper WM this half day event has grown from being a half germ of an idea to something a bit big a bit splendid and I’m proud to be involved with.

Staged at The Public in West Bromwich on Monday November 19 the event will give people the space to think a bit differently. Hats off to Sandwell Council’s chief executive Jan Britton and Liz O’nions for really picking up the ball and running with it and to Si Whitehouse who has played a big role this year.

It’s the biggest event yet there’s some tickets here if you’re quick.

But what’s the purpose of one of these things? Aren’t we all unconferenced out? Paul Coxon recently wrote a challenging and thoughtful piece that questioned the worth of unconferences. Paul has done some great work in local government and like anything half-decent if it’s a good idea it can stand a level of scrutiny. So here’s my own take on them.

What do I get out of them?

Simply, it’s a chance to connect, be challenged, think differently and learn. It’s a chance to see what is on the horizon and just over the hill. Do I learn something that I can put into place first thing Monday morning? Yes. But it’s often equips me for that thing that lands on my lap in six months time. Often it’s thanks to an unconference that I’ve knowing the basics and know the right person who can help. Like a glorified address book with ‘problem solving’ on the cover. Everything that I’ve done over the last three years with digital – direct or indirectly – has come from an unconference. How can I start to calculate that?

What would new people get out of them?

It’s a chance to take some time out of the office to learn and to think differently. Job titles are handed in at the door and there’s a chance to contribute to a discussion or even start a discussion with someone with something you have in common. The coffee break at a traditional event is often the most valuable time as it’s a chance to talk, ask questions and learn. A good unconference can be a whole lot of that.

What do sponsors get out of it?

A chance to test out ideas, horizon scan, see what ideas are developing and to attach a name to a room full of people who believe in doing something a bit innovative. There’s also the passing traffic of eyeballs to the website and to the event. But that’s almost a by-product.

Oh, no it’s not structured!

Rather like taking a dip in the deep end without water wings for the first time there’s a leap of faith involved. You may hate it. You’re more likely to like it. At the last Hyper WM there was the press officer who refused to come because he didn’t have an agenda. That misses the point.

Nine unconference pitfalls and ways to dodge them

Three years on from my first unconference and it’s clear that the model has evolved and has matured. There was an intake of breath at localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2012 when for a whole variety of reasons many veterans couldn’t make it. But others stepped up to the plate which was brilliant to see.

1. If the same faces turn up.

There’s no question that there’s a group of people who will turn up to unconferences. That’s fine. They’ll get the ball rolling and encourage and cajole. But the danger is there’s an imbalance of new people with fresh ideas. An imaginative use of the wait list can ration the right balance. Easy.

2. If the same faces pitch a session idea.

There’s also no question that the unconference pitching session where you stand in front of a room of people can be daunting. It encourages a certain type of people who don’t mind public displays of popularity. So how to fix it? Maybe it’s encouraging ideas before the event itself. Maybe it’s blank postcards and pens. And someone else reading them out. Easy.

3. If there’s no ideas

Like the actor who dreams of being on stage with no clothes surely deep down the unconference organiser dreads. Teeing up a couple of ideas and making the pitching less scary is a must. Especially from new people.

4. If there’s cliques

Open data people only talking to other open data people in open data sessions is a bit of a missed opportunity and a bit boring, frankly. The times when I’ve been to events I’ve made a deliberate policy of heading to an event where I’ve known absolutely nothing. In short, I’ve sat in the corner and said nothing. At one event I sat through a session on WordPress as a web platform. That’s not my day job. But I learned things that helped with the day job. If you’ve been before, find someone you’ve not met before and chat to them. Then repeat. You’ll learn things.

5. If the focus on problems not the shiny tech

I’d love to see sessions that floated a problem and looked for solutions that may or may not be about the tech. Coventry City Council Martin Reeves at the 10 by 10 WM event made a valuable point. At a recent session for chief executives social media wasn’t mentioned once, he said. Don’t be an evangelist. Bring a solution that may just have some tech as part of it.

6. If there’s measurement

Yes, but how do we measure the success? Maybe it’s coming back in six months time to see what people have learned and put into practice. Then working out what the cost of what that would have been if you’d bought it off the shelf. Good luck with calculating that.You’ll need a stack of numbers.

7. Yes, but aren’t we unconferenced out?

Not nearly close. If 150 people want to stage an event to talk museums and hold it in an unconference format that’s fine by me if those 150 get something out of it. The public sector is a broad church. With training budgets vanishing the unconference is a way of sharing knowledge. If a room full of public health people want to get together to crack something that’s fine by me. Or librarians.

8. It’s the brewcamps, stupid

For all I love big organised events it’s actually things like brewcamp – and teacamp in London – where I can see the most potential. What’s this? It’s a group of like minded people coming together to drink coffee, eat cake and learn things. At no cost. In a coffee shop. Splintering is the new black.

Crack those eight and you’ve a good chance of helping to create something vibrant and innovative. Best thing is you don’t have to be an organiser to play a big part.

9. It’s not a golden bullet 
Like marmite, some people will love unconferences. Some people won’t. They’re both right and that’s fine.

Creative commons credits

Shropcamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/bryn_s/5655320144/sizes/l/in/pool-1638817@N22/

Hyper WM http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5059208628/

Ally Hook http://www.flickr.com/photos/nohaatef/5058081740/sizes/l/


GOAL! 29 good things and a poor football anecdote from #localgovcamp 2012

There’s this sinking feeling you get as a football supporter when you look down the team sheet for the first game of the season and see a lot of the old faces missing.

There’s no-one you know in the back four and your midfield playmaker is missing. You know it could go one of two ways.

So it was for the fourth year of localgovcamp in Birmingham with a lot of the old timers missing and new people coming through.

What is localgovcamp? It’s an event for local government people who give up their time to kick around ideas on doing things better. There’s no agenda. It’s decided on the day and anyone can put up their hand to suggest a session. As a comms person I go to get ideas and inspiration.

So in football terms how was it?

Very well, actually. Very, very well. It was another convincing victory and the newer faces really stepped up to the plate. Team manager Dave Briggs could go home happy he’d recorded another triumph and the digital trophy cabinet that has been well stocked since the event first started has been added to.

A good unconference can be powerful. Ideas can flow, connections can be made and your opinion counts for just as much as the chief exec who had come along to see what the fuss was about.

Why do I go to these as a senior press & publicity officer? For the inspiration, excitement, beer, curry, discussion, connection and learning.

In previous years I’ve waited for a week or so before blogging. Now after an event I try and chuck some thoughts up.

those 29 things…

1. localgovcamp doesn’t need a big number of veterans to make it work.

2. There is absolutely a need for it in the calender.

3. It inspires people. It makes them think in different ways. That’s powerful.

4. It can remind you why you work in local government. Despite everything.

5. The new people came to the fore. In one session, on local government blogging, I was really happy to sit back and see some cracking feedback from people who hadn’t been to one of these things before. That’s brilliant.

6. Blogging is a good idea. But telling your boss, pinging them what you write and making sure you’re not an idiot are good things to do.

7. Kabul is a place we can learn from. I just don’t care how many people I tell how great a project and a model for story telling kabulacityatwork.tv is. Start at ‘Who Is The Taxi Driver?’ if you haven’t come across it before.

8. Comms people are coming in good numbers. That’s brilliant to see.

9. There seemed to be fewer open data sessions. With fewer of the open data community there.

10. Si Whitehouse reminded comms people that open data can tell stories too. Good work, Si.

11. There appeared to be less about the shinyness of tech platforms and more about getting things done.

12. Mess about with new platforms as an individual. Evaluate. Then see if they’ll work for you in local government.

13. Lloyd Davis will write a book or thing that I’ll re-re-read in years to come to remind me what it was like to be around when the social web was relatively new. I’m sure of it. And it’ll stand the test of time. I can’t wait for this to happen.

14. Some people are unduly precious about the word ‘geek.’ To me it’s a word that celebrates someone who knows their stuff backwards and gets excited about the detail of it. There were a lot of such geeks here.

15. It’s not the social media platforms your organisation adopts, it’s the culture that matters (thank you @simon_penny)

16. The Anchor in Digbeth, Birmingham is just a brilliant pub.

17. Press officers must realise that they need to do more than just write press releases to survive. More are realising this.

18. I wish I could have had a proper chat with many people. Like Peter Olding, Nat Luckham, the bloke who does @actonscottmuse, Kate Bentham, Paul Webster and bunch of others. Including Simon Penny.

19. Post-it notes don’t stick to whiteboards without bluetack. Definite learning point.

20. localgovcamp is actually a place to make connections and ideas. It’s not about the suits who do or don’t go. I see that now. It’s not even about the ideas you’ll put into place on Monday morning (and there’ll be some.) It’s about coming across ideas that’ll hove into view in your day job two, six, 12 and 18 months down the line. Then knowing who to talk to about them because you heard / met / saw / followed them on Twitter at localgovcamp.

21. Digital press offices are a good idea.

22. I missed speaking to the old timers who didn’t make localgovcamp. But when I see them next I’ll tell them they missed out on some terrific first timers.

23. How do you handle augmented reality as a comms officer is a question that’s around the corner.

24. There is a splintering of unconferences to focus on more niche things. That’s fine.

25. Some of the best ideas I’ve had as a comms person have originated in conversations with coders, bloggers, policy people, engineers and others.

26. It must be great to have free time. The free time that Gareth Young and Glen Ocsko have now they’ve retired from We Love Local Gov. Yes, I’m jealous.

27. The West Midlands is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant place to be working in digital.

28. It would be great to find a way to get first timers pitching session ideas. Maybe postcards into a cardboard box is the way forward? Yes, I know it’s not web 2.0. That’s the whole point.

29. Some of the possibility and excitement we glimpsed at localgovcamp in 2009 is coming true. Best bit? We’ve only just started.

Creative commons credits

Shoot! Hartlepool Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/hartlepool_museum/6925401413/sizes/l/

Gareth and Glen Peter McClymont  http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamadonut/7575785604/sizes/l/in/set-72157630588436326/

Pitching Peter McClymont http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamadonut/7575811056/sizes/l/


HELLO CAMPERS: Three years on from the first localgovcamp… so whats changed?

So, It’s localgovcamp this week. Yippee.

On Saturday, 120 people from local government will head to Birmingham to share ideas, scheme and try and make the world a better place.

It’s an unconference which means the agenda gets decided on the day by those who go. Andy Mabbett’s guide for newbies is here

Seeing as it’s been three years since the very first one organised by Dave Briggs and people from Birmingham City Council I thought it high time to look back at how things have actually changed.

Back in 2009 at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham, there was a feeling of excited idealism. Tom Watson MP stood in the queue for coffee talking to a press officer while a web manager from Yorkshire was busy talking to a blogger from Brum.

This new thing called Twitter was connecting people in a way few people understood but all who were in on it were excited by.

It was brilliant. Sarah Lay, who I rate, wrote this piece in 209 that hasn’t dimmed with time.

So what’s changed?

Me. It made me think differently. It made me see new ideas and the confidence to try some of them out. My job title says press officer. I actually do far more than that.

Knowing bright people. It’s not always what you do first thing Monday morning that made localgovcamp. It’s making connections – so when you need WordPress skills further down the line you turn to Philip John. For open data Si Whitehouse. Localgovcamp 2009 created a network that has built and thrived and rebnews itself each year. That’s an amazing achievement.

Some bright people aren’t here anymore. Jack Pickard, who I met briefly at localgovcamp, died a short time after. He was someone I rated from a distance. I’ve never unfollowed him.

Some bright people have fallen by the wayside. Not everyone with talent is valued by an organisation. Some bright minds from 2009 haven’t been given the space to shine. They’re shining some of them at other things instead. Some have dazzled then faded.

It’s an ideas factory. Some ideas first come across in 2009 took three years to be relevant enough to put into practice. But that’s okay.

Unconferences work. One question asked in the run-up to the 2012 event was if people are fed-up with them. For me, you only have to look at mailcamp, museumcamp, librarycamp, hyperwm and others to realise that’s not the case. They’re getting more niche and more specific.

The web is making job titles irrelevant. At a barcamp you are a sticky badge who stands or falls on your willingness to share – and most importantly listen. That’s rather good.

Suits are starting to come. In small numbers. For the first time a chief executive is on the 2012 guest list. That’s a good thing.

Unconferences can have the same faces. That’s fine because people connect and re-connect. But there’s a danger of staleness if there’s not new faces. Seeing a new idea from a new person fills me with impish glee.

Others have picked up the baton. Those that came in 2009 have been organising their own things like a glorious domino effect. It led to events in York and London that led to events in Walsall and Warwick. And elsewhere.

Meeting people broadens horizons. The answers for being a better communications officer, I’ve found, can be found by talking to coders, to bloggers, to residents, to officers, to elected members and to people who do other things.

We are winning. The basic idea of localgovcamp 2009 that the social web could make peoples lives a little better remains the same. You doubt it? Look back at where you were three years ago and think how far you’ve come.

Links

The 2009 localgovcamp attendee list

The 2011 localgovcamp attendee list

The 2011 localgovcamp posterous of blog links

The 2012 localgovcamp page

Creative commons credits

Fazeley Studios in 2009 http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656735854/sizes/l/

Sticker http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5845598435/sizes/l/in/set-72157626866274047/

Laptop chairs table http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3655949531/sizes/l/in/set-72157620328138849/


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/


GLASTO FOR GEEKS: Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

Like an apple tree planted in the Spring a good thing can give you a fine harvest of fruit years into the future.

Events like barcamps and unconferences are the lifeblood of innovation in government. Ideas spark when you put good people into a room.

Heading for work on Monday morning it can give you the zeal of a convert. But the beauty is that many of those seeds of ideas take time to take root and form an idea.

Trouble is that some of those those valuable moments of inspiration and insight can be misplaced.

UK Govcamp is a grand daddy of an event staged at Microsoft in it’s fifth year and has expanded into a two day event drawing more than 300 people to London.

I went for a day. A family celebration stopped me from staying for the second (at which Stoke City ended up losing). The morning after my visit I had this exchange on Twitter:

So here is my list of bulletpoints, in no particular order (and I’ll be adding to them in the days to come):

  1. It’s like Glastonbury for government geeks. It’s big. It’s brilliant. You plan to see a big act on the main stage. You end up in setendipity.
  2. A Saturday barcamp is what good people would do every day if bad people, obstacles and emails were removed.
  3. There are town centres whose shops and shopkeepers are connected digitally.
  4. There are creative people who work in their back bedrooms who could be connected digitally.
  5. We don’t put inspiring people in a room often enough.
  6. Suits won’t ever come to a barcamp. Some will. Most won’t. But half way house events that have a bit of both can work.
  7. Nick Booth is one of the Holiest Saints who ever walked this earth.
  8. Archant are a newspaper group in London who ping out daily emails with headlines and links in. As well as print. That strikes me as being like news 2.0.
  9. Philip John is a bright kiddie.
  10. Dave Briggs and Steph Gray should be revered as Lennon and McCartney for organising this.
  11. Talk is good. But doing something on Monday morning is more important.
  12. Use local government services like a resident would to see how you can improve things. Then tell someone how it can be improved.
  13. The golden bullet answer is there are no golden bullets. Just lots of different solutions.
  14. People in Ludlow were behind a hyperlocal site that celebrates their town.
  15. People in central government don’t have a budget for photography.
  16. Everyone is paranoid of releasing Flickr images as creative commons in case someone does something silly. But people scratch their heads when asked if they can come up with an example.
  17. People would love us forever if local government came up with a way to issue digital bin night reminders.
  18. People in central government talk about strategy and policy lots. Less so in local government. They tend to talk of case studies and doing.
  19. Nobody has come up with a killer solution to return on investment for social media. That’s the score that looks at what you spend you get as a return. Followers are a bit important. But it’s what you and they do together that matters.
  20. The new single Alpha gov platform .gov.uk website will save pots of money. My 50p says that it’ll be offered / handed to local government next.
  21. The idea of a two day event gives space for people to come up with problems to fix. That’s a compelling thing
  22. The people at Microsoft are jolly good hosts.
  23. I’ve come away with a list of people I’d wish I’d met / spent more time with. Again.
  24. Don’t ever give in being an optimist. Ever.
Useful links:
The UK Govcamp 2012 buzz page.

Creative commons credits:

Puffles the dragon and friend by David J Pearson  http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6736374453/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Writing on a sticky by Ann Kempster http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Discussions over lunch by Harry Metcalfe http://www.flickr.com/photos/annkempster/6730392597/sizes/l/in/faves-danieldslee/

Govcamp logo shadow puppet by David J Pearson http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidpea/6735824359/in/faves-danieldslee/


BETA BLOCKER: Is comms at risk of being the new IT?

The only difference between a stumbling block, a barrier and a stepping stone is the way you use them, apparently.

There were a lot of stumbling blocks talked about at localgovcamp in Birmingham.  Many such obstacles were were from corporate comms. They were the corporate branded elephant in the room.

Heard the one about the comms team’s response to snow? Instand updates via facebook or Twitter? Nope. Book a half page advert in the local paper?

Oh, how we laughed. As a comms person myself it was more a case of nervous laughter.

I believe strongly that there’s an argument for having a light touch on the tiller from enabling comms people.

When you put online and offline channels together they can be incredibly powerful. You’re delivering a similar message on the platform people want using the language of the platform.

But then again, if you’re reading this on Facebook or Twitter you already know this even if you haven’t admitted it out loud.

So, what’s localgovcamp?

It’s an event that saw more than 100 people giving up their free time on a Saturday to help make their corner of local government bloom a little more. It’s Glastonbury for local government geeks. There was web people, open data people, comms people, hyperlocal bloggers and even an engineer.

Attending the first event at Fazeley Studios two years ago changed the way I think about my job. I’ve heard the same said from others too. It’s been brilliant seeing the light bulbs going on above people attending their first ever localgovcamp.

Two years ago one of the main frustrations was some IT people who were keeping the social web in lockdown. Many, but not all, think progress ended with the Commodore 64. Of course, it goes without saying that the IT people I work with are all hugely helpful and forward thinking.

That battle to use social media seems to have be getting won. Slowly in places but the it’s irreverable. The battle now is with unenlightened comms people and it’s a subject I keep returning to.

For people in a PR job it’s about waking up. For those not in PR it’s about helping wake them up. And yourself and colleagues while you’re at it.

So, because I can’t write a blog post without a heap of links, here’s a heap of links to help those who don’t get it wake up…

A heap of links…

Whats the role for local government comms and social media?

I’d suggest anyone reads this excellent blog post by Ingrid Koehler of FutureGov which she wrote when she was still with LGiD http://ingridkoehler.com/2011/01/what-role-for-localgov-comms-and-social-media/

How does the social web work in practice?

Social by Social is a NESTA-produced landmark text that shows how the web can be used for a social impact both by government and individuals. http://www.socialbysocial.com/

How does the social web work in practice?

When a tornado struck Joplin killing 154 people the state support networks were overwhelmed. A website http://joplintornado.info was launched as a place to log missing people and phone numbers. It evolved into a place for info and help. More than 48,000 people ‘liked’ the Joplin Tornado Info page set up as a http://www.facebook.com/joplintornadoinfo?ref=ts

How can the public sector use social media in an emergency?

In Queensland when floods struck Facebook became the prop people turned to. The talented Ben Proctor has blogged on how they responded here. http://www.benproctor.co.uk/2011/02/five-things-we-can-already-learn-from-queensland-police-use-of-social-media/ You can see the Queensland Police page here: http://www.facebook.com/QueenslandPolice?ref=ts

Can local government do Facebook outside of a crisis?

Stirling Council has more than 3,000 ‘likes’ http://www.facebook.com/stirlingcouncil?ref=ts&sk=info Coventry chose a nice picture of their city rather than a logo and have 18,000 signed-up http://www.facebook.com/coventrycc?ref=ts You can search the book data base via the Manchester Library and Information Service http://www.facebook.com/manchesterlibraries?ref=ts

Can local government use Twitter?

An organisation that has the right tone http://twitter.com/MonmouthshireCC. A venue with an engaging manner http://twitter.com/OrkneyLibrary and an officer who puts a human face on the service http://twitter.com/walsallwildlife

Can local government use YouTube?

Stirling Council used a short video as part of their bag it and bin it campaign http://youtu.be/bMoMNK3tX6A But it doesn’t have to be broadcast quality. An apprentice gritter driver made this short film of how he helps treat the roads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TClrk-VDthM

Thanks to Ben Proctor for the crisis comms links, Corrine Douglas for Stirling Council YouTube.

Thanks Si Whitehouse, Dave Briggs and others for organising localgovcamp.

The original post: http://wp.me/pBLBH-sc

Creative Commons credits

Barrier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/selva/424304/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcamp room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5845534577/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Stickers:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/1gl/5846133704/sizes/z/in/set-72157626866274047/


SESSION LESSON: A DIY guide to running your own small Barcamp

There’s a great quote about learning not being compulsory, but neither is survival.

For the public sector learning and survival are vital in 2011.

No doubt, there’s a place for paid training.

But 2011 will be the year unconference as they expand in size and number.

What’s a barcamp? It’s bright like minded people coming together, booking a venue and running some sessions to exchange ideas.

UK Govcamp in London drew more than 170. It created an explosion of inspiring thinking on the day and after.

For this organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray need to be revered as heroes.
But that’s not enough for them. Oh, no. They’ve gone and created More Open. A fund to help start-up barcamps in other parts of the country. What a pair of dazzling gents.

Shropcamp is one of the first to benefit. Others will follow.

Last October I joined Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Andy Mabbett and Mike Rawlins to put on the comfortably laid back and low level Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Around 70 people came on a Wednesday afternoon to Walsall College with tweets and reaching a potential audience through the #hyperwm hashtag we were surprised to learn of 56,000.

Now, I don’t for one minute suggest we’re now fully fledged event planners after one gig. Nor is what we did remotely in the same ballpark as UK Govcamp.

But that’s the point. It wasn’t trying to be. We just fancied doing something in our part of the world that we’d want to go to.

So, in the spirit of doing and sharing here are some things we learned. It feels like the right time to post this.

PLAN AN IDEA

1) Have an idea. Kick it around with some conspirators. If it stands up to the scrutiny of a couple of people you’re on a winner. Rope them in too. It’s good to share.

2) Think of a list of people you’d like to be there. Get their support for the idea. Now you’re on your way.

3) Check Dave Briggs’ 10 things to do for a barcamp. It’s indispensible.

START TALKING ABOUT IT

4) Think of a name for your event. Get yourself a Twitter account. Spread the word. Don’t wait until you have a venue or location. A name will do at first.

5) Get yourself a presence on the UK govcamps site that requires sign-up. There’s already a community of people there.

6) Get yourself a basic WordPress site to host a Google map with venue, parking and other locations.

7) Use your Twitter to flag up potential sessions and sponsors. Build momentum.

8.  Use your offline contacts to raise interest. Email. Talk. Cajole. Enthuse.

PLAN A VENUE

9) Get a venue within striking distance of a train station if you possibly can.

10) Use any contacts you may have to get it at cheap rate or free. Is there a public sector venue that fits the bill?

11) Rolling tea and coffee is a must. Catering is a cherry on top bonus, frankly. It’s 2011.

12) If it’s a public sector thing, think of a venue near a council building.

13) Having it away from the council itself is liberating. It helps people loosen up and makes it a slightly non-work thing.

PLAN SPONSORS

14) Briggs’ guide wisely suggests banging the drum with web companies. There may be some public sector cash knocking around too.

PLAN A DATE

15) There’s a debate on what works best. A Saturday? You may get people who can’t come along midweek. Midweek? You’ll make it part of the day job for less committed nine to fivers. There’s a role for both. Friday isn’t always great, apparently.

16) How about the length of it? All day or half day? How about a post event drink too? You may find people want to chat a bit afterwards.

PLAN TO GET PEOPLE TO COME

17) Use Eventbrite for tickets. Release them in batches to build up a sense of momentum. Give a build-up via Twitter to each release.

18) DM people to invite them to sign up. Don’t think that just because its posted on Twitter at 9am the world is all watching at 9am.

PLAN FOR ON THE DAY

19) Venues often have wifi on lockdown banning access to social media sites. Test what they may offer beforehand.

20) Bring lots of extension cables.

21) Bring sticky labels people can write names on.

22) Have one of your organising team always floating around to sort any problems.

23) Do something different. We invited people to bake a cake.

24) Have a couple of volunteers signing people in. Sounds obvious.

25) You’ll need someone like Andy Mabbett to compare. He’s loud. He has a big beard. He’s good at explaining.

AFTER THE EVENT

26) You’ll need to take the next day off. To recover, but also to capture the resources that have come out of it.

27) You may want to pay for a Tweetreach report to get a seven day snapshot of tweets with your hashtag. It’s handy to see the size of things. It’s also handy to pass on when you’re thanking sponsors.

28) You may want to capture some of the things that came out of the event too. Like Pelsall Common People blog that started in the wake of ours.

29) Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. It’s fun. A bit of work but mainly fun.

Creative Commons credits:

Agile session http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5380789354/sizes/l/in/set-72157625758104141/

Analogue boy http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferpoole/5379048924/sizes/l/in/pool-1638817@N22/

Applause http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/contacts/


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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