DIGITAL LEADERS: Vital lessons from a human leader and a lone dancing nut

Three great things happened in local government in the West Midlands last week and it’s been a while since that happened.

Firstly, new Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers posted his first blog in his first week in charge there… and it was human. It didn’t fall into the trap of councilspeak. Or jargon. It felt like it was written by a real person. Online, the mood of staff and those who care about the city rose by several degrees. You can read the blog here and see some of the reaction here.

Ready, Steady, Go  - Google Chrome 09032014 081308

Okay, so this is a small step and ranged against the good times is the small matter of the £822 million that needs to be saved from Birmingham’s budget, the need to sell-off the flagship NEC, the 1,000 jobs that will go this year and the need to turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick.

The task facing Birmingham City Council is immense. It’s going to hurt. But the knowledge that there is a human being in charge gives an injection of hope and the knowledge that the city stands a chance. You could argue that from this point on Mark will never be as popular. You could also say that times must be bad for public sector when a demonstration of being obviously human behaviour from someone at the top gets such a warm welcome.

And engaging on Twitter

Secondly, Mark started to engage with people online and Twitter saw a few human interactions between the bloke in charge and the bloke who does things for him as a far smaller part of the wheel. He even quoted Joe Strummer.

Lessons from a dancing nut

Thirdly, and rather wonderfully someone in Mark’s network Liz Newton shared a link that Mark suggested people go watch. It’s leadership lessons drawn in under three minutes by a dancing guy in a field at a festival. At first, it’s just one dancing guy but in under three minutes the field is transformed.

(QUICK NOTE: THE YOUTUBE CLIP REALLY IS A KEEPER SO DON’T SKIP IT.)

To quote the narrative spoken by Derek Sivers who posted the video:

First of course, a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he is doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is key. It must be easy to follow. Now here comes the first follower with a really crucial role. He shows everyone else how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal so it’s not about the leader anymore it’s about THEM the plural. It takes guts to be the first follower. You stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint the first follower is the spark.

Now here’s the second follower… this is the turning point. It’s proof the first has done well. Now, it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts. Three is a  crowd and a crowd is news.  A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see followers because new followers emulate followers.

Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we have a movement.

Leadership is really over-glorified… there is no movement without the first follower. When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’

So, that’s three lessons for leaders delivered by social media by one lone bloke in a suit in less than a week.


COMMUNICATE BETTER: On putting the show on right here

8509492809_a9766a9e56_bIt’s like a line from a Sixties ‘B’ movie: “Hey everyone, let’s get a converted banana warehouse next to a canal in the West Midlands and put on an event! With no agenda! It’ll be a sell out!”

Which is pretty much what we did with Commscamp the first unconference for communicators in and around local and central government.

Held at The Bond Company, a lovely converted warehouse in Birmingham’s creative quarter of Digbeth, we drew people from all over the country. It’s 135-capacity we could have sold four times over.

More than 170,000 saw the tweets on the day, a tweetreach survey revealed, and more than 500 joined in the debate on Twitter. More watching the sessions which were livestreamed.

People left the day fired with ideas with connections having been made with the unconference format allowing debate to flow over the tea, coffee and cake.

What is an unconference? It’s attendees deciding what gets talked about and voting with their feet to choose the break-out sessions they want. Want to crack a problem? Pitch a session and help run it yourself.

A revolutionary approach? Not really. It’s based on the success of sister events like UK Govcamp, localgovcamp, librarycamp and Hyper WM with many of them being staged in the highly networked city of Birmingham.

Why has there  been such an explosion? Simple. A perfect storm of budget cuts, new technoplogu and people excited a little by the new and better things they can do with them.

A couple of years ago I talked to Home Office press officers.

“Why would I bother with a few thousand people on Twitter when the frontpage of the Sun gets read by two million?” one asked.

A few months later the riots struck and those organisations without a Twitter presence were hopelessly exposed.

I thought of that press officer when the streets burned.

But commscamp was far more than just geeks needing to understand how the web has changed.

It was also about the real human day-to-day problems of how not just to do better for less but how to do completely different for less too.

There was the central government comms person sharing in her session how they coped when their team was cut by two thirds almost overnight.

There was the local government officer talking about how comms people should be letting go of the reins and allowing frontline staff to use social media to tell their day-to-day story.

I’m biased, but people like Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s tweeting countryside ranger should be revered and held up as an example to every organisation. You can connect with people with a realtime picture of a newt. Morgan does.

There was the heated debate over the future of the press release. Some thought they had just as important a role as ever. Me? I’m not so sure. Not when you see what things like Torfaen Council’s excellent singing Elvis gritter YouTube can achieve with its 300,000 views. That’s just brilliant.

There was the local government press officer who button holed me with the words: “I just didn’t know comms people could help democracy” or the central government comms person almost drunk with the ideas and possibilities they’d breathed in the asking anyone who would listen how things like commscamp could be repeated.

But the simple answer is it can. With enthusiasm, some volunteers and a smidge of sponsorship you can run your own and it was heartening to hear how others were planning their own.

The fact that it was planned by three people – two local government people myself and Darren Caveney – along with the Cabinet Office’s brilliant dynamo Ann Kempster really shows the power of a good idea, drive and some free social media platforms. The helpers who helped on the day showed that too.

The real value of unconferences is not just the lessons learned on the day and there are plenty. But it’s the connections made and the experiences shared that will still be paying back in 12 months time.

There’s no question that local government and central government have got so much in common and can learn from one another. Fire and rescue people too. And NHS. And the voluntary sector. We need to work with each other more because we face the same problems.

But the golden thread that ran through everything was a determination to do things better by sharing ideas. That, people, is just a bit exciting.

A version of this appeared on The Guardian.


CLICK INSPIRE: 20 golden links from 2011

If links are the web’s currency of inspiration then some shine as bright as a gold coin on a summer’s day.

Vivid and memorable as wild flowers they can sow seeds that bloom into bright ideas.

Some challenge while some crysyallise half thoughts.

They can be blog writing, tweets, news stories or images.

Over the past 12-months I’ve read thousands. Mainly in spare moments. As December trudged towards Christmas in downtime I’ve reflected on those that have shaped my outlook.

I’ve not gone online to remind myself but instead racked my brains for writing that has stayed with me.

There are scores of good writing. Many of them can be found on the pages of the blogroll on the right of this webpage.

A couple of them are mine. Mitigation for this is that they capture collaborative working.

Using Twitter to Stop Riots. As rioting spread and London police hip shootingly spoke of switching off the internet Wolverhampton shone. Superintendent Mark Payne used Twitter to shoot down rumours circulating online and off. Blogs such as WV11.co.uk and Tettenhall.co.uk plugged into this to retweet and shout via Facebook. Public I did a useful study.

The Icelandic Facebook page. With the country in financial tatters the Icelandic government started a root and branch review. The constitution which dates from 1944 was being re-drafted. Rather than whack up a 500 page pdf they broke down proposals into bite sized chunks and crowdsourced it. More than 2,500 Icelanders took part. In a country of 250,000 that’s astounding. You can read how here.

Twelve commandments for council news. Adrian Short isn’t a comms person. But his insight into how news online should be presented really needs reading by comms people.

Changing how council news is done. In a second post Adrian points out the folly of presenting press releases verbatim on a different medium. It needs reading if you care about local government and what it does. Read it here.

Birmingham City Council Civic dashboard. Critics say open data stands more effective in theory than in practice. This website starts to answer that and stands as a landmark.

Trust me I’m a follower. Scotland has some amazing people in the public sector. Carolyn Mitchell’s piece on the changing landscape is essential. As a former print journalist she has an eye for a line. That a senior police officer spoke of how he trusts his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account is one of them.

Stop being irrelevant. Explains why I think comms people need to see their changing landscape and evolve to stay relevant. It drove my thinking throughout the year.

Localgovcamp. The event in Birmingham in June brought together creative thinking, ideas and inspiration. The posterous here captures blogs that emerged from it.

Brewcamp. I’m proud to be involved in this. It’s a platform for like minded people to come together, share ideas and drink tea. You can read it here.

@walsallwildlife on Twitter. That a countryside officer can attract 800 followers by tweeting about her day job of bats, ponds and newts astounds me. It shows what can happen when bright people share the sweets.

Joplin Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when a tornado levelled the town. It was residents who self-organised with sites like these. This shows the power of community sites.

Queensland Police Facebook. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds killed when flooding struck. 200,000 signed up. This shows the power of official sites when given a flow of regular information.

Look how not on fire this is. When the shadow of rioting overshadowed Walsall in the summer rumour the town police station was burning was dismissed in real time by a police officer with a phone camera and a dry wit. PC Rich Stanley’s image had more than 2,000 hits.

The Walsall Flickr group. There are more than 9,000 images here from 130 members.  This shows the power of community sites and the good things that can be achieved when local government can work with them as equals as we did on this town centre empty shop scheme.

The Dominic Campbell youtube. I love the idea of ‘militant optimists’ pressing for change in unlikely corners of local government. It strikes a chord. This is a good 15 minutes to invest.

Twicket. Because John Popham and others live streaming a village cricket match is a good idea and shows good tech is less about the tech and more about fun and community. The big picture stuff sorts itself out. Read it here.

The end of crisis communications. Jim Garrow is a US emergency planner. It’s called emergency management over there. He writes with foresight. Not least this piece on why real time social media is replacing the set piece emergency planning approach. I’m proud he talks about one of my projects but this wider piece crystalises why real time events work.

Comms2point0. I’ll blog about this more at a later date. But this is a place where comms people can share best practice and best ideas. It’s largely Darren Caveney’s idea. It’s brilliant and so is the photographic style guide.

Digital advent calender Number 1. Many say  the media is dying. David Higgerson, of Trinity Mirror, proves that there is a home for good journalism on the web. His collection of writing is a directory of excellent tools of gems.

Digital advent calender number 2. Steph Gray steers Helpful Technology and helps people understand that technology is an opportunity not a minefield. He is that rare thing. A geek who can communicate with non-geek by speaking human. His advent calender will be pulled out and consulted far into 2012 like a Playfair Cricket annual is to a summer game enthusiast sat on the boundary at Worcester.

Creative commons credits

Yellow flowers http://www.flickr.com/photos/doug88888/2808827891/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Iceland http://www.flickr.com/photos/stignygaard/3830938078/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Police officers http://www.flickr.com/photos/glamlife/4098397848/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Stickers http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclosedcircle/3624357645/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Localgovcampers http://www.flickr.com/photos/arunmarsh/3656742460/in/set-72157620328138849


#WMGRIT: Innovation in Twitter Gritter

Get three things right in local government you may well be laughing: school closures, bin collections and gritting.

Those three horseman of the winter apocalypse can wreak havoc with lives.

Communicate them well and you are winning a big part of the battle.

Back in 2009, a handful of councils started to tweet when they were going out to treat the roads. Why? Because at 3am when there’s two shift workers and a drunk you need to shout about it.

Those pioneering early grit tweets opened-up a door and showed how real time information – and stories – is worth while.

By 2010 the idea had spread, thanks in part through SOCITM’s Twitter Gritter report which hailed best practice. I blogged a case study on it here.

By 2011, digital innovation looks to have taken another step forward with #wmgrit. This is a hashtag but so much more. A Cover It Live pulls Twitter Gritter tweets from eight West Midlands Councils – Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Solihull – as well as the Highways Agency which treats motorways.

You can click through to the Cover it Live here: West Midlands Gritting Alerts

The eight councils are looking to embed it in their websites and the embed code has been released for others to use.

Why does this work? Because often a journey in the West Midlands can start in one area and go through others. Travel from Telford to Dudley and you can pass through five council areas in less than 30 miles. Bigger areas like Northumberland probably don’t need this.

Giving simple real time information is a brilliant way to make life a little easier for motorists, shout alerts and lets not forget remind people what local government does for them.

Who is the brains behind this? Much kudos to the digitally-savvy Birmingham City Council press officer Geoff Coleman who has developed this idea. Geoff – who is @colebagski on Twitter – hatched the plan and got people on board.

The man is brilliant. It’s people like Geoff and his militant optimism and his spirit of innovation that makes local government such an inspiring place to work and I’ll look forward the case study Geoff writes.

Links:

Twitter Gritter SOCITM’s report.

Creative Commons:

Walsall Gritter http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5087392860/sizes/z/in/photostream/


SOCIAL TOWN: Using social media to tell a town centre’s story

With Walsall 24 we told the story of what a council did across a borough in 24 hours.

With Walsall Town Centre 100 we’re looking to go a step further and tell a different story.

We want to tell a hundred things about the life of a town centre across seven days from May 17 to 23 2011.

It’s not just about litter getting collected this time. It’s the faces on the market, the people in the shops and what gets done to keep people safe and protect law and order.

In effect it’s the council, the police, businesses and other partners joining forces to tell people what they do. It’s also about letting residents speak with Q&A sessions for key people.

All these factors make up the life of a town centre.

In many ways, Walsall is a typical town. It competes against bigger neighbours in Birmingham and the Merry Hill Shoping Centre in Dudley 14 miles away.

There’s three indoor shopping centres, 400 shops, an 800-year-old market, a circa 1905 Council House, a New Art Gallery, two museums and a 35-acre Arboretum giving a splash of green on the edge of the town centre.

It’s a town with civic pride built on the leather industry and one that was once known as the town of a hundred trades – hence the name of this experiment.

What are the channels?

We’re looking to use the council website walsall.gov.uk, the Walsall police web pages, Twitter, flag up some locations on Foursquare and also keep people informed via Facebook. There’s even geocaching too and a Flickr group to celebrate the beauty of the town.

The purpose is not to use a whole load of web tools just for the sake of it.

It’s to talk to people on a platform they might want to use.

How can you follow it?

You can take a look at three main Twitter accounts as well as the #walsall100 hashtag.

@walsallcouncil from the council.

@walsallpolice from the town’s police force.

@walsalltown from the town centre management team.

There’s also historic updates from @walsalllhcentre.

There’s a web page on it to tell you all about it here.

Why more than one organisation?

Because what happens in an area isn’t just down to one. It’s down to several.

Why use social media?

Because it’s a good platform to communicate and listen.

What will it look like?

If you’ve seen Walsall 24, that was a barrage of information in real time. This is slightly different. There may be a background noise of tweets with more focussed on events this time.

For example, We’re live tweeting a pubwatch meeting, a day on the market and a Friday night with the police on patrol. All this is part of what makes a town centre tick.

What else?

There’s a Peregrine Watch staged by countryside officers, RSPB Walsall and the West Midlands Bird Club, a walk in the Arboretum and other things.

There will also be a chance to ask questions with Q&A sessions.

The full list is here.

Why seven days?

To show all parts of the town centre from Saturday morning shopping to a Friday night on the town to a regular weekday morning.

This is what linked social is about. It’s a range of voices from a range of places with input from residents and shoppers too.

Will there be resources from it?

With Twitter being the live action, we’ll look to pull together Match of the Day-style  highlights with storify.com.

Hats off to the following for their role: Kate Goodall, Jon Burnett, Jo Hunt, Gina Lycett, Darren Caveney, Morgan Bowers, Helen Kindon, Kevin Clements and Stuart Williams.

Pictures:

Peregrine Falcon on Tameway Tower http://yfrog.com/hs90k9j

Walsall images from my Flickr stream http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/


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.


STOP PRESS: Are seven income streams the future of hyperlocal news?

 Unless there are six or seven income streams a hyperlocal site won’t pay for itself.

That’s the verdict from the excellent Future of News West Midlands event in Birmingham.

Depressing? Not really. Realistic? Absolutely. And there’s a surprising amount in common between hyperlocals and local government web experimentors like me.

This rather excellent event at Birmingham City University drew web entrepreneurs, hyperlocals and newspaper people.

Forward looking rather than finger pointing it looked for solutions and answers rather than blame.

The seven income streams idea for hyperlocals prompted debate about what those streams could be. Straight forward banner ads emerge from the print model. But then what?

Actually, a whole myriad of ideas that the show web as a vibrant place for entrepreneurs.

Picture framing, listings, ad features, hyperlocal t-shirts bigging up an estate or area and PR services all emerged as potential solutions. There was even a natty idea to maximise dead air time on pub TVs.

However, the danger is the cash cow you chance upon replaces the hyperlocal reason for doing it in the first place. Besides, what works in one town may not work in a different estate.

But surely this lack of sure funding means hyperlocals are doomed? If you were an accountant, yes. You could be right. And if you were looking at these sites to make piles of cash.

But then balance sheets don’t count the enthusiasm, community spirit and zeal many people are powered by.

So, wearing my local government what what does all this mean?

First, there’s still demand for local news, for one. And a passion for an area.

But if something really did become crystal clear it’s this: there are barriers to hyperlocals as we’ll as local government. They just have different labels.

For hyperlocals it’s lack of time and the prized extra time seven income streams can bring.

For local government, who can have a degree of funding, it’s lack of time and the barriers a chain of command – and IT departments – can bring. We may want to deploy leftfield ideas. It’s just not always possible.

Both sides can be forgiven for looking enviously at the other.

Yet, for all these obstacles there are some brilliant ideas taking shape in all corners of the web in the public and private sectors.

There’s no golden bullet for the future of news but I’m convinced the answers will be found through pioneering spirit plus a passion for an area.

That’s not unlike how good web ideas will succeed in local government.

 

Creative commons credits.

Abstract image www.imageabstraction.com.

Corrected journal Judge Mental


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