“The thing is, Dan,” someone very senior once told me, “if we asked people what they want, they’d just say chocolate cake.”
So, the senior person described what he thought they’d like instead rather than asking people.
In many ups and downs it was the most depressing moment I had in eight years of local government.
I’ve always felt uneasy with this ‘we know best’ concept of public service for people.
Earlier this month I saw something different that has hardwired putting people at the heart of things.
I was in London and could make a meet-up – or teacamp – for local government people. The meet-up was tremendous. A room in a pub. Some tea and coffee and some shared learning. It reminded me of brewcamp meet-ups in the West Midlands. Hats off to the excellent Natalie Taylor of the GLA for organising.
What was hugely good was a quick exercise that spelt out what ‘agile’ looked like. It’s a process I’ve leard lots about but never really come into close contact with. In short, this is looking at a service you want to change in the organisation and going through step-by-step.
But at each step, looking at what will benefit the service user… the real person public sector people are trying to help.
It was hugely refreshing to focus on the user not the organisation. Not to say a little difficult.
There is nothing new about this process. It has been used for years and has been a mantra for places like GDS. But seeing it at close hand it’s clear there is a lesson there for communications people.
The question for communicators is not about chocolate cake…. it’s ‘does what you are communicating help real people?’
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.
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.
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