CLOSED DATA: The Problem With Open Data is Open Data People

3703575103_e11976b530_bThere is a movement that many people haven’t heard of that in theory has the power to re-shape the world you live in.

It can expose fraud, save lives and give new insight into the London blitz.

The movement is for open data. That’s the publishing of all public information.

So, that’s everything from the location of public toilets or grit bins to what suppliers a council buys toilet roll from.

Once the data is published in a format that computers can read – csv files on a spreadsheet should do it – the information can start to throw-up trends and spikes unseen by the human eye. Tim Berners-Lee gave an excellent TED talk on the subject which you can see here.

There’s a significant role it can play in creating insight that can shape communications decisions.

But the single biggest obstacle to all this is that open data people are bad – no, stratospherically bad – at communicating with non-geeks.

I’ll give you an example.

In Birmingham, there’s an informal event called Brewcamp which sees people come together at a café after hours to hear three speakers. There’s room for discussion afterwards.

A year or so back, with the coffee bought we sat down for the first speaker. This was on an aspect of open data which more than half the audience had come for. It was a pretty technical discussion of SPARQL queries and universal formats that left the converted animated and unconverted in the dark.

“Could I just say,” one baffled audience member said to the geeks at the end, “that you lot are really, really scary and I diidn’t understand a word that anyone said.”

And then hack days. That’s the process where mainly coders gather round to put their heads together to try and solve a problem by building a website or an app. Largely as a prototype. At best, this creates new ideas and approaches. At worst, it’s geeks showboating to other geeks.

I’m not remotely open data expert. I get the broad principles. I even helped the council who I was working for pioneer publishing every line of spend over £500. And no, bloggers did not act as an army armchair of auditors. I also co-founded a long defunct blog to try and share examples of where open data made a difference to tell the story. I gave up.

But the excellent BlueLightCamp event in Birmingham reminded me of the problem that the open data community have of speaking outside the coding ghetto. The people I met were all fine, passionate people. But they voiced day-to-day frustration in dealing with non-coders. Rewired State and Young Rewired State do good work in the field. And I like the look of Mark Braggins’ Open Data Aha! blog.

Nothing changes overnight.

But until enough open data geeks speak human then open data will not realise its potential.

Here’s how: tell them what the problem you faced was. Not the code problem but the actual real world problem. Then tell them what the thing was that cracked it. Then mention there’s a bit of open data under the bonnet that helped that.

The story needs to be told again and again. Not as a csv file. But in plain English.

Creative commons credit 

Bike https://flic.kr/p/6DgMRa


LIGHTBULB TYPES: The Great Universal Sticky ‘Do They Get It?’ Problem and the Three Types in Your Team

7142989057_53d70b6bae_zTwice in the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded about about the great universal sticky problem and what to do about it.

The problem that almost dare not speak it’s name is how much your team are keen to change, innovate, be creative and explore new ways of communicating. Do they see an infographic or Snapchat and want to know more? Or do they roll their eyes and look at the clock?

In short, do they ‘get it’?

The subject came up at BlueLightCamp in Birmingham which was an excellent event for people in organisations who may deal with emergencies.

You may be a great person in a senior position. You may want your team to change and adapt. But the hard fact is that they all may not. I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. And it’s not your fault. So stop blaming yourself.

When I was in local government I was fortunate enough to have a boss who did ‘get it’ and was keen for me to experiment and try things out. I was lucky. Early on I helped organise an unconference in the town where I worked to talk through some of  the bright ideas on how to communicate better using the web. I invited the rest of the team along expecting them to come and ‘get it’ straight away. I was expecting a Simpsons moment where everyone comes, the penny drops and everyone cheers wildly. Of 16, just four came. Two were unimpressed and two ‘got it.’

It took me a while to work this out. My team, your team, their team, everyone’s team is generally made up of three types of people.

Section One: People with light bulbs over their head

They are the ones who need to be celebrated. They have ideas, energy and enthusiasm. They can see that the world has changed and they want to try and create the new rules. They want things to work and they’ll leave at 7pm at night if they have to and carry on at home.

Section Two: People who need a piece of paper

They are the ones who don’t have a lightbulb above their head. But they may have a bit of a glimmer. But the glimmer is obscured by worrying about permission and bandwidth and what the director might say. But if they have a piece of paper in their hand to say that ‘it’s alright, I have permission and I’ve been on a training session’ then that glimmer may spark. And some of them may well turn into people with lightbulbs over their head. They’ll leave the office at about a quarter past five.

Section Three: People who are unengaged

They don’t have a lightbulb over their head. Someone tried to do something differently in 2003 and it didn’t work. This won’t work either. They’ll fold their arms. They’ll mutter. They may even be actively unengaged and want the thing to fall over. They’ll leave the office at five o’clock on the dot and hate staying any later.

A simple plan for what to do

Give everyone the same opportunity. But concentre on the folk from section one. Their bright ideas, creativity and innovation will drive you forward. They’ll may even bright some of the section two people along when they realise that this is do-able.

And the section three people? If they don’t want to play you can’t make them. Make it clear that this is the path you’ll be going down. They can come with you or be left behind.

But don’t beat yourself up. Not everyone agreed with Winston Churchill, Tim Berners-Lee or Steve Jobs.

Creative commons picture credit: NASA.


DIGITAL CLASH: Comms and Social: Have we won the War?

272900992_18af4400c3_oA few things have crossed my timeline of late that reminds me that comms and social for all their outward signs are struggling to fit.

Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.

Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.

But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.

There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.

I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.

I get that in spades.

I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.

I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.

I get that too.

I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.

I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.

Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.

I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.

He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.

The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.

Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .

I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.

I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.

It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.

Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.

Share, inform, entertain and engage.

Be timely.

Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.

Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.

Always, always, always be human with it.

If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?


#VOTECARL: Can you help us make a statement?

Hello Reader… I’d like you do me a quick favour.

Normally, I try and post some ideas, case studies or things that have impressed me about digital communications. If you’ve got something out of them then great. If that’s the case they I’ve a favour to ask.

I’d like you in the words of Deelite to vote, baby, vote. For a local government digital comms manager Carl Haggerty. Would you do that for me? And spread the word with your friends and colleagues?

Who is Carl Haggerty? He’s been nominated for the Guardian Public Services Awards and the Leadership Excellence shortlist. You can see the shortlist here – and vote Carl while you are at it.

Sure, there’s some great people that shortlist. There’s a local authority chief executive, a chief constable, a chief prosecutor and a bloke who is doing great things at the heart of government with digital. Each of these no doubt deserves the accolade of being shortlisted. There should be more good people in the public services.

But I’d still really like you to Vote Carl.

But I’d also like to tell you some reasons why I’d like you to do me that great favour.

Because he’s at the sharp end. Carl is digital communications manager at Devon County Council. It’s probably an unfashionable place to some. But it’s got a great recond in the field. They were the first council in the country to use Twitter. They have a good grasp about what digital skills are and people who are involved with digital are encouraged to blog as part of their learning.

Because they’ve encouraged innovation and learning. They encourage people to learn and share skills through innovative ways. They stage internal events that take a different slant at what they are learning about. Like this event that encouraged people to learn through playing a board game.

Because Carl likes dogs. Look at this picture. What a lovely dog. Another reason to Vote Carl.

Because of localgovdigital. A peer led group set-up with the help of the LGA this is bringing together and sharing good work from across the country. Carl is chair. He’s really good at it and has got a good sense of direction about what needs doing. It’s starting to get stuck into some good work. Our blog is here. (Disclaimer: I’m also a member.)

Because like me Carl has been shaped by the unconference movement. In local government training budgets are largely a thing of the past. As the challenge of digital looms we’ve never been in a worse state financially as we are now. People like Carl are staging events to encourage learning for free. Because they want to. And because in an era of no experts we’re all learning and all contributing.

Because this will make a difference to all the above. It will. Honest. It will bring recognition and allow Carl and people like him to do more of the things that local government needs to do.

Because just imagine what kind of statement we can make. A bloke in Devon who is a leading light in making digital work better in local government who connects people using social media and who builds on them and gives back a heap of things can take down a load of very respected people to win an award.

How cool would that be?

Please do your bit and Vote Carl.

Thank you,

Dan xx


EMBEDDING DIGITAL? It’s the trust stupid. And knitting patterns

874865119_0a252ffd35_bTrust, trust, trust. Forget everything else. It’s not technology. It’s trust that you need to make social media fly in an organisation. That, ladies and gentlemen and knitting patterns.

It’s trust from people out there who you want to communicate with and trust back there from the organisation to allow you to do good work.

Too often we don’t see the wood for the trees. We think when we’ve got permission to use digital for an organisation or a company the battle is over. It’s not. It’s ongoing and will take years to win.

I’ve been mulling over the whole trust thing for a while. Ever since the IEWM Best by West Midlands put trust and a lack of it as one of the biggest barriers to embedding social media. Almost 40 per cent of people pointed to it.

The mulling continued at Scotgovcamp where I led a great discussion with some fine people on the subject. You can read a great post by Kenny McDonald on the event here. As the session wrapped up and almost as an after thought I asked how long it would take for digital not to be seen as a dangerous threat.

‘Five to 10 years,’ was the answer.

That scares the heck out of me. It’s too long. And Eddie Coates-Madden in his post is right to say as much.

Former Police Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie says that he trusted his officers with a baton so why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account? He’s right. But it’s more than that. Top down trust is rare and should be celebrated. But it’s the winning it from the frontline up that’s the tricky part.

With trust you can start to prove the worth of what you are doing. You can shout about your successes and you can store up some house points for a time when the budget decisions are made and a bad day when things go wrong.

Here’s six things about trust you need to know

Trust is something that your social channel needs to earn with the outside world

The authentic works on social media. The corporate voice doesn’t. This doesn’t mean adding a sad face to a post about the passing of a former Mayor. It just means using a human tone and language. It also means being a named human being online just as much as you need to be offline to build trust.

Your internal comms for digital is never ending

Congratulations. You’ve won permission to use digital for the organisation. That doesn’t mean it’s embedded. It just means you’ve convinced enough people to put a toe in the water. The thing with toes in water is that they can be taken straight back out again. You’ll need to maintain the internal comms about what you are doing.

Take and share screen shots

That sucessful Facebook post that went viral? Take a screen shot and share it. Ping it to officers on the frontline and 5183452474_437b37fdbc_bthose higher up too. Let them see that you’ve connected with people and you are gathering useful feedback. The engineer sceptical about tweeting gritting was an early convert back in 2009 when he saw positive feedback.

Build up an understanding of social among senior people

Some say that your chief exec needs to tweet. I’m not so sure. I’ve seen organisations where the man at the top seems a digital native but the rest of the place lag far, far behind. You don’t need them blogging. You just need them to have a basic understanding of what digital communications is. That includes the pitfalls as well as the positives.

Knitting patterns can sometimes rock

One good point about engaging senior people is by working out what their interests are. Sit down with them and understand what they do away from the day job. Is it cricket? Football? Macrame? Or as one person at scotgovcamp said maybe it’s knitting? This is where a Twitter stream about knitting patterns can do a lot of good. Once they can connect with the social web in a fun informative non-work way they’ll bring that understanding with them.

Training and a policy

Yes, you need to train and you need some guidelines. But you need to make sure you leave space for creativity to take you places you never thought possible.

Creative commons credits

Green knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/breibeest/874865119/sizes/l/

Orange knitting http://www.flickr.com/photos/48559365@N05/5183452474/


SOCIAL STORIES: social media isn’t a historic blip… mass media is

2931756818_112d351b0c_o (1)It’s not often I’ll re-post someone else’s content. It’s even rarer that I re-post someone re-posting someone else’s content. But this one is something of a belter and it’s entirely within the spirit to do so.

There was an excellent TED talk YouTube on Stephen Waddington’s blog from Tom Standage who is both digital editor at The Economist and an author. The book he’s written is ‘Writing on the Wall’ which shows how far from being a modern blip is actually 2,000 years old. Not only is it rooted in history it’s the last 150-years of print mass media that’s actually the faddish blip.

As a historian that really appeals to me. It appeals even more to the geek in me. And it appeals yet more from someone who helps with the brewcamp meet-ups that actually idea sharing in a coffee shop has been around before. As Standage says, coffee shops in 18th century London were known as ‘Penny Universities’ where people could share listen, talk and meet with social superiors for the price of a brew.

Tom Standage’s three phases of media

New media 1993 – to date

That’s the stuff that’s been around since about 2000. It’s Twitter and it’s Facebook and it’s this blog post.

Old media 1833 – 1993

That’s the stuff that’s powered by a steam powered printing press. It starts with the first penny newspaper and ends with the invention of the internet.

Really old media 51 BC – 1833

That’s the stuff that first emerged in the late Roman period where people like Terentius Neo and his wife write letters to each other. Letters would be shared. Books were scarce. So you wrote one copy and place it in a library. If it was any good it it would be copied and shared. Or in other words, pirated. If it was pirated often enough then publishers would step in and produce more. So you really wanted your wortk to be pirated by as many people as possible because it meant your ideas got spread.

“You say my letter has been widely copied. Well, I don’t care.  Indeed, I myself allowed several people to take a copy of it.” – Cicero Rome, 106 BC – 43 BC.

News would get around on wax tablets with the same aspect as the i-pad, Standage says.

Martin Luther’s ideas go viral

Priest Martin Luther sparked a revolution when he started to question with the Roman Catholic church was selling pardons from purgatory. He writes out a list of questions he’d like answering. He pins it to a church door in Latin. It gets copied down in long hand and shared. It gets copied and further shared. It gets printed. It gets printed in German and shared even  more widely. Luther is amazed. He never intended the challenge to go viral. So, the next time he gets his message out by going straight to the printer with a German text. The result? The Reformation as the Catholic church splits and Protestantism is formed.

Coffee Houses and social media

There were no barriers to class in a coffee house and in London they led to an explosion of ideas and debate. Lloyd’s of London the insurance brokers began in a coffee house as did The Stock Exchange. So did the Royal Society.

“(The coffee house) admits of no distinction of persons, but gentlemen, mechanic, lord and scoundrel mix and are all of a piece.” – Samuel Butler, London, 1668.

Deliciously, Standage points to the parallels with social media and coffee houses and points to how people thought that people in coffee houses were just messing about.

“Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none now follow it now in the University? Because of coffee houses. Where they spend all their time.” – Anthony Wood, Oxford, 1670s.

What the history lesson is for today

“Is social media a fad? If anything was a fad it was the old media mass media period that was a historical anomaly. Now we’ve gone to a more social model super-charged by the internet.” – Tom Standage, Oxford, 2013.

All of that rather appeals. It means that the brewcamps, teacamps and for that matter unconferences we think of as new ideas are actually rooted deeply in something that has gone before. It’s also something that has a track record of innovation. You put people into a room with a cup of coffee – and maybe some cake – and you start to get some good results. That’s tremendously re-assuring and tremendously exciting.

A few years ago when all this digital stuff was new to me I sat in the pub with Michael Grimes who is @citizensheep on Twitter. We were complaining that people were thinking that social media was just people wasting their time. And that people had once complained about telephones. And railways in the Victorian era. And every other invention.

Tom Standage’s book is called ‘The Writing on the Wall: Social Media the First 2,000 Years’ and you can buy it from shops and the internet very soon. You can watch the TED talk here…

Creative commons credit 

Coffee and laptop http://www.flickr.com/photos/librarianbyday/2931756818/sizes/o/


18 things the Ashes can tell you about digital communications

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Back in 1882 when England took on Australia at the game of cricket it took 10 weeks for the message of who won to travel 9,000 miles from London to Melbourne. Today it takes seconds.

Nothing is a better yardstick of how communications is innovating than this never ending battle between two countries.

Message by ship was succeeded by the telegram, radio, TV and the internet. Like a timeline each innovation has carried the message.

In 2013, it’s been no different and this historic game of bat and ball has shown a yardstick of where we are. As Australia lost to England the story was told by tweet, picture, TV broadcast and blog.

Here are 18 things we can learn about digital communications and The Ashes.

1. Pictures work on Facebook

As a Facebook page Official England Cricket works brilliantly in many ways. They are a case study in how creating sharable content works well. They don’t add score updates. They post pictures of Ian Bell lifting his bat in triumph with a message. Even a damp image of an outfield gets more than 60 shares and a barrage of 1,800 likes.

Fullscreen capture 14072013 204048

2. You need to moderate your Facebook page

As great as Official England cricket is at posting content they’re not always the best at moderating the abuse that goes on at times between people. Including an amazing amount of spam and grief that comes out of the Indian sub-continent.

3. Post on Twitter to the popular hashtag

Both England with 221,000 and Australia with 219,000 followers used Twitter effectively. But when they posted content they may have had their own hashtags but they also added content to the far more popular #ashes community which at its height was trending globally.

4. Be careful about your own hashtag

Yes, it’s lovely looking at metrics which belong to you through a distinctive hashtag. England had #rise based on a piece of commissioned poetry which was all about rising to the challenge. Australia had the bold #returntheurn about how Australia were going to sieze back the six inch urn. Which sounded fine when the series started but led to derision when they were on the end of a 3-0 stuffing. It was dropped.

5. The Twitter hashtag as news channel

Forget the TV. Forget the radio. Forget news sites. If you were away from them the place to find out what was happening was just checking the #ashes stream itself where you had the beauty of two perspectives. The English and the Australian. At the same time. So, as I sat on a train as Stuart Broad ran through the Aussies to secure victory it was via Twitter that I was following what was happening.

6. Hashtags as an instagram community

The photosharing site Instagram was used by Australia. Less newsy than Twitter. Less engaging than Facebook Instagram was a platform for capturing people photographing the TV they were watching, the pint they had just bought or their view from the boundary itself. Australia sprinkled their own content with behind-the-scenes pictures.

7. Google Plus has good numbers but a mixed take-up

While Australia ran a cracking page for 50,000 people updated regularly with images and content the Official England page for 190,000 was lacking the TLC that makes a page fly.  The jury remains out it seems.

8. Old media doesn’t like new media and would rather it went away

For decades radio coverage of cricket in the UK has come from the BBC’s Test Match Special. It has done the job incredibly well. But they pay for the privilige. And the alternative Test Match Sofa coverage doesn’t. The Sofa is some blokes sat on a settee watching the cricket of telly and burbling into a laptop and broadcasting the results online. Deliciously amateur? Yes. But when The Cricketer magazine linked up with them the BBC was not happy.

The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins remarked:

“The thought of having to listen to the predators who purport to be producing commentaries from sofa or armchair without paying a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board for the rights, is too ghastly to contemplate. The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better.”

The row escalated when a Cricketer employee tweeted about Test Match Sofa in breach of accreditation guidelines.

9. Audio works

Both Test Match Special and Test Match Sofa did rather well with tailoring snippets of commentary from key moments of the series. Like Kevin Pietersen falling for 62 in a glorious thrash towards a target in the 5th Test. The BBC did similar with their polished version although they only stay up for a limited amount of time. But nothing was as good as the close-of-play podcast the BBC version produced.

10. YouTube works if it is from the heart

Aussie journalist Geoff Lemon produced a memorable diatribe against his error strewn opener Shane Watson recorded outside the ground as the crowd were heading home. It’s so angry it’s beautiful. The thing is that Shane kept getting out lbw. And then to make matters worse kept wasting a precious review that allows a second look by off-field umpires. “Stop being so… Shane Watson,” a red-faced Lemon roared as he searched for the worst abuse he could think of.

You can watch it right here.

11.  The player’s relative’s social media account is a news creator

Aussie opener David Warner was demoted to the ‘A’ team after he attacked a rival player in a Birmingham pub. His brother unhappy at Shane Watson taking his bro’s placed launched what is known in the journalist’s trade as a ‘Twitter tirade.’

920324-tweet

12. Ghost written columns by players are pointless

They don’t say anything, they don’t do anything. They’re exercises in platitudes not offering a scrap of anything interesting.

13. The celebrity fan’s social media account is a news creator

When  Piers Morgan tweeted from the US to criticise Stuart Broad’s decision not to volunteer his wicket and instead turn to the umpire to make the decision (he didn’t) it became news. Drearily.

14. Journalists need to be on Twitter

The leading journalists from old media – and new – were active on Twitter. Not just linking to their latest finely crafted piece but also presenting a human side. Without noticing it the journalist as human being has entered the list of things the good hack must be. It’s not enough to lurk or to dismiss the platform.

15. Social as a way of taking the temperature

When things blew well for either side it became clear by taking a look at social. A search for either time showed how happy / angry / incandescent supporters of both sides were with Stuart Broad / DRS / the weather / umpires / David Warner.

16. The accidental tweet is alive and well

When  a particularly amazing umpiring decision was made against Australia the official stream chipped in with a tweet describing the decision as #bullshit. It was quickly deleted. Make sure you know who has access to the account is one lesson. I’ll bet that using two different platforms to get onto Twitter – one for personal and one for work – is now part of the press office brief.

17. Venues are poorly equipped for social

Outside of press rooms the paying punters are overlooked when it comes to WiFi – free or otherwise. The bright venue will look to offer a way of their customers staying online to contribute to the conversation, tell the world what a great player Michael Clarke or Ian Bell is and what a tasty burger they’ve just eaten. This will change.

18. Social media is just part of the landscape

Sometimes those who live on Twitter can lose sight of how the media landscape isn’t just Twitter although sometimes it’s hard to seem otherwise. The industry around the Ashes remains TV and radio with a whole side industry of books a by-product of every series. But social is becoming so embedded we no longer see it as something to raise an eyebrow at. Like an Aussie win in the 1990s. Or an English victory since 2009.


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