CAFE SOCIETY: How the secret of coffee and cake can network your organisation’s comms

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For five years I worked in the public sector trying to embed digital communications across the organisation and in that time we found two secrets.

We won an award and we managed to get people on the frontline keen and engaged.

But what ingredients made this happen?

Two things. An open social media policy that allowed people from across the organisation to use it after some training. But a piece of paper only goes far. It opens the door but it won’t send everyone charging past and into the warm water. Here’s what really did. A regular meet-up where everyone who used social media was invited. We had three topics. No slides. We would try and meet off-site too to encourage creative thinking. A cafe was best.

The sessions were deliberately open and we encouraged people who were trying new things to talk about what they had learned.

Why involve people from across the organisation?

To share the sweets, of course. It’s something I’ve blogged about before. Social media shouldn’t be a communications thing. It should be an every service area thing. And sometimes we need our enthusiasm re-fired and a lesson shared to re-charge our batteries.

And one of the biggest challenges in all of this is for this not to be a comms’ own meeting. This shouldn’t be the head of comms lecturing everyone how it should be. It should be people from across the organisation working it out together. But more than that. Open it up to partners too. And anyone who is interested from the public. Widen the circle.

Here’s a secret. Two actually

Very often organisations can have more than 100 channels. Often they work seperately from each other and there can be painfully little collaboration.

That’s where the cake and coffee come in. Here’s the thing: if you talk to each other you’ll share ideas and very often work better. The customer services person, the librarian and the media officer. None of them have a monopoly on good ideas.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Shout if I can help. I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee.

Picture credit: Susanne Nilsson / Flickr 

 

 


SPACE LAB: We need to create time to experiment to survive

3105377322_82475318c6_oThere’s been a real drive for evidence based campaigns in the public sector just recently.

Government communicators have been asked not to do anything unless it’s based on data.

The argument goes that this cuts out the vanity campaign or the SOS – the Sending Out Stuff – that sees press releases and other things shovelled out the door because some action is better than nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see real merit in having a get out of jail free card when faced with a senior request ‘for stuff.’

But I’m starting to think about if we need to create some space for experimentation. Things like Trojan mice. These are things that see you try something out low budget just to see if it works and you can learn from.

One example of this skunkwork lab is the excellent Torfaen Council Elvis gritter YouTube that’s been around for a while. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the low budget Elvis impersonator from the Valleys singing about how the council can’t be everywhere and not to panic buy bread. It’s brilliant.  It was done on a shoestring to make people smile, to tell them some important things and done entirely without research.

It works because it’s human and is entirely without strategy.

I was helping train a local government comms team last week when this clip came up and we showed it just to see the reaction. There was disbelief. Then laughter. Then real affection. It works. It just works. I rememberdiscussing it 12-months ag with someone who works for an authority who ruthlessly apply the research-led ROSIE logic.

“It’s really, really good and I love it,” she said. “But of couse we could never do it where I work.”

So how do you create the space needed to make the Trojan mice flourish?

Google famously give staff a day a week to work on their own projects. Some of those projects have become key to their future strategy.

Tectonic plates in the world of communications are shifting. The centre cannot hold. Different channels are emerging and with them the demand for new skills. If you want the evidence, more than 70 per cent in our survey four months ago said the job was getting harder.

So, the task facing the the comms leader is how to create some safe space to experiment.

And if you are a comms person in the trenches, how are you going to carve out some Google time for yourself to look after your future?

Creative commons credit 

Pencils http://www.flickr.com/photos/67958110@N00/3105377322/


K-HUB: What have the Somme, Glastonbury and Knowledge Hub got in common?

767632737_65fb8dd35b_b (1)There’s never been more need for a place for local government people to share, innovate, ask questions and search for answers. I know. I work in it.

Working in local government at best can be inspiring and life affirming. At worst can feel like a cross between a natural disaster and the battle of the Somme.

Great landslides are appearing overnight in an old familiar landscape and the normal ways of doing things have gone. I loose count of the number of bright people I know who have left or have been forced to leave.

Against that backdrop the LGA have reacted to a major funding cut by calling into question their walled garden Knowledge Hub be closed. The thinking is that this job can maybe be done by social media without the need for an expensive to maintain website and small army of mostly voluntary curators.

I feel for those in the LGA worrying for their jobs. I’ve been there. Those at risk would rather Knowledge Hub closed in a flash if it meant their jobs were saved. I know I would. When you are in a trench being shelled old soldiers would recall how you would hope the next shell doesn’t land on you. You are not thinking of innovation and better concrete-lined dugout.

If unconferences like localgovcamp is a kind of digital Glastonbury which brings the cutting edge together then the Knowledge Hub is the Top 40. A mainstream place to ask questions.

I’m an infrequent visitor to Knowledge Hub and I get my ideas and inspiration from Twitter. But I know that this isn’t for everyone.

I help with comms2point0 whose blog gets 10,000 visitors a month for comms people. I know how much work it takes.  I simply don’t see similar platforms emerging for the 600 tasks local government does.

I’ll leave the debate on what and how to others like Steve Dale who were involved in the original concept for how Knowledge Hub should look and know that it didn’t quite work out that way.

The truth is obvious. There is a need for a central safe platform where  people can ask, share and be inspired in.  It’s madness to think otherwise.

Creative commons credits:

Glastonbury http://www.flickr.com/photos/toadiepoo/767632737/sizes/l/


TEA AND INNOVATION: Are we, like, getting mainstream, now?

It’s a bit rubbish following an event online if you know they have good cake, good people and good ideas.

Especially when you’re hungrily sat work at 9 o’clock at night and could really murder a slice of Victoria sponge.

 Last night I followed Brewcamp’s first outing to Coventry, this time organised by Kate Sahota and Karen Ramsey-Smith.

 What’s Brewcamp?

 It’s a few like minded local government people in the West Midlands who want to innovate, share ideas and learn things. We speak nicely to a cafe or bar owner who has wifi to set aside some space for free, set a date, set-up an eventbrite for tickets and then come up with a few topics people want to talk about.

 Looking down the list of attendees for the Coventry event the name of Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton stood out.

 Jan has already carved something of a reputation with his blog. It’s accessible to members of the public as well as staff. It’s a great thing and you can see it here.

 Unconferences like Brewcamp are great for sharing ideas and learning things. They’re informal and, heck, they make work fun. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to turn up.

 Previously these things have always been the haunt of the enthusiast willing to give up their time and often pay out of their own pockets to attend.

 A running undercurrent debate at them is often that ‘this is great but how do we get the suits here?’

 In other words, how do you get senior management?

 Three things have made me think this brilliant approach is dangerously close towards making a breakthrough to the mainstream.

 First, to have a first local government chief executive like Jan Britton to attend one of them is actually pretty significant. Let’s stop and think. He’s a talented man. He’s also busy. By actually coming to an unconference he’s opened up the door for others in his organisation.

And in other people’s organisations.

 Second reason? The media are starting to take notice. Sarah Hartley at The Guardian ran an excellent piece on her time at localgovcamp in Birmingham. The LGC ran a two page spread on what makes things like localgovcamp work. They put some of it up online to non-subscribers.   Hats off to it for covering it.

As Ken Eastwood, an assistant executive director at Barnsley, wrote of those who attended:

“In many cases they are frustrated by their lack of influence and by local government’s resistance to change and bottom up innovation. It seems clear to me that this needs to change. We need to be more agile, more adaptive and better able to encourage and nurture grass-roots, low cost creativity.”

 A third reason? It’s clear also that the traditional events sector has woken up to the creative side of unconferences too. The PSCF event in Glasgow will have an informal side to it in the afternoon with masterclasses.

The SOLACE conference in October, for senior officers, will also incorporate an element of unconference creativity too.

It would be hopelessly naive to think that we’ve won the war. But we’re slowly winning lots of important battles.

In local government in 2011 it’s clear we need to innovate and encourage new ideas. It’s not if but how.

As the excellent Nick Hill from PCSF says, mainstream is essential otherwise you basically remain like ‘Fight Club.’

Creative commons credits:

Paul Clarke UKGovcamp http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/5382076388/sizes/l/in/set-72157625889557000/

Modomatic Tea http://www.flickr.com/photos/modomatic/2724923829/sizes/z/in/photostream/


BREWCAMP: How we can innovate with tea and cake

As Mrs Doyle herself said, didn’t the Lord himself pause for a nice cup of tea?

With a cup of tea comes conversation, learning and sharing.

And cake.

Over the past few months, I’ve been involved with something called Brewcamp.

This is about 20 people meeting up at the end of a working day at a cafe in Birmingham.

How did it come about?

Back in 2010 myself and a team of others – Si Whitehouse, Stuart Harrison, Mike Rawlins and Andy Mabbett – staged the unconference Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

This was a big shindig. We hired Walsall College with catering, there was 12 sessions and it all cost just over £1,000 to put on.

It dawned on us that the planning meetings were actually a sociable chance to catch-up and bounce ideas.

We looked at the idea of Teacamp in London and quite liked the idea of a meet-up between like minded people with a £0 budget and minimal organisation. All power to the Teacamp people.

A few Warwickshire people Kate Sahota, Sasha Taylor and Kaz Ramsey-Smith have now come along too.

There is now talk of similar events in the North of England and Derbyshire.

How does it work?

There’s three topics of about 30 minutes, a ban on powerpoint and space for questions and debate.

I’m increasingly struck how this happy accident with milk and one sugar has something more to offer than just a post-work chance to eat Victoria Sponge.

What does one look like?

A bit like this. Storify is a good way of capturing resources. Andy Mabbett spoke about how wikipedia can be used by local government, a debate about transport open data here and Walsall 24 here.

Why is this a good idea?

  • Because tea and cake are good.
  • Because as training budgets vanish the informal offers a good alternative.
  • Because it’s a chance to meet like minded people.
  • Because some good work is being done by people who are just innovating.
  • Because anyone can go.

What’s the Brewcamp recipe?

A budget of zero.

An eventbrite page like this one.

A cafe. Or a pub with an owner who doesn’t mind reserving some space.

Wifi optional.

A flip or a livestream if you like. But it’s not vital.

A few people who have a case study to share or a problem they want help cracking.

A supply of tea.

Some cake.

And if you don’t fancy those rules you can tear them up and make your own.

Simple.

https://danslee.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/teaandcake/