BREW EXPORT: 22 things I learned at two events with tea and cake

8597572574_a81f34dcee_bAn ace thing happened this week. Twice.

We saw the brewcamp idea exported first to Dudley and then to Stafford.

It worked beautifully in both places too.

What’s a brewcamp? It’s an idea that has its roots in unconferences. It’s shared learning through conversation, coffee and cake. Like a coffee morning for militant optimists.

How does it work?

Find a cafe willing to open up after work. Find three topics and people happy to lead a discussion on them. Set up an eventbrite. Tell people about it.

It’s that simple.

But the value is less what the speakers tell you, but the connections you make and the realisation that even after a difficult day you are not alone. Other people still care about the public sector. What’s the value of knowing that it is not you, it’s them?

In truth, both were quite individual. In Dudley, it was called Bostincamp. Bostin being a Black Country word for ‘great.’ In Stafford it was Oatcakecamp. Oatcakes being a North Staffs delicacy that doubles as an expression of regional pride.

ELEVEN things that struck me at  Bostincamp…

  • In Dudley CCG’s media officer Laura Broster they have someone busy re-writing what a comms person should look like in 2013.
  • There are people at Dudley Council who are starting to wake up to social. What they’ll do with it will be amazing.
  • Barriers are being eroded all the time. Often by the people who used to build and maintain them.
  • You can’t argue against case studies that West Midlands Police have. They are a tweeting trojan horse for doing good digital things.
  • Academic red tape is gummier than local government.
  • Lorna Prescott is amazing.
  • The Secret Coffee Club in Pearson Street, Brierley Hill has free WiFi and would be a good place for co-working.
  • If you can’t trust your frontline staff with digital how the hell do you trust them to do the rest of their job?
  • Comms people still need to convince their managers that digital conversations on the frontline are a good idea. Jim Garrow has written well about the Edelman Trust Barometer here. It basically gives a pile of research to back up the idea that people trust the postman more than the chief executive of Royal Mail.
  • There are issues for doctors to use social media. But they are not insurmountable.

ELEVEN things I learned at  oatcakecamp…

  • As training budgets vanish we face a critical challenge of where our learning comes from.
  • At some point there will be a price to be paid for training ending. It may take years but it will come.
  • Bright people do their own learning.
  • If something is free, does that make it have less worth than something that costs £500 to attend?
  • Some people won’t look out of their sector for learning. Some won’t look out of their town.
  • Wolverhampton Council have a cracking Facebook page. But they need to tell people about what they do.
  • Comms people can learn more about good comms from people who in the past we wouldn’t let near comms.
  • The MOD still invest in people. Local government has stopped doing this in many areas.
  • Emma Rodgers is amazing.
  • An oatcakecamp in a fire station sounds cool.
  • Hyperlocal blogs can be patchy in quality but there are some gems like WV11 and A Bit of Stone. If we add some content they may be interested in to general releases we can amplify our message.

I absolutely urge you to go along to one of these when they are staged next.

If there’s not one near you, start your own. Here’s how.

Picture credit

Tea pot http://flic.kr/p/e6C3Yx


MY DIGITAL TIMELINE: Learning by stealth from a pocket calculator

“When you grow up and leave school,” my headteacher Mr Stanley told me as a nine-year-old, “you’ll be using computers and you’ll have to learn how to write code.”

This was 1981. This was Leasowes Junior School, Stafford. Not Palo Alto, California. Of course he was half right but he did show me for the first time the amazing possibility computers have.

How did he do it? He showed me how to make my name march across a TV screen by writing a computer programme. My mate Nigel Adams was in the same class (he’s extreme right in the back row of this picture. I’m two to his left). He has gone onto do great things with computers in Queensland. I never wrote code again. But Mr Stanley was bang on about using computers every day at work.

A while back I heard this inspirational teacher still teaches at the school as a volunteer. Remembering his prophetic words I found myself idly tracing my life’s digital timeline. I found I could largely measure my life not in coffee spoons but the technology and the computer games and the people I played them with. That surprised me. I’m not a geek. I know them but I’m not really one.

Looking back pretty much every year I could recall something that caught my imagination. Looking at the list I’m struck by two things. The amount of games I played and the people I played them with.

My son is seven and has a laptop. I was 33 before this happens.

My learning curve started with a pocket calculator. It’s still going on.

Why is messing about important?

Because looking back the things I’ve played at and messed about with helped me learn. And what other way are Carlisle Utd going to win back-to-back European Cups?

‘Playing is learning by stealth’ is a line from the Media Snackers book ‘Zen At The Heart of Social Media.’  I rather like that.

Here’s how I learned by stealth.

16 dates from my digital timeline

1980 – Learn how to write SHELL OIL on a pocket calculator.

1981 Nigel Adams gets a ZX 81. Mr Stanley tells us we’ll all need computers and we’ll all need to code.

1983 – Start Walton High School in Stafford. We have 10 computers amongst 900 pupils.

1986 – Play lots of Gauntlet on the BBC Micro with Mark Alden, David Bell and Ali MacCulloch.

1990 – Start University. Play lots of Kick Off 2 on the Amiga.

1994 – Play LOTS of Sega golf against Steven Pink.

1996 – Use a computer at my first journalism job.

1997 – Get a mobile phone free with something.

1999 – E-mail arrives at the Express & Star. At one screen out of 14.

2001 – Get the internet at work. Discover the Oatcake messageboard. A forum for Stoke City supporters.

2004 – Get my first computer. And the internet.

2005 – Goodbye wife. I’m playing Champ Manager for three months to lead Carlisle United to back-to-back European Cups.

2008 – Discover the social web. Join Twitter. 

2009 – Go to localgovcamp in Birmingham. It changes how I think and do. Start blogging.

2010 – Help arrange a digital unconference. Do interesting things using the internet to communicate with people to explain, listen and learn.

2011 – Do interesting things to make local government communicate better using the web. Buy my son a laptop. Son beats me at Skylanders battle mode on the Wii. Feel a bit proud.

Creative commons

Pocket calculator http://www.flickr.com/photos/boazarad/5417411624/sizes/l/in/photostream/


AND START BEING RELEVANT: Things a comms person can do to still have a future

Okay, so you’re not stupid. You see the landscape is changing. But what the flip do you do about it? 

Think about Bob Dylan and the famous cry of ‘Judas!’ from a disgruntled punter when he went electric.

The most lasting effect, as The Guardian’s History of Modern Music rightly points out, was not on Dylan but on folk revivalism which was sidelined as a bit stick in the mud.

That’s the price you pay for trying to stop progress.

How the media landscape is shifting from print to print and digital is something I’ve blogged on here.

But it seems fair pointing out to people they’re sleepwalking to irrelevance to point them in the right direction.

Here are some pointers to equip you as a comms person — or a press officer for the 21st century when there are fewer presses. I’m no expert. Every day is a school day. But what I can say is that the best learning for a comms person isn’t within an organisation or a college that teaches HND in Geek – although Birmingham City University is doing brilliant things –  it’s actually to experiment yourself and learn from what others are doing.

Just starting out…

Firstly, don’t panic. You can’t know it all straight away. In fact, you can’t know it all. Learn one thing at a time. One step at a time. There are some useful people who can come in and give you a headstart. Helpful Technology, Nick Booth or Andy Mabett are all good people. Cold calling emails that promise the earth probably aren’t going to always deliver. If you’re doing this as a solo mission there’s plenty of resources.

As a starting point, watch the YouTube clip Shift Happens. It’s a cracking piece that while slightly old is still relevant. It sets out the pace of change. You can see it here.

Watch the Simply Zesty clip on where UK social media is in 2010. There’s some good stats. See the link here.

Read a landmark text. Clay Shirky’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ is a brilliant book that sets out how social media can work.

Set aside time every week to read blogs. There’s a stack of good learning from innovators across the field. Have a look at those of my blogroll and also at Public Sector Bloggers. It doesn’t matter if they’re not comms people. There’s good learning all over.

Map your media landscape. Work out how many papers get sold on your patch. Then compare that with how many people are on Facebook. There’s an easy-to-follow way you can do that right here. It’s something I bang on about but it’s worth doing.

Sign up for mashable.com. It’s a social media news website that looks for things so you don’t have to. Don’t be put off by the geekiness of some of the headlines. There’ll be things there that are relevant.

Get a Google Reader. It’s a way of getting updates from blogs or web pages you like the look of. It’s really simple to set one up.

Get a Twitter account. Yes, you may have scoffed about it being ‘Twatter’ and it being full of people talking about their breakfast. It’s actually a brilliant way to connect with people. Here’s a piece that helps explain it.

If you’ve got a Twitter account, follow some good people. Ones that share links can be a real help. @pubsecbloggers is one that pulls public sector blogs in one place. Other good ones for comms people include people who aren’t all comms people: @dominiccampbell, @davebriggs, @ingridk, @adrielhampton, @simonwakeman and @pigsonthewing. I’m on Twitter as @danslee. Have a look at who I’m following for some suggestions.

Get a Facebook account. If half the population are on its useful to know how they work.

Start to understand hyperlocal sites. These are often community-run sites for a street, an estate or a town. This is why they’re important for comms people. Here is where you can search for one near you.

Start to look at Flickr. There’s lots of things it can be used for.

More advanced stuff…

Learn how Facebook pages work. Look at how Coventry City Council do Facebook for a corporate approach.

Go to an unconference. They’re brilliant ways to learn, share and discuss. You’ll see them mentioned on Twitter.

Start to understand open data. As a comms person it’s going to be increasingly important. Don’t just take it from me. Tim Berners-Lee says so and he invented the internet.

Innovate and start doing something new….

Start blogging. Do. Then share. It helps other people learn. It’s also a helpful thing to demonstrate what you’ve been up to in these post-CV times. WordPress is a good platform.

But most of all, embrace it. Don’t worry. You’ll not look back and by not standing still you’ll stand a better chance of keeping your job and prospering in your career.

Creative Commons credits

Life belt http://www.flickr.com/photos/realjimbob/155640658/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Computer http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5019024318/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Swing http://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/3122866921/sizes/s/in/photostream/