CAKE STOP: My most depressing moment in local government involved chocolate cake

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“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?’


THEIR DAY: 14 ideas to reboot your Twitter day

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In the near future planning for #ourday will swing into view… a day when local government posts what it does in realtime across 24-hours.

It’s an event that is close to my heart. It is modelled in part on #walsall24 a day which I was involved with six years ago.
As an experiment, at the council I was at we posted updates to Twitter from the mundane to the significant. The aim was to create a wall of noise and in doing so told the bigger picture of what local government does.
I still remember the feeling of unique stress and, frankly, loneliness when I opened the office and fired up the PC to send the first tweet. Would this work?
Bright sparks at the Local Government Association have since picked-up the ball and run with it since to turn it into a national initiative.
Six years is a long time. I got to thinking that it is maybe time it had a bit of a re-boot. This should be much more than Twitter. It should be more than council staff talking to each other although I do recognise a real benefit to this.

What should a day of online activity look like?

It needs to tell day-to-day stories… think of how best to do this.
It needs to focus on real people.
It needs real people telling their own stories.
It needs to have people who use the service and live, work and play in your area.
It needs some employees but only if they are named.
It doesn’t need offices. Go outside the ivory tower to see what people do.
It doesn’t need to Twitter, either. It is the fifth largest UK social media channel. Use other channels. Go off-line too.
But don’t just make noise set a few targets too. Sign-up for a library. Pledge to use a park. Pledge to exercise. Whatever.

Here are 14 ideas to make it more interesting

1. A Facebook Live Q&A on the local newspaper’s Facebook page with a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum stores. There is a trove of fascinating items. It would be great to hear someone talk about them. Give people a chance to see and put stories to their heritage.
2. Video clips of real people talking about the job they do for the organisation while out actually doing it.
3. Live tweeting shadowing the contact centre posting a snap shot of the calls they recieve.
4. Get people to sign-up to something. Join a library. Make the process easy to do online. Make a target. A hundred. Five hundred. Whatever.
5. Create a Facebook quiz to ask how much people know about what their council does. Do that here.
6. Use Twitter’s Periscope app to live broadcast a Q&A with the Leader of the Council on the budget. What should they do less of? And more of?
7. Plug into an existing campaign and create some content. You need more foster carers? Live tweet what a carer does for an hour or two.
8. Celebrate your area. Encourage people to post pictures on a hashtag that celebrates their area. Instagramers may warm to this. The best pic gets hosted on the homepage. Or as part of the website’s banner image.
9. Talk to people at a library event. What brings them to this book club? What book do they recommend?
10. Go behind the obvious and get others to join in. What goes on in school during an average day? There’s a breakfast club? No way? How does that work? Schools are getting better at posting their own content. Invite them to play.
11. You have a niche job? You look after the borough’s trees? Tell us about that. Give us a tour of what to look out for. Shadow the officer if needs be.
12. Adult social care is a growing issue? What do service users look like? Heck, he looks like my Dad. He even talks like him too. Can he talk about growing up in the area? And what help he gets from the council?
13. Aggregate your content in the one place. Pull a page together where people can follow all your stuff.
14. Make it live after the day. Two thirds of Facebook live views come after the event. Can you capture and share it in a storify? A pdf? An email?
Look for the real people and create some content there. Move #ourday on a notch. You work in an amazing sector so go and share some of the amazing stuff.
Picture credit: Marco Verch / Flickr

#OURDAY: One day a year like this to see you right

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It’s the annual local government Twitter event today and it got me thinking.

Five years ago I was part of a team at the first local authority to tweet what they were doing across 24-hours.

We won an award for it. But it wasn’t until 10 minutes before the 7am start time that I really thought it would work when I posted a tweet from the corporate account to say that environmental health officers were investigating a noisey cockerel on a deprived housing estate.

In following years the LGA picked up on it as a model and have run sector-wide events.

I’ve had high hopes for the model to help tell the day-to-day story of all the 1,200 activities that local government does. I’m not at all sure that it has managed to do everything it can. It’s not collectively banged a call-to-action drum for social care, for example. Or for people to join libraries or some other service task.

As Twitter slips from third to 5th most popular social media platform maybe the time is right to expand it in future to other platforms. However that may look. Evolve, adapt, learn, iterate.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe its enough purely a chance for local government people to be bold, stand tall, be proud of what they do and celebrate all the day-to-day things that build a bigger picture.

If for one day a year local government people can be proud of themselves and each other then that’s no bad thing. If you’ve taken part, well done. If you’ve persuaded someone else to too, even bigger well done.

Or ‘One day like this a year will see me right,’ as Elbow singer Guy Garvey once sang.

Picture credit: raql / flickr


#OURDAY: Some tips for telling your story during a Twitter event

3176885291_2c6d7bd3c3_oLocal government is brilliant. It can save lives. It can give your children a good head start in life and it does more than 800 different services.

800? Really? Absolutely.

Chances are if you leave your house you’ll have come across something that the sector has done or helped with.

Trouble with such a vast thing that most people struggle to name more than half a dozen things that local government does.

“The council?  They empty my bin and gave my next door neighbour planning permission for their horrible extension,” may be a common answer.

The struggle of how to tell people what local government what they get for their council tax is a timeless one and never been more important.

One way to tackle it is the Local Government Association’s Our Day which aims to put Twitter in the hands of some of the unsung heroes who do some of the unseen jobs.

Using the hashtag #ourday on October 17 2013 local government people will be using it to talk a bit about what they are doing in real time. There’s a Storify of the sort of thing they are after here.

Back in 2011 at Walsall Council I was part of a team which was the first in the country to use Twitter in real time to tell people what a council did across 24-hours. It won the inaugural LGComms social media gold award. It’s a model of communicating with people that quiet fascinates me. It breaks down barriers. It shines a light. It informs and educates.

Some tips on live tweeting a Twitter event

There’s lots of different ways but here’s some things to bear in mind.

Everyone thinks their day job is boring. But everyone else finds it interesting. That may be your 12th pothole of the day. But you use what to fill it? And it’s outside the school my children go to, you say? And the council has done 4,000 so far this year?

Routine tasks build a broader picture. You’ve got a team that cuts overgrown hedges. They do it every day. I didn’t know that. They’ve done 11 streets today. That’s important to the people who live in that street that is now safer to walk in at night. Tell them where and when.

Pictures work better than text. People are four times more likely to open a link to a pic than a link to text.

Yes, you can talk about programmed work. If you are collecting bins in those three estates then tell people. (See: routime tasks build a broader picture.)

Sharing the sweets is a good idea. Get the librarian to talk about her day on a library account. Get the museum to do something on theirs. All of a sudden it makes sense to have different voices.

Use the main account for sharing the other accounts. You won’t want to run everything through one account. Use several. Create some if you have to.

Get people to channel shift. If you’ve got a web form to report potholes promote it.

News is people. My old editor’s maxim rings true. Talk about the people who do the service. Bob the lifeguard or Keith the caretaker who has been doing this job for 12-years.

Capture it and share. Create a storify to allow you to capture what was said at 2.37pm that Monday afternoon. Tell people and embed the library’s story on the library pages. It’s more interesting.

Schedule some content. If you are sure it’s going to happen and to save you some time you can schedule content via something like hootsuite.com. It’ll lay down some background noise for you.

Avoid Twitter gaol. This is where Twitter doesn’t like you posting more than a certain threshold and thinks you are a spammer. Avoid going over 20 tweets an hour from one account and you should be okay.

Capture it and share it internally. More than anything an event on Twitter will be an internal comms thing. You’ll be telling staff about the organisation they work in. You’ll also be telling people about social media who just think it’s Stephen Fry eating breakfast.

Have fun. Be creative. Tell your story.

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Creative commons credits

School bus http://www.flickr.com/photos/loop_oh/3176885291/sizes/o/

Highway http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3209638395/sizes/l/

 

 


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/


DIGITAL COMMS: How #ourday helped tell the local government story

Okay, so the stats of the #ourday event tells one story but there is so much more to tell.

What was it? It was a chance to see what local government did over a 24-hour period.

A load of unglamorous unheralded tasks across the 700 services that your council does to help improve people’s lives.

A total of 10,161 tweets reached a potential audience of 768,227 people, according to organisers the Local Government Association.

And 3,967 accounts tweeted or retweeted the updates. That’s a large set of figures.

Hats off to Sarah Jennings and the Local Government Association team for attempting to herd cats and encouraging people to take part in the event.

Lovely stories

It goes without saying that the snippets of stories that emerge point to why things like this work.

The officer talking about the public art in Walsall or the barking dogs being investigated.

Tales like this is beauty of campaigns like #ourday.

It’s a model that does work.

But what next?

Back in March 2010 at Walsall Council we staged Walsall 24 an idea we shamelessly borrowed from the inspirational GMP 24 which saw every call logged to Greater Manchester Police’s call centre.

It was fun, inspiring and brilliant to do and we learned loads.

But it dawned on us that actually, this is how it should be everyday. If we’re doing good things then we should tell people in a variety of channels.

But most of all it underlines why devolving social media access is important and that the sweets should be shared. Something I never tire of banging on about.

It’s public relations that’s taken out of the pr department. Or comms that can be done by non-comms.

Because stories from the frontline handcrafted and authentic are like bullets of gold in telling the local government story.

Making the most of a Twitter 24

The big lesson we learned in Walsall was that things like this shatter glass ceilings.

This is the important bit.

Take screen shots of what you’ve done. Print them out. Circulate them. Turn them into posters. Put them where people can see.

Add them to your intranet.

That piece of praise for the parks department that came back from a resident? Tell parks.

That shot of the roadmending machine out and about? Put it on the noticeboard in the Town Hall.

By taking things offline we can show the benefits of using digital communications to people who may never have thought that this is for them.

I bet that’s what the real legacy of #ourday will be if you’re careful.

Wouldn’t it be good if…

Next time we did this there are lots more of the difficult stuff to cover. The social care people, the binmen, the teachers and the housing staff.

And wouldn’t it be good if there was a single issue – as well as everything – to focus on too. Whether that be signing people up to a library. Or doing a specific task.

But maybe more important than that is the fact that it starts conversations and makes local government appear what it can be best. Human.

Creative commons credit

Urban initiatives http://www.flickr.com/photos/watchlooksee/4525612637/sizes/l/

Man http://www.flickr.com/photos/watchlooksee/4526163424/sizes/l/


SPEED DATA: Ideas for local government spending transparency

Only the wisest and stupidest men never change.

Confucius said that. Only, thing was he never worked in local government.

Speed of change in open data is blisteringly fast and getting faster.

In the Spring I thought all this would be important in 12 months time. Wrong. It was important TWO months later.

Local government in the UK has been asked to publish spending over £500 line by line.

A few months back Maidenhead and Windsor Council were hailed as a shining example of how to do this.

A few months on and the shine is wearing. Yes, they deserve praise for innovation but bright people have pointed out that you can do so much more if you publish a little bit more than a handful of categories.

Change was one of the themes of a session in Birmingham by Vicky Sergeant of SOCITM and hosted by Birmingham Council on the subject of publishing spending transparency open data.

It was a chance for people to bounce ideas and was an alphabetti spaghetti of a gathering with SOCITM, LGA and LeGSB.

Will Perrin from the Local Data Panel that helps shape data.gov.uk policy delivered a clear message:

There will be no spoon feeding from on high.

Eighty per cent of problems have been solved with blog posts such as this, he says.

It’s now down to councils to be brave and stand on their own two feet.

In the words of social media pioneers: Just Flipping Do It.

The combined efforts of the groups at the meeting are likely to publish at some stage some valuable advice on how best publishing spend can be put on line. These are things that struck me in the meantime.

Here are 12 key pieces of advice I took from the day

1) Publish open data-related FOI requests. Great idea. Further research shows you’ll have to be careful about publishing personal data not just in the name and address field but also in the text of the response.

2) The size of the dataset would double if it included ALL spend.

3) You can run a programme if you are clever to remove – or redact – at source personal data from social care and children’s services data.

4) You may need to make it clear to suppliers that this change is taking place. Not all are following this whole debate. In fact, I’d be amazed if any of them are.

5) Commercial confidentiality is a grey area. As Will said, the Information Commissioner’s presumption is to publish in the public interest but there is worryingly no case law to show where this has been tested.

6) Publish a unique identifier for your authority when you are publishing open data. Finance people will know what this is. It identoifies the line of data as being from a specific council.

7) Put an email address as a first point of contact for residents queries. Maybe people don’t have to go down a 20-day Freedom of Information response route first to get an answer.

8)Set-up an Open Data Panel in your council to keep-up the pace of publication.

9) Use the licence that can be found at data.gov.uk. It’s been looked at by government lawyers. Creative Commons while great hasn’t really been tested in  law in the UK.

10) There are a lot of codes in local government finance. If you don’t know what a CIPFA BVACOP code is make friends with someone who does.

11) Don’t plough a lone furrow. As a council or an officer don’t be alone. The Communities of Practice website is an excellent place to learn and discuss.

12) Guidance maybe getting drawn-up but don’t let this stop you. The LGA, SOCITM and others are looking what would work best. Don’t wait for them, however.

13) Communications is important. You need to explain it internally as well as to elected members, residents and suppliers.

14) Getting management on board. Yes, local government is being asked to do this. Yes, a enthusiastic volunteer is still better than 10 pressed men.

15) Publish monthly. Some in the web community are baffled as to why publication can’t be done at the end of every working day. As a compromise the Local Data Panel are saying publish monthly but within a month of month end.

Ian Carbutt from the LGA made some excellent points at the meeting. He points out there are three main areas that have several sections to them.

  • What and who its for: Local authority ID code, directorate, goods and services, service department.
  • Payment details: invoices, invoice number, net amount, VAT, gross amount, date of payment.
  • Supplier: name, contract title, supplier company number or VAT reference.

Pick from those three paints a better, more complete picture and may lead to fewer FOI requests.

LINKS:

Pezholio blog on the SOCITM Birmingham local data event. A useful summary and some very useful comments.

Creative Commons

Money: Glamlife