Last year, the idea of tweeting when your gritters was going out was revolutionary.
Around half a dozen councils were leftfield enough to do it and the idea spread.
Public sector web standards organisation SOCITM picked up on it making it mainstream with their report for subscribers.
Is that enough?
Can we stand still now?
The fact is local government needs to innovate like never before.
Someone famous once said when you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.
So, where’s the innovation this year? Here’s some ideas and pointers on how straight forward they are…
1. MAP YOUR GRIT ROUTES
In the West Midlands, there’s some amazing innovation from mapping geeks.
Bright people from Mappa Mercia including the excellent Andy Mabbett last year built a grit map on Open Street Map to show grit routes in Birmingham. They dug out the routes from pdfs on the council website.
That’s a good example of working with a talented and community-minded online community.
Advantage: Community engagement.
Disadvantage: You need mapping geeks to be grit geeks too.
2. TWITTER GRITTER
Everytime you go out you tweet the fact. If you’re not doing it you should. It’s not enough to provide a service at 2am. You need to tell people. Why? Because they won’t know your council tax is being spent in such a way and they may well ring your harrassed staff at a time when they are thinly stretched.
Advantage: Community engagement. Cuts down unneccesary contact.
Disadvantage: You’ll need some kind of rota or it’ll all fall on one person’s shoulders.
A short clip to explain what the gritting service is all about. Shot on a Flip video It’s a good way of communicating what is being done.
Advantage: Creates blog-friendly web 2.0 video content.
Disadvantage: You need a Flip video. The process isn’t instant.
4. MAP GRIT BIN LOCATIONS
Publish grit routes as open data? Why not.
But beware the perils of derived data that quicksand argument that means anything based on Ordnance Survey is mired in dispute.
Advantage: Publishing open data increases transparency
Disadvantages: It can’t be based on OS maps.
As local government Facebook sites mature and grow there’s more reason to post grit updates there too.
Drawbacks? Not all phones will allow you to post to fan pages and you may have to log on at a PC or a laptop.
Advantage: You reach the massive Facebook demographic.
Disadvantage: Your Facebook fanpage is harder to update than a profile.
6. LIVE TWEET
A trip around the borough in a gritter with a camera phone geo-tagging your tweets. It works as a one off and builds a direct connection.
Advantage: A service from a different perspective.
Disadvantage: Labour and time intensive.
7. TEXT AND EMAIL ALERTS
Sometimes we can be so struck by new gadgets that we can forget the platforms your Dad and mother-in-law have.
Simply speaking, there are more mobile phones in the UK than people.
Many councils are charged around 8p a text to issue an SMS. That’s a cost that has to be picked up from somewhere. But using the standard costs per enquiry of around £7 face-to-face and £5 over the phone the 8p charge starts to look viable.
Advantage: You can reach large numbers of people and cut down potentially on unavoidable contact.
Disadvantage: It costs.
Not every council has the resources to tweet its gritting. In Cumbria, the community of Alsthom high in the dales regularly gets cut off in the snow. Fed-up with the council response the town clubbed together to buy their own gritter.
Community and digital innovator John Popham floated the interesting idea of the community stepping in to tweet gritting activity. In effect, a Big Society Twitter Gritter It’s a fascinating idea, would share the burden and may fill the gap where a council doesn’t have the digital skills or the staff.
Advantage: If there are residents willing it’s a good partnership potentially.
Disadvantage: It’s dependent on volunteer power.
9. QR CODES
What are they? Funny square things that your mobile phone can identify and can download some information about. I don’t pretend to fully understand them and I’m not sure if they’ve reached a tipping point in society just yet. However, Sarah Lay of Derbyshire County Council is looking at adding QR codes to grit bins to allow people to report problems. It’s a fascinating idea that needs looking at.
Advantages: Tech-savvy citizens can use them to pinpoint problems.
Disadvantages: A format that is still finding traction amongst the rest of the population.
10. OPEN DATA
What can you publish as open data? Wrack your brains and consult the winter service plan. There’s grit routes themselves. There’s the amount of grit stockpiled. There’s the amount of grit spread day-by-day.
Advantage: Open data is good for transparency.
Disadvantages: Day-by-day updating could be tricky as engineers are snowed under. If you’ll forgive the pun.
Walsall grit pile Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5087392858/
Four Seasons bridge http://www.flickr.com/photos/fourseasonsgarden/2340923499/sizes/l/in/photostream/
Twitter gritter Dan Slee http://www.flickr.com/photos/danieldslee/5115786276/
Road m4tik http://www.flickr.com/photos/m4tik/4259599913/sizes/o/in/photostream/