A good picture jumps from a page with the power to make you laugh, smile, wonder or be inspired.
I’m passionate abut the fact you don’t need to be a photographer to do civic good with images on the social web.
What’s Flickr? It’s a photosharing website. I’m a big advocate of it and I’ve blogged about how it can work in local government before.
The very nice people at Future Gov and Local Government Improvement and Delivery organised Local by Social Midlands ediction in Coventry.
This brought residents, web people and local government together.
The format is simple and powerful. A few speakers to inspire. Circulate a pre-collected list of residents’ wishes.
Then with the residents, sit down and try and work out a solution using digital tools.
This was the presentation I gave on Flickr. Hopefully it helps answer the questions: what is Flickr? How does Flickr work and how can it be used for civic good?
It has a summary of how Flickr works and four case studies of it in action.
Case study 1:
The Walsall Town Hall Flickr meet. How photographers from the community can take pictures of a landmark. You can see more of the images taken at the event here.
Case study 2:
How Flickr images taken by the community can be used by a public sector website as a way to celebrate the area and individuals’ work.
Case study 3:
Case study 4:
Newman Brothers: How a campaign for funding harnessed the power of photography through Flickr. Here are some shots taken by amateur photographers and posted to Flickr.
Case study 5
This arrived too late for me to include in the presentation but acts as an excellent way for residents and local government to connect. Paul Clarke took a shot of a street scene when he was back in his native Ormskirk.
When he spent time looking at it properly he was appalled at a right yellow canopy from a cheque cashing outlet. Traditional routes failed but using Flickr and whatdotheyknow.com pressed planners to take up the case. You can read Paul’s excellent blog on the subject here.
Should local government fear this route? No. Not if people want to deliver a better service.
That shows that photography doesn’t always showcase the best of a borough.
That’s a point echoed by Mike Rawlins and Nicky Getgood from Talk About Local.
Shaming pics of abandoned cars work on a community blog and can help prod a council into action, they argued.
A functional pic of a pothole can work on fixmystreet.com as a way to report a problem.
A shot of the sun rising over an allotment, stained glass in Walsall Counci House or Spring bulbs celebrate an area.
Each stream is just as valid but has an entirely different character.
It can shame, remind and celebrate.
That’s the power of a good image.
Good pictures leap from a page to celebrate, amaze and tantilise.
Poor pictures shout loudly. But not in a way you’d like.
One source of good pictures is the website Flickr which has more than four billion images. It’s something I’ve blogged about before.
What’s on there? Think about any subject and there will be pictures. A whole heap of them. And Flickr groups too. It’s the civilised corner of the web where people are constructive and are happy to licence their images through a Creative Commons licence.
Residents have self-organised and are daily taking an avalanche of brilliant pictures.
It can be a community around a love of countryside. Or of cats. Or a geographical community brought together by an area.
In Walsall, a borough of 250,000 near Birmingham in the UK that’s expecially the case. There are more than 100 members, 5,000 images and a vibrant Flickr group.
People like Steph Jennings, Lee Jordan, Stuart Williams, Beasty, Tony M, Nathan Johnstone and others do brilliant things.
At Walsall Council, we looked at their shots we wondered aloud how good it would be to showcase their shots on the council website. After all, people taking pictures of the place they live and seeing them showcased on their council’s website HAS to be a good idea.
As part of a web refresh, Kev designed a Flickr friendly header that woud apply across all pages.
Next the pictures. A comment was posted on the Walsall Flickr pages to flag up what we were looking to do. We asked people to add the tag ‘walsallweb’ to each individual picture if they wanted the shot to be considered.
We were staggered to get more than 400 shots tagged for consideration in three days. An amazing response that showed the community support.
The postbox shape of the header ruled out scores of images. We also steered clear of people shots because of any problems with permissions.
The first shot was a canalside image. By linking back from the council site to the original Flickr image we embraced the web 2.0 approach of sharing.
The image got more than 150 hits in just over two weeks.
SIXTEEN THINGS WE LEARNED…
1. Ask permission. Photographic copyright by default lies with the photographer. Even if there is a creative commons licence available I’d still ask. Just to be on the safeside.
2. Ask permission to name and link back to the original picture too. For some people photography is a hobby they don’t want publicity for.
3. Rotate images. Try and use pictures from around the borough. Not just the photogenic park.
4. Rotate photographers. Share the love around.
5. Use freelance pictures too. But ask permission. The licence you may have originally negotiated may only be for print use, for example.
6. Be seasonal. A cornfield in summer sun looks great in August. It may not be so at Christmas.
8. Stage a competition to encourage participation. Post a topic.
9. Use Flickr images across the site. A cracking shot of a park would work well on the park pages, for example.
10. Be aware of your policies towards people. Do you need to get permission forms signed in order to use the image for publicity.
11. Join Flickr. Contributing to the Flickr community is a good way to build bridges and understand how it works.
12. Acknowledge using a shot via a comment under the picture from the council Flickr account. Comments are a social part of Flickr and a way to give praise.
13. Create a gallery. A page on the council website to gather the header screenshots.
14. Stage a Flickr meet. Generate content and allow residents to take shots of their landmarks and building.
15. Showcase your area. It’s a chance to really show off.
16. Skill up. Make sure there is the skills base for several team members to add content.
bccdiy.com – A website for Birmingham put together by bloggers that uses Flickr images brilliantly.
Lichfield District Council – Some lovely shots of the Staffordshire city of Lichfield using Flickr.
San Fransisco’s District Attorney’s Office – Great blog on how a US office is now using photo sharing.
LGEO Research – Good blog by Liz Azyan on how Lichfield used user generated content.
Coventry – How Coventry City Council use Facebook to showcase official images.
Four billion? That’s the number of images uploaded to it over the past five years.
Best bit? You don’t have to be David Bailey to get something out of it. You could be Bill Bailey.
What is Flickr? It’s a photo sharing website. You join as an individual. You upload pictures. You can add them to groups. You can comment on pictures too.
There are tens of thousands of groups on a bewildering range of subjects. Football? Check. Walking? Buses? Cricket scoreboards? Clouds? They all have dedicated groups. There’s even one for Gregg’s shop fronts, believe it or not.
There are also geographical Flickr groups based on areas like the Black Country, Walsall or London.
Why bother with Flickr? Because a picture says 1,000 words. Besides, it’s a brilliant way to capture, celebrate and collaborate.
So what are the barriers for people to use it?
Like any platform, there are obstacles. None are insummountable.
There’s the usual cultural issues for an organisation using web 2.0. People can talk to you. You can talk back. You may have blocking issues too.
There may also be concern over images. Surely there’s room for dodgy pictures? Actually, not really. The Flickr community is a hugely civilised place. Your first uploads get checked over before they are seen. People comment constructively.
How about copyright? Copyright is with the photographer. Even if you’ve commissioned it. Don’t upload someone else’s shots without their permission.
Eleven uses of Flickr in local government
1. Be a dissemenator – Stock photography – Newcastle use it as a way of allowing stock photography to be disseminated. With photographers’ permission. Like Calderdale Council’s countryside team.
2. Be a campaigner – Create a Flickr group for a campaign – Willenhall, Aldridge and Darlaston in Bloom, for example.
3. Be a way to open-up museums – Create a Flickr group for a museum exhibition. Look at Walsall Museums.
4. Be an enabler – Set-up a Flickr meet. It’s a brilliant way to connect and collaborate. Here’s my blog on this event from a council perspective and from a Flickr photographer’s perspective from the excellent Steph Jennings and also Lee Jordan.
5. Be a Flickr Twitterer – Link to pictures via Twitter. Pictures are always more popular than straight forward links. They brighten up your stream.
6. Be a marketeer – Use Flickr pics for marketing. Leaflets can be brightened up with Flickr shots – with permission.
8. Be a civic pride builder – Create a Flickr group for an area, like Sandwell Council did.
9. Be a picture tart – Post council Flickr pictures to different groups. Shot of the town hall? Put it in the Town Hall Flickr group.
10. Be a stock photography user – the Creative Commons is a licence that allows the use of shots with certain conditions. There is a category that allows for not for profit use, for example.
11. Be a digital divide bridger – favourite walks or a way to celebrate heritage is an excellent way to encourage people to log on.
There’s eleven. That’s for starters…
Steph Jennings from the Walsall Flickr group and the Lighthouse Media Centre in Wolverhampton made some excellent points at Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands on how Walsall Council used images on their website.
This YouTube clip helps explain it:
This blog is based on a session at localgovcamp Yorkshire and Humberside in York (#lgcyh) which also had input from @janetedavis, @allyhook and @barnsley55.
Much kudos to the Walsall Flickr group and to the inspirational @essitam and @reelgonekid.
Creative commons: Smiling blonde girl Pink Sherbert Photography.
Flickr screenshot from the Walsall Flickr group pool.
Other pics by Dan Slee.
Cowboys and Indians come alive and a giant dinosaur plays fetch with a bone.
Walsall museum stores aren’t quite on a par with Washington DC’s Smithsonian but one thing is the same: You’d be amazed what you can find.
Thousands of items are stored as only a fraction can be put on public display at one time.
So how would social media connect a museum stores with residents? Here’s how. In a way that is way cooler than Ben Stiller.
THE EVENT ITSELF…
One Spring Saturday, photographers of the Walsall Flickr group were given special access all areas to take pictures at Walsall Council’s museum stores.
Street signs, an ARP helmet, and typewriters were just some of the treasure trove.
So were items of the nationally important Hodson Shop collection, a huge collection of working class clothes from the 1920s to the 1950s.
Eight photographers spent more than two hours poring over hundreds of artefacts.
What resulted in an amazing explosion of pictures of often rarely seen treasures. Take a look at some of the shots here.
More than 150 images were posted on Flickr in the days after and more than a dozen positive comments were posted on the group’s discussion board.
PLANNING FOR THE EVENT…
Why bother? Why arrange this?
It’s as simple as this: what’s not to like about pictures of Walsall artefacts taken by Walsall people?
Simple as the idea was, three months of planning led to the event itself.
Much praise needs to be given to talented photographer Steph Jennings (@essitam on Twitter) and the forward-thinking Walsall museum curator Jennifer Thomson supported by collections officer Catherine Clarke. Why praise? Because both parties started from different positions and arrived at not just a workable compromise but a groundbreaking piece of work that sets new standards.
REACHING AN AGREEMENT ON COPYRIGHT CONCERNS…
At the heart of everything was copyright.
Museums traditionally are very careful to guard copyright of their artefacts.
On the flip side, photographers are very careful to guard their copyright too.
In the past, museums have allowed photographers to take shots only in highly controlled circumstances with copyright signed away.
The Walsall approach was different.
That was fine as the Walsall Flickr members didn’t want to sell images.
The group also agreed to limit the size of the shots they uploaded to 1MB and agreed to ask permission before they used the images.
Crucially, what made this process work was the genuine commitment to make the event work by both Steph and the museum team.
The compromise permission form can be found here.
When social media works well it sees a two way discussion. Brilliant things can happen.
An unexpectedly marvellous spin off led to the setting-up of a museum Flickr group to encourage people to submit images.
AN UNEXPECTED SPIN-OFF…
This isn’t just shots of the museum but a place where, as Steph suggested, pics can now be submitted for ‘shadow’ exhibitions. Planning an exhibition on seaside holidays? That shot of Great Aunt Maude paddling at Weston-super-Mare can be submitted and used as part of a revolving powerpoint of similar images. That’s something the whole family can go and see. Excellent.
This isn’t a Walsall Council success story, for my money. This is a Walsall success story. It was the coming together of museum staff, the communications unit and most of all the enthusiasm of the borough’s thriving and talented Flickr group that made this work.
What we found can work here can easily work anywhere.
Hosting a Flickr meet: Five benefits to the museum.
2. Showcasing exhibits and helping to find an online audience for heritage.
3. Art. Great pictures are just that. Art. What better way to showcase your artefacts?
4. A set of marketing pictures. At Flickr members’ suggestion the group were happy for their images to be used by the musem. Many amateurs are keen to get an audience for their work in return for a link to their Flickr page and a pic credit.
5. Pictures to link to via a Twitter stream.
Attending the Flickr meet: Four benefits to the photographer.
1. Rare behind-the-scenes access.
2. Being able to retain copyright of images.
3. A unique photographic challenge.
4. A chance – if you are happy to – to showcase your work through council marketing.
Thanks to: Jennifer Thomson and Catherine Clarke from Walsall museum. Steph Jennings and the members of the Walsall Flickr group who attended the session.
Plenty stained glass in Walsall Council House
There’s nothing better than seeing social media come alive and create something vivid, exciting and worthwhile.
Take good connections between creative people, an open mind and suddenly all sorts of possibility opens up.
Just such a thing took place at our first Walsall Flickr group meet at Walsall Council House.
If you haven’t come across Flickr take a look. It’s a photo hosting website founded in 2004.
You can search and view pictures and look at dedicated groups ranged around the most arcane places or subjects.
The Lake District group has 3,000 members. One dedicated to clouds alone has 8,000 members.
Five years after it was founded Flickr now has more than four billion images.
People often self organise along geographic lines. For example, the excellent Walsall Flickr group has 70 members with a pool of 5,000 images.
These can be everything from corn fields in summertime and famous landmarks to sunrise over the allotment. There’s even one contributor who specialises in shots of old buses taken in Walsall over the past 30 years.
As a council, on Twitter we’d been tweeting links from @walsallcouncil to individual shots in the group’s pool for months. Reaction had been good.
Geographic Flickr groups often stage meets at events or landmarks where members will take pictures.
Frustrated by a national trend for police officers to use counter-terrorism to stop photography in the streets Flickr meets are becoming increasingly important.
At Walsall, we have a beautiful Council House that dates to 1905. Its polished wood and plaques make it the ACME of Georgian civic pride.
There is a carved wooden memorial to the Boer War with 100 names and an alabaster First World War plaque with a carved British Tommy.
There are stern pictures of bewhiskered Mayors gone by hanging from the walls and ornate stone carvings. All things that can make fantastic pictures.
All too often, Council Houses up and down the land can appear remote, closed and intimidating. Let’s not forget they are there to serve and they belong to the people they serve.
The thinking behind the Council House Flickr meet was twofold. First, use social media to connect with people. Second, open up the building to let residents taking pictures of their council and their heritage.
An email, a phonecall and a meeting with organiser and talented amateur photographer and social media enthusiast Lee Jordan showed the group were keen to come to the Council House.
Tentative plans were made for other landmarks. A car park and a Bell Tower – both with panoramic views were singled out as examples.
Permissions for the shoot were sought from the Council hierarchy and a consent form for participants drafted.
Who retained copyright proved one issue. Nerves were calmed when it was discovered we did not want to claim it. Museums with a store of paintings and collections often want to keep this, I understand, and that’s something to work with.
Those who took part had the option of allowing us to use pics for marketing in return for a picture credit.
A slot on a Saturday morning was set and promoted to the Walsall group via their Flickr messageboard.
There was a vibrant thread of 50 messages on the group’s forum and six photographers came along.
We spent around two hours taking shots in the deserted building. War memorials, Mayoral photographs, the board of honour, the cavernous Town Hall where Slade once played were covered.
The sanctum of the Council Chamber itself was also shot by the group.
Was it a success? Absolutely. More than 100 shots were posted to the Flickr group pool building from the event. There was a suprisingly good standard to the quality. They are not happy snappers. They are seriously good amateurs whose work can compete with some of the best professionals.
We are now looking to build a page on the council website where those who took part’s nominated pics can be hosted. Links will be added back to individual’s Flickr pages to showcase their other work. Everyone is a winner.
So, why did it succeed?
1. Like all good social media projects it connected with people.
2. By taking part in social media the council could start a conversation.
3. Residents could photograph part of their heritage.
4. It opened up a civic building giving special access to Flickr group members.
5. Talented individual’s work could be showcased and taken to a wider audience.
6. Shots taken could be tweeted on the council’s Twitter feed.
7. Selected shots – with permission – could be added to the council’s image library.
8. The council could start a dialogue with residents.
HOW COUNCILS CAN USE FLICKR
1. First join Flickr as an individual. Get to know how it works by playing around with it. Same as any social media platform.
2. Join Flickr as an authority. Start posting pics — but check that the copyright holder is fine with that. Even if you have an array of pictures from freelancers he or she will still retain copyright. Always ask first (see copyright and photography link below).
3. Search Flickr groups for one in your area. (eg Black Country or Walsall).
4. Contact the group admin. See what locations you may have the group may want to set-up a meet at.
5. See what you can do with the pictures that have been taken. An exhibition? A spread of pics on your website? Be creative. Be social.
The Walsall Flickr group pool (needs Flickr membership to view)
Pictures from the Walsall Council House Flickr meet (needs Flickr membership to view)