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Council Communications & Social Media October 7, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.
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Simon Wakeman has blogged some really interesting stats around social media in local authority communications.  He does a sound analysis of them, so I want bother re-inventing the wheel, but I do want to add a few points.

Simon makes an important point that councils are trying to reach a broad range of people, so the less targeted, old fashioned tools may have advantages.  That’s true, but he is right that precisely because they need to reach everyone that they need to use a wider range of tools.  It was great to see community safety mentioned – it presents one of the most urgent and technology accessible areas of council work, but also one of the most technologically neglected.

It’s interesting to hear that many councils plan to use traditional social media (such as blogs) in the next six months.  However, the pace things are going, will that be an old hat then?  Strategies need to be evoloving and moving with the times to ensure that they stay abreast.  Blogs have been in use for a few years now, and a year is a long time in communications technology.  If councils are now thinking they may use them in a bit, that could be too little, too late.

Even when the communication doesn’t need targeting, social media is important.  I recently kept tabs on a national story about a local council.  It was staggering to me to see that, within a day, it was mentioned in well over a dozen blogs, it was Twittered about and debated about on forums.  I wanted to see the Counci’s response, but was unable to get it from their own website, let alone a blog.  Instead, I had to put quotes together from the various newspaper websites to take a guess about what they might have said.  We hear a lot about councils loosing control of a message with social media – but actually, don’t they loose control of it without it?

What was encouraging was to see MUVEs and social bookmarking were in use at some councils.  Clearly there is some light at the end of the tunnel.


Too old for Facebook? October 3, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in social networking, Uncategorized, web2.0.
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There was a bit of good news for Web 2.0 enthusiasts in the MJ this week, with a two page spread on innovation (see the “How Innovative Is Your Council” post) and an article on the use of social networking.  Refreshingly, the Facebook article was written by a facebook user, meaning it looked at the network from a far more positive angle than a lot of mainstream articles.

Sadly, neither of the stories looked at facebook and innovation from the point of view of adults.  It’s generally accepted that young people should be contacted through social networking (65% of councils agree, according to the MJ article) but I wonder how that would change if it was looked at from an older persons perspective?

Steve Dale looked at this during an IDeA presentation recently (I wasn’t there, I just read the blogs and slides), citing Ofcom statistics that even in the ‘over 65’ catagory, 3% of people have a social network profile.  In America, facebook recently released statistics showing that, while 52% of facebook users are in the 18-25 catagory, only 15% are under 18.

My own facebook network backs this up.  Using the wonderful socialistics application, I can see that, while unrepresentative of society as a whole, of my 261 friends, only 9% are 18 or under and 18% are over 40.  As websites like Forces Reunited become more social, maybe we can expect these figures to rise.  Certainly, as the 50+ year olds become the 60+ year olds, the next decade will see social network statistics soar amoung older people.

That’s why I was drpessed to see that only 33% of councils have actually tried contacting young people using social networks.  Indeed, my local authority colleagues report that facebook is dismissed at best and blocked at worse.  If  we’re missing out on this obvious community, we’re certainly missing the failed to reach groups.

How Innovative is Your Council? October 3, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.
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“A Decade In Innovation” is the dramatic title of Robin Hambleton and Andrew Holder’s two page spread in this weeks MJ.  The article looks at innovation over the past ten years and, while no direct mention is made of social media, it talks of a former MJ piece that categorised local authorities as the following, in terms of innovation:

  • Adventurous – Those who sought out new opportunities and used them
  • Cautious – Those who waited until the others had tried it first
  • Stuck – Those that were resistant to change

As the article suggested, there are many reasons for falling into the latter catagory and some may be reasons beyond the authorities control.  However, I am frequently surprised how many award winning, four star or Beacon Status authorities don’t engage with social media.

Maybe think about the areas this could be in.  Learning / Education (both young and old) is the obvious one to me, followed closely, if not lead, by, corporate communications.  But how about the other areas?  How about staff development and HR?  How about other frontline services like environment or planning.  Social media has a key role in all our services and is an area of innovation that is often overlooked.  For example, the article lists improvements over the past decade, which include

  • more day-to-day performance monitoring
  • clear targets, coupled with outcome monitoring
  • market testing
  • increased user and staff engagement

All of these, in particular the latter, could make sound use of social media and, as the web’s ability to analise and process information becomes stronger, outcome monitoring could easily be included.

So, if you read this from within a local authority, try to see which catagory you think you fit in and, if you’re not ‘adventurous’, how could youu get there?

A missing link? October 2, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.
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Last week’s Education Guardian had a number of articles around lifelong learning, which were in a supplement written in association with NIACE.

The whole supplement is worth reading, but, in particular, the articles about poverty and qualifications and the BECTA comment about ICT and learning caught my eye.

What was missing, for me, was the article that brought them all together.

The poverty article made the point that qualifications, pre HE, don’t always, or indeed often, equal better jobs.  It suggested that help with CVs would be better spent.  I don’t disagree with this, though I’m not so sure that CV help on its own would be enough.  Maybe the article would have been on safer ground in the later stages, when it looked at social aspects of learning.   Communities are made up of participants, and those enging in learning are participating.

Sadly, the BECTA comment didn’t pick up on this either. While it rightly argued that using technology as a tool DOESN’T reduce kids to information obese illiterates, for me it didn’t demonstrate that learners become participants in a social community with parallels and differences to the ‘real life’ equivalent.

Community Learning is, first and foremost about community development.  It should enable people to be greater participants in their community.  We can debate, probably at length, whether this means as voters, workers, volunteers or just socially active citizens.  What is apparent to me is that, whichever model of a community (or indeed learning) you take, technology has a key role in it.

Technology isn’t THE tool and it isn’t THE answer to all the learning and community devleopment questions.  But it is, I would argue, the link that brings modern learning together with modern communities.  The EduucationGuardian features signified to me that we having yet drawn that link on a national level….the question is, how do we do it?

Community ICT Provision & Learning September 15, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in Uncategorized.
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Last week I attended some interesting seminar at the ALT-C conference in Leeds.

One of the papers presented was around the subject of engaging people from deprived communities in higher education.  Interestingly, this research looked specifically at the barriers in relation to technology. The bits that stood out, as far as I was concerned, were not the financial limitations but the provision available for those with financial limitations.

Skills were an issue for some, but for many it wasn’t an issue of skills but of provision. It wasn’t just equipment that couldn’t be afforded.  Lines and connections were cut off if not paid, even if they were vital to an individual’s course.

Community provision simply wasn’t up to the job. Social networking and MUVEs were not available in most public locations, and email attachments proved a massive problem too, limiting an individuals ability to learn, exchange and network.

Interestingly, research from another workshop by George Roberts didn’t indicate problems with provision – but this was in a centre that had a self-policing open internet policy, where the issues were instead around enforced progression routes and the hidden agendas of upskilling and accreditation.

I think this research demonstrates three important points.

Firstly, that our worries about skills are only a small part of the picture.

Secondly the importance of local authorities looking at community ICT provision.  It isn’t just about ticking inclusion boxes.  It’s a matter of life or no life for some people.  It isn’t just about having computers in public places either.  It’s about having access to the tools available and staff that can support you in accessing them.

Thirdly, it clearly demonstrates Charlie Leadbeater’s point (from a previous post) about learning being central to the public services 2.0 agenda.

Local Government needs to pay close attention to its adult learning provision as a way of looking at the wider community strategy. It’s adult learning provision in turn needs to embrace technology efficiently and quickly. In terms of the provision, the result could be relatively simple. The risk that bans social networking and MUVEs needs to be re-examined. What about the risk of a community that can’t engage or, worse still, can’t learn?

ACL = Community = Web 2.0? September 4, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in engagement, strategy, Uncategorized, web2.0.
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Yesterday I did a talk for some local authority community learning practitioners around the use of technology in adult learning.  As part of it, I asked them to vote using text messaging on what they felt made ACL/PCDL different from other forms of adult learning.  They had four options:

  • Engagement: It’s about reaching the failed to reach, those who are disengaged from mainstream FE or learning as a whole
  • Community: It’s about people coming together, learning for the sake of their social need, not qualifications
  • Skills: It’s about empowering people by giving them the skills to take up employment or further education
  • Finance: it’s about people having a cheaper / free option to more mainstream courses
  • None: ACL is just another form of adult education, there are no fundamental differences

The results (shown on the left) were pretty much as expected, but gave a good chance to have a debate.

Community Learning, for the people on the ground, is fundamentally about engaging people and giving them a safe social space to learn in.  I think, from a personal point of view, I would agree.  Whether this is the same as the national agenda is something to be seriously debated, but this is a debate for another time and place.

What is essential from my point of view is that Local Authorities start to recognise that engagement and community have now moved from the physical ‘church hall’ to the digital ‘facebook’.

I great example from me, personally, is the Bronte Parsonage.  I live only a few miles away and often see posters advertising events there.    However, when I’m in the shop, pub or chippy, the physical part of my community, I normally have other things on my mind and not event posters.  However, I’m a member of the facebook group for this, meaning that when there are events, I hear of them from there.

It’s not that my physical community has gone – I meet people from my virtual community every day and attend real world events.  However, my communication and engagement is primarily based on a digital community.  For Local Authorities, who are trying to re-engage, re-generate and involve communities in upskilling, local democracy and cultural events, these digital communities are being fatally overlooked.  It’s all summed up by a comment from the audience yesterday:  “It’s not that we don’t want to engage with technology – it’s that we’re not allowed to.”

Throwing cities into the mix August 28, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in strategy.
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This blog’s strap line is “community through technology and media”. I believe quite strongly that community can be achieved through collaboration and that learning and, specifically learning technology, is central to that collaboration.

It’s because of this that I was very excited to see “Remixing Cities” by Charles Leadbeater (found through Ewan McIntosh). In it he puts the case for City 2.0 in a very concise and effective way, with some really good analogies and visuals. Importantly, he also puts learning at the heart of this strategy.

I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s a easy and straight to the point read, but the key quote for me has to be: “Do not treat innovation like a vitamin supplement – the goal is to change the diet.” This is something that many learning and local government strategists should bare in mind – we’re looking at a fundamental shift in model of delivery, not technology as an addition to the existing model.

The other point of note is a phrase right at the start. Charles points out that city leaders need to “stimulate collective innovation” which they can “neither instruct nor control”. This is the bit most likely to stick in the throat of many local government strategists. However, this is the trend that is now developing. With a clear focus, strategists can prepare to be what Remixing calls “The soap in the washing machine”. The small, but vital ingredient in the whole mix of common services, places and people that we call community.

Social Networks in Local Government February 22, 2008

Posted by Kevupnorth in social networking.
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I recently read an interesting post from Shel Holz around the links between social networks and corporate websites.  It got me thinking about Local Government websites and their Web 1.0 attitude to customers.

The public sector has always been more vulnerable to criticism than the corporate sector and managing the message has always been important, which is why social networking has never really caught on.  However, it is exactly trhis reason that should make social networking really important to the public sector.

Critics of local councils are already taking matters into their own hands and setting up forums, often harshly criticising  the authority with very little comeback from them.  Maybe, if social networking was embedded and included a greater balance of opinion, not only the critics would get a voice and the authorities could really start to get an edge in the community.