Channel You

"What's my motivation?"

“What’s my motivation?”

When I pitched for my present job, I majored on capturing the stories of positive people so as to inspire other people to act positively.

A lot of my work centres around Public Health messaging and I made the point that the public is bombarded by warnings and entreaties; to do something-or-other less or more…or not at all. Yet, withal, some people simply won’t act. Is it because they aren’t listening or do they think themselves immune?

I suspect it’s because they’ve convinced themselves that the message doesn’t apply to them. In which case, no amount of top-down hectoring is going to change their behaviour or their minds.

“What if” I asked “we were able to provide a first hand account of someone who did act?”

We would ask them a little about their circumstances, ask them what prompted them to act and, most significantly, ask them how they feel now. Could that prompt a positive response, in the vein of ‘well, if she can do it, so can I’

I had no experience of film making or editing but I made it my business to learn.

I’ve since made several videos and not all of them Public Health-related.

Too early to tell if they’ve prompted mass behavioural change but they’ve taken an average of 100 hits  per video on YouTube. Not telephone numbers level, I’ll grant you but my instinct tells me that we should push on and develop the approach across a range of services.

I submit by way of illustration two videos on varying topics. The first was intended to demonstrate that one small step can have a life-changing effect on your wellbeing:

The second is intended to demonstrate that the barriers to starting your own business via a market stall are a lot lower than you think:

If you’ve got any good examples of videos to prompt behavioural change, let’s start sharing them. Add yours below.

Also, check out @johnpopham on Twitter, he’s been an advocate of storytelling for yonks.

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Curtains

Curtains

Ever sat in front of the TV and screamed at the politician “Do you take me for an idiot?”
The short and most honest answer would most likely be “Yes.” Though it might come as something of a shock, it would at least demolish the all-pervading pretence.

It’s an election year and for some of us working in local government comms, it will be local and national elections. The double whammy.
Shortly we’ll be entering the period known as purdah. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word originates from the early 19th century Urdu and Persian word parda meaning ‘veil or curtain’
Purdah is a period when comms teams must steer clear of communicating anything that has the slightest taint of political spin. We mustn’t be seen to be giving unfair advantage to the incumbent administration over the opposition. Ironically, we won’t be hidden or remain totally silent. We can still report the day to day operations of our authority, the bread-and-butter, so to speak.  In that respect, the notion of a veil or curtain is not entirely apt. One could argue that the veil or curtain is transparent or at least opaque in that we will be telling people exactly what we do. There just won’t be any gloss on it. Which begs the question, does it ever need any?

I’ve been in local government for over a decade now having spent the previous ten or so years in the media. I’m lucky to have seen both sides of the story as well as experiencing local government as a civilian. And the more I look at it, the more it occurs to me that party politics are a distraction when it comes to dealing with local and hyper local issues. Often you will see the leader of a local authority at odds with the national government of the day when the two wear the same colours. The view from the local coal face isn’t always the same as the one from central office.
Council Chamber discussions across the country too often degenerate into political point scoring and name calling when they ought to be run like a boardroom meeting. Like it or not, local authorities are a business these days and businesses don’t adopt bad practice for the sake of ideology or political expediency..at least, not the enlightened ones.

I do have a particular business model in mind. The 18th century in England saw the emergence of a new breed of industrialist. Brave innovators who invested as much energy into the welfare of their workforce a they did the bottom line. They understood that the two are inextricably linked. Check out Darby, Fry and Cadbury for starters.
There are many competent councillors who transfer skills honed in the business, public and voluntary sectors into local governance. It’s that interesting mix that makes local government so lively. And though some councillors may serve for long periods, you don’t get the phenomenon of career politician so prevalent in national politics. Councillors live in the real world not the Westminster bubble.

We joined Streetlife recently. It was interesting to read the tone of comments that greeted our arrival; much less embittered than the tone on Facebook or Twitter. In the context of this piece, one in particular stands out:
This is the sort of thing that brings a special relationship between the Council and residents. Please use it wisely for non political purposes and enjoy the positive response that you will receive from the local people.”
It’s early days for Streetlife but if I read this comment correctly, it’s the ‘localness’ and practicality that people are warming to. And the gentle nudge to keep politics out of it only serves to underline my original point.

So, councils run on enlightened business principles by councillors who have the right skills and the interests of all their residents and workers at heart may be a pipe dream but it leaves little room for petty party politics. Allegiance would be to residents not political ideals.
Non-political governance based on human dignity, sound business sense unfettered by dogma , a dedication to sustainable practice that has the courage to take the long-view; all this may be even further away at a national level but in that respect, local government is the most likely place to incubate it.
Governance would become much more of a partnership between the governors and the governed. And ‘vested interest’ would be a universal notion rather than an exclusive club. In this utopian future evidence will be the pillar of every decision. Political rhetoric would become redundant and I for one would spend much less time screaming at my TV.

To paraphrase John Lennon:
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m surely not the only one.”

If you build it, will they come?

building blocks

Back in the sixties, when I was a kid, I loved to play with a well known building block toy (you’ll know the one).Essentially it was a collection of plastic blocks in a range of sizes. Some were grey and some were red and at some point in my childhood, they introduced clear plastic ones. With these basic blocks I built castles and forts, aircraft carriers and rocket ships. They were clunky and angular but my imagination filled in the curves. The point is, from those basic building blocks, I made whatever I wanted. There seemed no limit to the things I could construct.

Some years later, the parts became more sophisticated and were clearly intended to build a replica of whatever was illustrated on the box.

Now, this post isn’t about corporate greed dulling the creative capacity of our children. I’m using this as an analogy for public consultation. Local Authorities deliver stuff. It may be the management of refuse, a working road network, libraries (for now) and leisure centres. But in future, what will it be?

Perhaps if we began with basic blocks and not proscriptive solutions and had a dialogue with residents around that, we could identify what people need, rather than want. We could start with a snap shot based on known data sets and local intelligence at the hyperlocal level. We’d need to manage expectations and establish some ground rules. For instance, asking for a positive, can-do attitude. That isn’t about air brushing out failures. When we get it wrong we should fess up but airing old grievances wastes time and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Most importantly, the blocks don’t have to be three-dimensional because people are infrastructure too; they have interests, passions and transferable skills. If we harness those, that’s a lot of energy. And if you add those into the mix, you’re on your way to creating sustainable solutions. So, when it comes to public consultation and building communities, let’s see what happens when we don’t put a picture on the box.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Rob Francis @ThinkingRob on Twitter. Check him out, he does this kind of stuff for a living.

Evening All

Dixon of Dock Green

Dixon of Dock Green

Back in the sixties, the police were viewed very differently from the way we view them today.

There was something called ‘due deference’. It was a thing, you may need to look it up.

On our black & white TVs, Dixon of Dock Green epitomised the public perception of the police. Played by Jack Warner, Dixon was a mature, steady hand at the helm of public order. Each episode was prefaced by Sergeant Dixon addressing the camera, beginning with the immortal words “Evening all.” He would then set up the story for that week. And after the drama had played out, he would return to address the camera once again with words of reassurance to help us sleep easy in our beds.

In the intervening years, a number of real life episodes have dinted the reputation of the police for some. In the 1970’s, accusations of corruption and malpractice were met with closed ranks and secrecy which did little to restore public trust.

In the 21st century, it could be argued that the police are more accountable than they’ve ever been. Statutory bodies, PCC’s and formal public liaison aside, there’s been another development. For a number of years, the police have slowly but steadily been using social media to reach across the thin blue line and connect directly with the public.

I applaud the police for taking the risk because their lead has been followed by other public organisations…”if the police can do it”

So the news that, since 2009, a number of officers have contravened police social media guidelines is regrettable but hardly surprising given the scale of the operation. And if it serves to spark a conversation about the right way and the wrong way for public organisations to use social media, that’s fine. But, please let’s not start talking about restricting the deployment of social media by the police.

Bobbies on the beat, dog handlers and even helicopter crews are using social media. They’re sharing their day-to-day work and providing the reassurance that Sergeant Dixon did on a Saturday night. And that’s a good thing.

If Sergeant Dixon had been able to use twitter, I’m pretty sure he would have done #eveningall

Mobilize your troops

And by troops, I mean your customer base.

Working for a local authority in the UK can seem increasingly like standing on a piece of melting pack ice. We may have a shrinking payroll but we still have lots of customers.

So when you embark on a marketing exercise, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re making the most of your greatest asset; particularly when the marketing budget is meagre.

In an age of viral ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ it’s never been more pertinent.

It’s something that occurred to me whilst talking to colleagues in Public Health who recently joined us from the NHS. It was clear that they shared some common ground with colleagues in Leisure Services. Both are in the business of making people healthy and both need to motivate people to respond to the call-to-action; but in many cases that call is falling on deaf ears.

So, instead of marketing to ‘everyone who isn’t presently a customer’, could we explore encouraging our current customer base to explain to their friends why they responded to the call? There’s a lot of current thinking to support this approach. Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, talks about the power of storytelling in his recent BLOG on boosting reach. It’s well worth a read.  I’d summarise my thoughts using the analogy of a reverse target:

Audiences

Reverse target

The reverse target represents three audiences:

1 CONVERTED: Our existing customers who have already adopted elements of a healthy lifestyle

2 AGNOSTIC: People similar to ‘1’ but presently not engaged

3 IMMUNE: People who are resistant to key messages – “I hear you but I’m not listening”

 

 

 

 

Though we aim for the outer circle, we consistently hit the inner circle. So, how do we become counter-intuitive, improve our aim and hit the outer circle more often?

All services produce information about their offer and all services need to find ways to motivate people enough to change behaviour and be receptive to that information. Making converts of agnostics is the quicker win though by no means easy. Ultimately, we want to hit the outer circle which contains what we sometimes refer to as the hard to reach. It’s a well worn phrase though it could be argued that they’re only hard to reach because we simply aren’t communicating with them properly.

The Nudge

In marketing terms, one approach would be to harness the power of peer-to-peer recommendation; a recognised phenomenon in the marketing world. It’s always been an important factor but the advent of social media has increased its range and effectiveness because of the principle of communities of interest as illustrated here:

Communities of interest

These communities are built by people congregating around circles of friendship, shared values and shared interests.

My interactions with services and institutions through social media are also shared with my circle and, indirectly, with their friends.

It is the interleaving of these circles that create the viral nature of social media.

 

 

Within a community of interest will be existing customers who would be receptive to a video containing powerful, first-hand testimony on ‘Why I finally gave up smoking’.  A peer-to-peer recommendation from them has the potential to make a convert out of an agnostic. Within the same group, it also has the potential to make someone previously immune to messages to at least become an agnostic. By this means, more people become receptive to the call; and the market for our offer expands.

In essence; never forget that information of itself has no value if you can’t attach a motivation to change.

 

Images: Feel free to re-use but a credit might be nice.

We’ll take it from here

We'll take it from here

We’ll take it from here

Regular readers (do I have any?) will know of my involvement with the Save The Clifton campaign. At present, five of us are working to save a cinema and adjoining building to create a multi-use community arts centre.

Over the years, I’ve had some involvement in cultural capital projects in my capacity as a local government officer and it would be fair to say that recent austerity has put the kibosh on a great deal of publicly funded cultural investment. But even if we claw our way out of the present mire, I wonder if there’ll ever be a return to the levels of investment we saw a decade ago?

Remember all those ill-fated Millennium projects?

The Clifton got me thinking whether the future is community-inspired, community-owned-and-run projects as the new norm?

Sure, someone has to stump up the money in the first place but isn’t it the case that for the long haul, the sustainable business model – the well of enthusiasm and sense of ownership, the lack of political interference that independent people-power projects provide can offer is the best hope? (that’s quite enough ‘P’s – Ed). In our case, only time will tell but we’re looking beyond the straight out commercial approach to creating a centre where arts are used for community cohesion, to tackle isolation and to offer opportunities to engage in the Arts as a form of, well, therapy. We’ll need to find backers and we’ll certainly be looking at share issues and crowdfunding but if we can persuade the local authority to support us in saving the building, we might just be able to say “we’ll take it from here.”

Be Prepared

I’m indebted to @johnpopham for finding an interesting blog by Eric Jackson on the Darwinian process behind the rise and fall of tech companies.  Will Facebook survive and should we care? When you consider the amount of time some of us have invested in creating Facebook pages for our services, should we be concerned? It’s a topic I touched on a while back on this very blog.

It took a while before we got the Internet but the journey from basic web to social to mobile has been a white-knuckle ride. Jackson makes the point that in the world of tech development, the now generation is only now for a moment. They’re already being nudged aside by the next generation and the now generation didn’t see it coming.

So where does that leave us? Second guessing the next evolutionary stage of social tech is a job best left to the experts (good luck with that). Organisations need to focus on first principles if they are to keep pace. These principles should be based on what’s best for the B2C experience. Go where the conversation is, be open to comments, complaints and suggestions, be engaged and stay focussed on the social business approach. That way, whatever comes out of Palo Alto next, we’ll be fit for purpose.