Knowledge is knowing stuff.

Wisdom is being able to use it wisely.

So. where does the wisdom lie in your organisation?

At the coal face is the practical experience, in the boardroom is the strategic vision and somewhere in between there are people with perspective.

Perspective is a valuable thing and acquiring it is something of a luxury. When you’re at the coal face or balancing the books, you rarely have time to acquire perspective. Perspective doesn’t tell people how to do their jobs; it accepts that the coal face and boardroom have years of accumulated experience. However, perspective might suggest that there may be ways to make life a little easier – a different angle, another approach. Perspective doesn’t judge, it enables.

Progress stalls when experience won’t listen to perspective.

So, if you’re wise, you’ll make room for perspective, even if you don’t have it yourself.


Adopt, adapt, improve & share


I left my post in local government 3 months ago on the hunt for a new challenge. Shortly thereafter,  I was given a great opportunity to work with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust covering Comms over the Summer. It’s been a good opportunity to see if the enlightened approach we’d been deploying at Shropshire Council would transfer into the charitable sector and nature conservation in particular. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it does. An early trick was to create a blog  linked to Facebook and Twitter to provide a fast-track to followers and friends that wasn’t reliant on the vagaries of local media. Becoming your own news agency is a tactic I would highly recommend but with two provisos;

1 All organisations be they for profit or otherwise, need to communicate. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about pronouncements and press releases. The kind of communicating I’m referring to is reflecting the day-to-day business of doing your job, showing people your busy-ness. Not with a spin or ‘look how great I am’; because if you are any good, your customers will do that on your behalf.

2 You can draw like-minded people to your organisation with a well-time tweet or Facebook post but you’ll only keep them there by reinforcing your shared values; by demonstrating them through reflecting your work and providing ample opportunities for people to engage or converse with your through those channels. That’s real communication.

There are lots of cases studies of New Comms practice across the West Midlands in the white paper launched today by IEWM and Comms2Point0. Here’s a LINK to the paper.

D:Ream On

On the eve of CommsCamp13 I find myself reflecting on the roller-coaster ride of the last 18 months in local government communications. Back then, I may have hoped that services would be beating a path to my door and asking for social media accounts but it would have seemed a long shot. The notion that we could build a case for front line officers to be empowered to tell their own story and not be fed through the mill of traditional corporate comms would have seemed equally unlikely. But at Shropshire Council, 50+ Facebook pages, a couple of dozen Twitter accounts and a sprinkling of service blogs later, here we are. A perfect storm of cuts and dwindling resources are no small contributing factor to the wider adoption of innovative communication practices; it seems innovation loves a crisis. But disruptive innovators in a  number of councils have played their part too. Contrary to D:Ream’s hopeful anthem of the 90’s, we can’t assume that things will only get better. There are more challenges ahead for local government in the UK and that will require a new generation of disruptive innovators with even crazier notions. I’m hoping to meet some of them tomorrow at The Bond. Follow #commscamp13 and see the day unfold.

For the fun of it

So, as the social media culture spreads like a friendly virus across the known world spreading joy, enlightenment and pictures of cute kittens in its wake; how’s it going in your organisation?  We may have won the argument on whether it’s all just a flash in the pan but how long will it take before it’s ingrained in the culture of your business? The truth is that no amount of stat-loaded PowerPoint slides, team talks and cajoling will make a jot of difference if colleagues can’t see the benefits for themselves. I’ve changed tack recently. I’ve started encouraging colleagues to get on to Twitter. Not for the sake of the organisation but for their own personal, professional development. Whatever their bag is, there’s a strong likelihood that a community of interest has gathered around a hashtag on that topic. Photography, music, cats; they’re all out there and connecting with like-minded souls is at the heart of the success of social media. It’s also the way you’ll convert doubters to advocates within your team. For any business to thrive in future, it will need everyone to not just ‘get’ social media but to use them on a daily basis.

One final point, in a fluid job market, we already have people in our organisations who don’t get social media, why would we employ any more?

Being a real authority

Interesting title ‘Local Authority’. I work for one and my interest is cultural change through innovation. And lately I’ve been looking at that name in a different light. Here in Shropshire, we’ve been slowly building a family of social media accounts across a range of services and the old stalwarts of Facebook & Twitter are the foundation stones. There’s still a bit of hearts-and-minds stuff to do to help colleagues see the benefits of going where the conversation is but we’re getting there. Now, my interest is turning towards service-related blogs.

Recently, I’ve been describing to colleagues the notion of being not just a local authority in the institutional sense but an authority on key matters, locally. So the term local authority can have a different meaning. Each part of our organisation has access to privileged information. Not privileged in the top secret sense, just privileged in the sense that we hear about it first. There’s an audience for that. A while back, we adopted the Birmingham City Council model of creating our own online newsroom as the primary source of council news. But social media can also empower frontline officers and managers to be the news provider for their service; becoming advocates for the work they do as well as responding to the conversations that the information sparks. Look at the work that Wolverhampton Parks have been doing on Twitter, for example or Acton Scott Museum here in Shropshire. But Twitter and Facebook have their limitations. A blog can tell the whole story. Our Shropshire Family Information Service has already shown colleagues the way in terms of blogging. And kudos to @katebentham for that.

There are multiple audiences for this kind of content. Broadly, our customers but also stakeholders, partners and businesses in the sector. Fellow professionals too as well as news agencies and the media in general. Guest blogs from any one of those groups adds a new dimension to the output and adds another level of advocacy.

There’s a wealth of stories to tell and who better to tell them? Even as we undergo unparalleled structural change we still need to communicate what we do and why we do it. In that context, maybe ‘doing’ social media starts to look less like a chore and more like a necessity.

Digital Futures12

I’ve attended a few local government innovation events over the last year or so.  Enough to spot something of a trend. Where conversations were once dominated by discussions around technology, platforms and apps and the user stats to back them up, the conversation is now tempered with more talk about changing culture and attitudes.

The recent Digital Futures 12 conference in Shrewsbury was a prime example. The speakers made reference to social media and digital engagement but not to reel off stats on Facebook & Twitter usage. Time and again we heard about the positive fallout from adopting social tools.

Nick Jones @nickjonesCOI set the tone with the quote “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”- a timely reminder of digital exclusion that was echoed by Alison Smith @peskypeople and here’s a link to her slides. Alison also made a good point about accessibility. It’s not about supporting a disadvantaged minority. An accessible web site is good for everyone. Vicky Sargent @vickysargent made a compelling argument for channel shift with an estimated £134M potential savings to English councils. Vicky also highlighted the need to provide data as maps as well as lists.

The day was littered with great quotes. Louise Kidney @loulouk suggested that social media were “a trojan horse for cultural change”. And while we’re on the subject of quotes Carrie bishop @carriebish called called for “open by by design.”

Consultation is a thorny issue for some but if we are to be ‘open by default’, we’ve got to get it right. Engaging people in the democratic process is another tricky one but Catherine Howe @curiousc made the point that a citizen engaged in consultation is engaged in the democratic process. And when it comes to the impact of social tools, she also underlined the ability of online to change offline behaviour; a notion summed up with the call to “think in public..listen publicly”. In other words, don’t go to your customers with a fully formed idea and ask them what they think of it, because that ‘aint consultation.

Nick Booth @podnosh spoke of the success of social media surgeries but highlighted the need for many more if we are to narrow the digital divide. He referred to what he calls the stock pot of social capital. Don’t assume that a community is necessarily in deficit. Begin by assuming that there is social capital and work out how to find it.

Harking back to the benefits of social media, Alison Hook @allyhook highlighted the fact that the Coventry City Council Facebook page accounts for 45% of their web traffic.

There were may more calls to arms during the day by the likes of Justin Griggs @justingriggs from the National Association of Local Councils. And it’s worth noting that if some local authorities are slow at taking up social media, some parish and town councils are even further behind; and a two tier approach to social media won’t help co-creation one jot.

So, my abiding image is pockets of future in a sea of present. The challenge is to join up the dots.

Right, where do we start?

Facebook Futures

As yet another early investor in Facebook cashes in a whole bunch of shares and the market value continues to fall, it’s understandable that the future of the platform is a regular topic of discussion in the twittersphere. It’s a topic I touched on  a while back when user numbers appeared to be dropping. Back then, it was all about how to bring people back to the chat after a bad first impression. Well, it seems to me there’s two things going on today.

A social platform was created and a world of people got on board. Then the guys who built it decided to go to the market and cash in. It didn’t go exactly according to plan but early investors have still been able to make a mint and Wall Street observers have had lots to write about.

The question is “what happens next?”. Does Facebook fall on, face? I doubt it but then I’m no business analyst. What no one can ignore is the fact that a massive customer base of people who wouldn’t call themselves digitally adept, fell in love with a user-friendly platform that allowed them to connect as they never had done before and set their own agenda for a million plus discussion groups. And that businesses, including major corporations were brought into that realm and learned a whole new bunch of stuff about how connecting with your customers makes you a better business. And local authorities embraced the notion too and it helped redesign better services as a consequence.

So before anyone starts to nail the lid on the coffin, they better have a really good alternative because that’s a very big hole to fill.