Here is an excerpt of my first post and a link to the rest of the article:
A few months ago, listening to BBC Radio 4, I heard a government minister use a word, or one of its derivatives, well over 48 times in a four minute segment. Well, I only started counting after I had heard it half a dozen times and I stopped counting at 48, but the barrage continued. The word in question: innovation. The problem was, not one of the instances where the word was used had anything to do with real innovation. The word was being loosely employed to denote some aspiration for newness or a mild departure from previous practice.
We have a habit of doing this with brilliant meaningful words and phrases. Casually employing them inappropriately with the effect that we drift from their true meaning and devalue them over time. Take public consultations for example. A beautiful idea in principle, that we should engage in a meaningful discussion between state and the citizenry before some policy suggestion becomes a reality for said citizens. Yet what we get is 180 page documents written in some impenetrable language that is only accessible to lobbyists and their lawyers. And then we scratch our heads wondering where the trust between the citizen and her government has gone…
I’ve just presented my annual lecture on networks and collaboration at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The presentation has been updated from last year with some new thinking around peer based modes of production.
The following article is a piece I wrote for Monmouthshire County Council‘s internal staff e-zine and republished here with the permission of Helen Reynolds. I thought I would share it beyond those original walls as I have had comments that suggested the piece would be useful to other public servants trying to make sense of the value of engaging with social media.
“I am Spartacus!
If we are to believe Daily Mail commentator Quentin Letts, public servants ought to be faceless automatons. As the privileged recipients of the public coin, we should be expected to function as efficient machines, have no personality, and demonstrate no human emotion. Mr Letts took it upon himself to crucify a Department of Transport employee, Sarah Baskerville, for the heinous crime of demonstrating via her Twitter feed that she is a human, with a personality, and in her own time likes to relax and have a drink. Following this ordeal, a chorus of support from public servants across the UK invaded the social media sphere with labels like #welovebaskers and #iamspartacus.
I spent some time with Sarah Baskerville recently, and I can report that she is a fiercely intelligent woman, a valuable asset to any public organisation, very fun company, and a thoroughly decent human. And that last point is the key, her crime was to reveal that public servants are also real humans, with all that entails.
Now consider the default perception of ‘the council’ by citizens. It is often negative, and we regularly have to overcome some false assumptions or lack of trust before we can engage in constructive dialogue with citizens. Why is that? Is it maybe that we have subconsciously projected ourselves as the faceless automatons Mr Letts requires us to be, just because our wages come out of the public purse? And why am I banging on about this in the social media edition of Team Spirit?
First off, if you are still one of those people who dismiss social media on principle, then you can count yourself among those who, in the 1960’s with the phone, and in the 90’s with email, failed to recognise that what could have passed as a fad has in fact become completely mainstream. The consequences of not accepting that a communications shift has already happened are a potentially crippling competitive disadvantage. It’s also why your kids look at you funny.
The thing with social media is that it is a very human medium. It requires honesty, dialogue, openness; all these things come naturally to us among our social peers, yet are not how most people would characterise relationships between ‘the council’ and citizens. Culturally we face a big challenge, because what social media asks is for us to reframe how we project our personality. As individuals and as an organisation. Or in other words, it has created an expectation that when we promote one of our corporate values as ‘openness’, we will truly live that value. And we will engage with people on the platforms of their choosing, in a manner expected and defined by those contexts.
We are public servants, and the public now has choice. If they don’t get value from a controlled broadcast channel, they will go somewhere else to have the discussions we have a duty to be involved with. And if we can’t engage as an organisation of open and honest humans, it won’t be long before we have to question our relevance… “
I’ve been invited to address the CIPR Local Services Annual Conference during the social media masterclass. Here is the presentation I delivered. As always with my presentations, the visual candy is only an accompaniment, the main meat of the message is spoken. If they record the session I will add a link to it here later.
A few weeks ago I saw Chris Taggart of Openly Local talking about open data at OpenTech2010. In recent days I’ve found myself with the opportunity to inform the thinking, of senior managers in a Local Authority context, about open data. I am particularly taken by the way that Chris approaches the issue of risk aversion by managing to to frame the public sector taboo of failure as an opportunity to progress through failing forward.
I will certainly be using this presentation, with a view to that opening the door for us to get Chris himself, to articulate the opportunities that open data present to a reform minded public body.
- William Perrin says goodbye to the UK’s open data chief – and hello to the new one (guardian.co.uk)
- How the Charities Commission is being dragged into the 21st century (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- When Open Public Data Isn’t…? (ouseful.info)
- Reports look at cultural and economic implications of open data (computing.co.uk)
- Local government data: how to make it really open. Five principles for transparency (guardian.co.uk)
- What is Open Gov Data? The Sunlight Foundation: Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information (zzzoot.blogspot.com)
Last week I made a presentation to the Welsh members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations – CIPR about government 2.0 and the implications for Local Government communications.
The presentation was specifically made for an audience of PR professionals in Welsh public authorities, so for example the analysis of twitter usage is limited to Welsh Local Authorities, but I think there may be some wider interest in the presentation as a whole.
I have had several requests for the presentation so I am embedding it here for easy access. Do let me know what you think about it in the comments below.
Following from the positive reaction to the first guide, I’ve been asked to follow it up, this time I will go into a bit more detail. We have learned a lot in the past week about the value (and challenges) of using new social media to show our support for the protest movement in Iran.
In this guide I will segment categories of engagement, and I urge you not to step beyond your capabilities in choosing which category to confine yourself in, there where you can make the most constructive contribution. Below the general principles you will find sections for the three categories of Supporter, Activist, and Cyberwarrior.
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The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.
- Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
- Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
- Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
- Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
- Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
- Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.
- Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.
Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.
Today I had lunch with a fascinating man…
He is a man with a passion for the spoken word, and a vision for how the fading oral traditions from around world will have a place to explode back into our consciousness, and feed a void that grows within us.
We now have the potential to connect with an infinite pool of like minded people without consideration for geographic boundaries or distance… Social media can connect us to the people we need to engage with in a way inconceivable not a decade ago. With new technology we develop new social skills, fitting for the society and tools we constantly evolve.
But what of the old society, what of the old skills, what of the old traditions that formed the social human as it is now?
We talked of Saxon halls, Celtic roundhouses, and Scandinavian longhouses. Those altars where the basis for modern human communication evolved. We discussed ritual, discourse, poetry, theatre and debate. The forms of communication that, each in its own right, expanded the horizons of the human within and the potential of society evolve to the beyond.
I was reminded of a very dear friend, decendant of the shamanic traditions, dismissed by a modern society as defunct and a lost cause. He can be found most days anaesthetised from his rejection through the medium of booze. Yet he is a keeper of all of the traditions that have brought us to this amazing present. And in our modern connected online utopia we no longer value him…
A long time ago we sat around the fire in a circle and shared stories. Now we tweet and blog them without ever needing to make eye contact. It is the cherishing, the traditions, the forms, and the practice of the spoken word that have brought us from the fire to where we are now.
And the man I had lunch with today, he has a grand vision for the spoken word. That its traditions be preserved, propagated, taught, championed, housed, and celebrated. In some years time, when this vision has been realised, I know which fire I will be heading for.
The man I had lunch with today…, his name is William Ayot, and you will hear his name again.