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So… PSFBuzz was a success! What was it all about again?

*To get spreadsheet of #psfbuzz, click here.

So, its been a few days now since I attended the PSFBuzz Web 2.0 event in Manchester.The presenters covered a lot of topics relating to social media and web 2.0 strategies for local authorities.And it seems that from the feedback gathered from the floor and feedback forms, the event was indeed a success.This was probably due to a number of reasons from the professional and efficient organization by the Public Sector Forums (PSF), to the presentations and down to the people who attended the event.

The event started off with Dave Briggs opening remarks commenting on the nice venue we had at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester. It was nice indeed, however it was quite an adventurous ride getting from our hotel to the venue. With 3 sat nav/geo type devices, we still got a bit lost!But that definitely teaches us one valuable lesson to begin the day with, which is… don’t put your eggs all in one basket!Technology is there to support you when you need it, but don’t rely on it 100% folks! Online and offline complement each other. One does not exist without the other!

Local council on twitter…

The first half of the morning session, Mike Saunt from Astun Technology. He talked about whether or not we want to follow local council news feeds on twitter… he didn’t seemed quite convinced. He probably hasn’t come across the research I have been doing in this area. Since December 2008, I have been compiling lists of local councils using twitter that either provide RSS feeds or have actual conversations with followers / citizens here.As Simon Wakeman pointed out in his post here, 272 people in Medway are now following their RSS feeds. And did you know, that Newcastle City Council now has 1273 followers?

You might be asking WHY twitter? Well, I think the question that’s more important here is… WHY NOT?Twitter is fairly easy to setup, it’s free and followers can choose to follow and unfollow as they please. Obviously you will have different reaction to local council twitters, as you can see here, but from the many interviews I have conducted with local councils who are using twitter, my recommendation here is, have an objective when you are setting up your local council twitter account.And once you have an objective or goal, monitor and work with the flow/followers to determine the best way forward to increase engagement.

Controlling technology…

Though Mike also mentioned the leak of SOCITM Better Connected password on twitter.So there’s a question of control, which is a fair point. However I wonder how different this is compared to emailing the password, texting it or even calling someone and giving that same piece of information over the phone.The problem here is not the technology; it’s the behaviour or attitude of the people using it.I think over the duration of my research, the one important lesson I’ve learnt is, technology is a challenge that can be overcome by educating and practice, however behaviour and attitude is a social element that is embedded in social media. Therefore even though technology can sometimes fail us, its people who can fix it. Mike did make a good point though, “Cool technologies shouldn’t be the only means to access! There are a lot of accessibility issues and also Disability Discrimination Act.” So take note…

Cool mashups and other mashups in the making in local councils…

I was pleased to see Mike also talked about Twitterplan, which I had blogged about a few weeks here.There are a lot of great talent in local councils who are developing many useful mashups. Two groups that are actively doing so that I know of are here (by WarwickshireCC)and here – Local Authority Mapping Collective.

NI 14 anybody?

One of the other thing that keeps coming up whenever I talk about websites in local councils is the NI14 (National Indicator 14 – avoidable contact) which is becoming the key driver as pointed out by @carlhaggerty in the #psfbuzz tweets.So how can web 2.0 and social media help? Well the answer is in the numbers. Mike showed some pretty cool data on impact of location-specific content on the web reducing inbound phone calls (via @simonwakeman).He also showed how to measure web 2.0 cash savings. I will try to get the slides and post them here soon. Mike also pointed out that Web 2.0 requires fundamental changes in councils, remove policy barriers, provide open access to your data and use standard formats.

Re-use and re-purpose

One of the interesting points that came out of Simon Smith’s (GOSS Interactive) presentation on “Web 2.0 Glory” is to “re-purpose and re-use” data, which is a key aspect of some website strategies (via @TimCooperUK). As described in the New Zealand’s government “Promoting Government Information and data Re-use” background paper…

The Internet and web technologies have changed the way information is used and discovered. The Internet is the first place New Zealanders now search to find information2. Web 2.0 technologies and applications bring people and content together and allow the re-purposing of data and information in ways that were not previously possible. People do not make distinctions between government and nongovernment information and data. They expect both to be instantly available.

There is also increasing international demand for governments to provide data in readily usable or re-usable formats. A US Open Government Working Group, comprising 30 invited attendees from influential US organisations, has released a set of principles for open government data7. In Canada, the Citizens for Open Access to Civic Information and Data group is advocating that all levels of government make ‘civic’ information and data accessible at no cost in open formats to their citizens.  They believe “this is necessary to allow citizens to fully participate in the democratic process of an “information society”.

To learn more about New Zealand’s Open Government Information and Data Re-use Project, please visit this website.

In an excellent blog post by Vikram Kumar titled “Showing us a better way” . He has some interesting thoughts on what has come out of UK Government’s competition “Show us a better way” and the “Power of Information Taskforce” . I recommend having a quick read-through it.Really interestingthoughts on data reuse.

However according to “Mash the State” (which I wrote about a few weeks ago here), only 21% of councils here in the UK are using RSS on their council websites.So I agree with @mashthestate that open data is a long, long way off the rate.Unless we quickly move to action and make the data available, it could all just end up going up in smoke.

YouTube and Flickr accessibility issues…

Some might argue that using a YouTube and Flickr for local councils are a waste of time due to the accessibility issues. However @timdavies makes a good point when he said “But Flickr / YouTube very useful for people with limited literacy. Accessible in different ways…”

But then @theimp67 also makes a good point when he said “Flickr / YouTube are accessible in different ways but also expensive in terms of production.” Though, what are the actual figures on producing some pictures and videos?

  • Is it possible that the problem lies in the approach that we use when we create videos?
  • Should they or shouldn’t they look as professional as what we see on TV?
  • Or are people content with the “rough and ready” formats just as long as they receive the information needed?
  • Are local councils so concerned about the content being political but not useful?
  • Do the public have any say on the process of producing those pictures or videos?
  • Would it be better for the public to produce the content on a local council channel through campaigns and competitions?
  • Should a social reporter be spearheading these channels of engagement to ensure ROI?

Total Policy Rethink…

@stevenadams tweeted a very interesting point during Paul McElvaney presentation which was web 2.0 will require total policy rethink from many council comms… and COUNCILLORS too…” And I certainly agree with this. Though it obviously will not happen overnight because “when changing technology, you have to provide training. This can be used to support culture change” – Paul McElvaney. And according to @PaulJennings, “leadership courses (such as ILM) can be engaging for employees and a chance to understand new technologies such as forums”.The key is to think like your learners (via @davebriggs) and don’t let technology be the barrier. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Do it yourself where you can. Use flip video and be bold. And the most important point that Paul made during his presentation is “If you got it wrong, you can fix it!”

More interestingly @TimCooperUK also agrees and adds that technology is rarely the issue. As @theimp67 said, its about comms/marketing/politicians/marketing and policy.

Having said that, here is an interesting presentation on “Measuring the impact of social media in Government” which goes through all the web 1.0 measurements then compares them to the web 2.0 measurement.This is an essential read. I highly recommend it.

On one of the slides, Federal Web Managers Council list the top 10 Best Practices for Government Websites which are as follows: –

  1. Meet all laws, requirements, policies, and other directives for public websites
  2. Document your governance structure, including roles, relationships, responsibilities, rules, and review processes
  3. Develop, document, and implement a strategic plan that both incorporates visionary changes and corrects problems with web content
  4. Focus on top tasks
  5. Create and manage content effectively and efficiently
  6. Collaborate within your agency and across government to manage content and eliminate duplication
  7. Follow usability best practices
  8. Evaluate the effectiveness of your website
  9. Make sure the public can find your content
  10. Create opportunities for the public to interact with their government

Youth participation in social networks….

Tim Davies gave a thought provoking presentation on youth participation in social networks at this event. He started off by saying that technology is woven into the fabric of young peoples lives and information flows through friend connections which exists on social networks.The way to engage is to explore these social networks to understand how they work and understand what’s really going on.Its important to remember the skills that are needed here are hardly the technology skills but community engagement skills. Engagement is about the ability to give feedback and engaging with content, so comment is key! Its also important to remember that people – especially young people – will find ways to use technology for which it was not originally intended.

I captured a video with Tim later that day to get a run down on his presentation, and here it is

To Facebook or not to facebook….

Well the obvious thing that pops into mind is “Who the hell in their right mind would want to be a fan of their local council on facebook?” Well, if you check out the local council facebook list I’ve compiled in January 2009, you will possibly be shocked. The message @davebriggs was trying to get through during his presentation is “be where people are”.Through my own experience interviewing citizens, you’d be amazed to know that facebook doesn’t only comprise of people of the younger generation. Quite a few people in their 60s and 70s are also on Facebook for various reasons. And @davebriggs demonstrated this nicely when he informed us that his Dad was also on Facebook (much to his surprise and amusement!).For facebook is about connecting with the people you know on a social networking platform that has the ability to do all sorts of fun things together. However I strongly believe facebooks strength and benefit lies in the communities/groups created.Of course its easy enough to create a group on any forum across the web i.e. yahoo groups/google groups. However having the ability to tell your friends that you just joined a group or campaign and invite others to participate is truly what allows the community to grow and collaborate with each other by swapping information/knowledge on a specific area/issue. Facebook applications are the first step towards widgetisation, with much more flexibility and no emotional commitment.

Please also check out Simon Wakeman’s and Simon Smith’s presentation summary video.

Hope this was useful!!! Sorry for those who couldn’t attend. It was an absolute blast. Hope you can make it next year! 😉

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

4 comments

  1. Hi Liz,

    Many thanks for making this available. I was hooked into the Twitterstream of the event, which relayed some excellent info and resources. Your summaries & videos have expanded upon the issues raised in the tweets. Hope to attend the next event.

    Keep up the good work!

    Karen

    Karen Blakeman’s last blog post..BBOD mashups presentation

    • Hi Karen,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the Twitterstream! I had fun keeping everyone updated. I’d be interested to know which bits were useful to you but maybe we should meet up. I feel we’d have a lot to talk about 😉 Hopefully our paths will cross one day. In fact, I know they will 😉
      Glad you liked the summaries and videos too, they were all rough and ready but hopefully useful for everyone involved. I’ll look forward to seeing you at the next event. Hopefully PSF will invite me again 🙂

      Thanks again for your continued support. Its much appreciated!

      Liz

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