Cold Turkey

I’m now coming to the end of a 4 month stretch of Twitter absence. The period was intended to be 2 months, but pressure to re-enter the local world of Facebook became too much and my tweets dried up (hope there’s a cream for that).

The absence was initially intended as an intervention due to what I saw as a growing addiction to the Twitterverse; spending more time reading tweets than speaking to others. I’m a child of the 70s and as such can do that old man thing of remembering “when I were a lad….” and can remember when tweeting was done on walls and kerbs, using chalk (to be honest most of them tended to be letting people know what date you’d been there – why?).

I initially joined twitter to learn (actually that’s a lie; I originally joined to follow Stephen Fry, but I’ll never admit to that) but found that I was reading the ‘tweets of randomness’ rather than the important learning-centric ones (I even found that I was reading those of one person, purely because I found them attractive when I met them in real life). “Enough” I cried to the world; the world just rolled over and mumbled something about “not tonight, headache”, and decided to take a break and come back with a more focused need.

So here we are, 4 months have passed and it’s time to re-enter the 140, with my new purpose and more focused attitude……..one problem, I find that I can’t leap back in. Where once I found it but a moments work to distill my thoughts into 140 characters, now I find myself going blank at the space. Have I been gone too long and now need to Tumble in order to meet my rambling prose need? Maybe I’m doomed to press my words on this grand scale and use my phones battery up every time I want to reveal my thoughts. Who knows, and let’s be honest I don’t imagine anyone else really cares.

“Wait” I hear you cry, “you don’t need to tweet, you can just lurk and learn”; true, but part of the original joy of using the Twitter medium, was getting the chance to share what you had just learnt with others. I will keep trying to re-enter the world of tweets and hopefully will rediscover my muse, until then I suppose I will have to remain in the micro-verse of The Book of Faces talking about the local bar and ignoring people.

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#LP2011 – The Learning Experience

As with most ‘conferences’ there is always a mild expectation of being spoken at for several hours, by someone with the personality and emotional range of a Dalek.

One of the things Learning Pool have always seemed to be able to do is inject a bit of life into their events, and #LP2011 was no exception.

A networking goldmine

Taking the concept that these events are more important for their delegate interaction aspect (networking goldmines), #LP2011 was billed as a ‘Community Day’ and organised to reflect this.

Apart from two initial presentations (Dr Andrew Larner talking on Sector Self Help and Kim Brown discussing the Role of HR and Training in Smart Councils), the event was workshop based.

Delegates could choose their ‘favourite’ topics and take part in that session (with enough flexibility, to allow delegates to change the session they attended).

Sessions on the day included subjects such as:

  • Rollout and Delivery
  • Engaging your Learners
  • Proving E-learning Payback
  • Training 3rd Sector Partners
  • E-learning for Councillors and Governors

Hero story happiness

The joy of these sessions was that several of them were billed as Hero Stories and delivered by community members who have negotiated many of the challenges faced by other members.

For example, the session on Engaging your Learners was co-presented by Sue Wright, from Wolverhampton City Council, who was able to give her experiences of engaging the Council’s employees to access their e-Learning provision.

These insights, from those in other public sector organisations, helped the delegates to see how they can achieve the same results (or even better).

An insightful lunchtime

To ensure the learning and networking continued throughout the day, hosted lunch tables were available, at lunchtime (strangely enough) covering topics such as:

  • Rollout and Delivery
  • Big Society Learning
  • Make Your DLE Friendly
  • E-learning for Leader

These lunchtime sessions, though short (10mins each) were extremely useful and encouraged many a long discussion afterwards.

The sessions on Make you DLE Friendly and E-learning for Leaders (presented by Ben Jones and Wendy Kay, respectively) were very useful; Ben’s session made delegates re-evaluate the style of their DLE, whilst Wendy provided food-for-thought on how you can use E-learning to influence the development of your senior officers/leaders.

Free one-to-one sessions

Delegates were also afforded the opportunity to have one-to-one sessions with Learning Pool’s experts, providing support clinics for any issues they may have with using the Authoring Tool and DLE, or with Learner Engagement.

I was lucky enough to work with Wendy Kay from Learning Pool on my particular concerns around Learner Engagement; the session left me with ideas tumbling over each other, begging to be used.

Prestigious awards bestowed

For the last few years Learning Pool have presented Customer of the Year Awards and this year was no exception.

Wrexham CBC was fortunate enough to be nominated in one of the categories this year (Best Community Contributor 2011) and although we weren’t successful this year, the whole presentation process gave community members the drive to want to be on the stage next year.

Connected and enthused

In all, the event was one of the most useful ‘conferences’ I have ever attended; I made more connections from this one day than the last six official events I have attended and I have never come away from an event with as much enthusiasm as I did from this.

Roll-on #LP2012

#LocalGovCamp – lost in knowledge

“Un-conference?  What the hell is that?”

If I had that question once, I had it fifty times.  As I had never attended #LocalGovCamp, I found it pretty hard to explain: “err, group of people talk about something they want to talk about……….I think.”

So now I’ve been, how would I describe it? “err, group of people talk about something they want to talk about……….I know.” and to be honest, there’s very little more you can say, when trying to describe it to someone who hasn’t been.  To those of us who have attended, it’s many things: informative, surprising, affirming, confirming, epiphanic and re-invigorating (ooh, big words on a weekday.)

Which of the above are the most important?  It all depends on your needs.  The most important thing I needed, and found, is not shown above but it was there on the day – Community; in this era of Social technology emergence, it’s very easy for those of us with a belief in the positivity of Social Engagement through technology to become jaded and isolated.  I found the hours spent with others with a similar outlook, provided me with not only a recharged well of enthusiasm, but also a new group of ‘friends’ to seek ideas and support from.

“That’s all lovely and hand-holdy, but what the hell did you talk about for SEVEN hours?”

When the whiteboard was filled with subjects (35 in total – strange how ‘nap’ is the first one to jump to mind), I was like the proverbial child in the sweetshop “ooh, ooh, I want that one, and that one and, oh bum they’re on at the same time, etc…”.  The greatest benefit of this event, and its greatest problem (at least for an info-junkie like me) is the wealth of subjects and the inability to attend all of the sessions.  The advice from Andy Mabbett aka @pigsonthewing of finding a ‘buddy’ and agreeing to attend separate sessions and report back (http://bit.ly/iP4dag), is a must; as is the knowledge that experienced bloggers will be posting about the majority of the sessions.  This said, I was still irritated that the sessions on Wordpress, Cloud Collaboration and Using Kindle for Communication all clashed with each other; this always leaves you with the burning question: Did I attend the right session?

“So, did you attend the right sessions?”

In short: Yes……….and no.  Of the five sessions I participated in, three were useful, and in the spirit of fairplay (and the fact that others did find those other two sessions useful) I will focus on those three (N.B.these are the session names as I recorded them and not necessarily the actual names):

Council Newspapers – RIP

A very interesting and provocative discussion around the perceived death of the Council Newspaper and what (if anything) is taking its place.  Will Perrin from Talk About Local lead the discussion, with details of the ‘Hyperlocal’ sites he and his colleagues had helped to set-up (using WordPress) in reaction to community need for ‘somewhere to talk local’.  The conversation around the need for communities to highlight issues (usually serviced by Local Government) as a kind of ‘name and shame’ prod to Public Sector services to complete the work (e.g. Graphiti removal, road repairs, streetlight repairs, etc..) provoked a heated discussion of the need for positive reflection of the Public Sector as opposed to the continuing negative depiction of an unconcerned behemoth.  The upshot of this discussion being the assertion that there is nothing preventing a Public Sector representative posting responses to these ‘highlights’ and showing where they are meeting the public need.

From a personal point of view, this session provoked a desire to zoom home and set-up a local website and start photographing ‘potholes’.  However, one of the things Will and co. had learnt from their experiences is the need for this type of Website to be administered by groups as opposed to individuals, thus ensuring continuity of provision.

Kindle – Any use?

This session, led by Peter Lancaster (@peteweb), from Warwickshire CC explored how, due to financial constraints, his Council had begun to explore using WordPress to provide information in blog form on their website (go have a look – http://wcceservices.wordpress.com/).  The session then went on to discuss the possibilities afforded, by enabling the use of multiple media devices (through Apps, etc…) to access the information on their website, for example, mobile phones, e-readers and the eponimous Kindle.  Looking at the website design from a customer need, rather than from the ‘what looks pretty and what do WE want to tell people’ point of view, allowed development of short information rich pages that could be easily formatted to read well on mobile devices.

Peter’s offer of providing the knowledge of how to do all this is very enticing and I will be leaping on our Communications Team to consider the same factors in the continued development of our external interaction with the Community.  This session also drove me to make the leap and start using WordPress for my future blogs.

What Happens when You Yammer?

Ok, time for some bias, this was the session I was the most excited to see appear on the whiteboard.  We are in the infancy of using Yammer (ok, there’s me and two friends on it – and to be honest they haven’t looked at it yet – ho hum) and I really need to know about the experience of other Councils.  Helen Reynolds (@helreynolds), from MonmouthshireCC and Bill O sorry I mean Tom Phillips (@tomsprints), from KentCC led a session discussing their Council’s experiences of using Yammer.  The discussion took in the experience of everyone in the group, little (yep, that was me), positive and negative and how the development of specific discussion groups were benefiting certain areas of Local Government. The negative experience of one council, should serve as a prompt to future users to think before they post; people were using the Yammer groups to request jobs from individuals, a big no-no (we already have emails and phones for that purpose).  The main purpose for this facility should remain collaboration and information sharing and the recognition that subjects will be born and die (and hibernate – to be awakened at a later date).  The other important factors that sometimes gets overlooked, but has emerged through experience, is the fact that conversations may start on-line but will eventually go off-line, likewise they may start off-line and continue on-line and finally they may start off-line, come on-line and go off-line to continue.  As long as there is acceptance of these truisms, the use of a discussion forum like Yammer can be very, very useful.

This session provided me with the impetus to continue with my plans for using our VLE based discussion forum and Yammer to increase/aide collaboration.

“If you were writing a report, what would your conclusion be?”

A very useful day, spent with great people, providing innovative and exciting ideas for the use of Social Technologies in the improvement of Community Engagement.  This type of event would benefit from being run over two days (obviously cost prohibitive) or at the very least becoming a bi-annual event.  The wealth of knowledge and skills, from Public Sector employees, in evidence at the sessions is, in some cases, underused by their employers.  More representatives from the Public Sector need to make use of this event and commit money/resources to integrating many of the findings.

This has been my twopenneth and may not reflect the opinions of any organisation I may be affiliated with.

The Buttie Barrier

It’s strange what it takes to break down barriers between strangers. For some it’s cultural and social similarities, for others it’s common interests or an engaging personality. For me, it’s a Buttie thing.

Now I’m not being elitist and honing in just slices of bread; I’m more than happy to include Baps, Baguettes and Rolls in this barrier breaking roll (no pun intended – but it still made me snigger). However, for the purpose of this post, I’ll just refer to them all as a Buttie (although there is, of course, the pre-requisite of having some manner of filling).

It’s worth noting that the contents of the Buttie can be almost anything, but there are some exceptions (the reason for this will become clear). I’m sure that you will have your own favourites: Cheese and Onion, Salmon and Cucumber, Cold Beef and Horseradish, etc..

This humble bread based snack can not accomplish the destruction of these well constructed social barriers on it’s own. It takes the addition of another lunchbox favourite to grant it the power for conquest of the human inhibitions.

The crisp!

The walls of insecurity will tumble by the mere act of opening the crisp packet, opening the Buttie and the placing of a few crisps in the middle of the contents.

As soon as one does it, the realisation dawns on others that this is now acceptable with the group and very soon crisps are flowing freely and Butties are having their contents exposed to the world. The sound of crunching as these transformed bread delights are consumed with gusto seems to herald the realisation that your companion is the same as you.

So I say, pop that packet, slide a few inside and crunch your way to a friendly world.