“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.