Category Archives: Communications

Could you go without internal email?

Is email bound up in the future of the way we work, or can new ways of working help us to share information more efficiently? Dyfrig Williams spoke to Lee Mallon of Rarely Impossible to find out.

LocalGovDigital's Unmentoring Logo

We all know the feeling of returning to work after a holiday to find a mountain of emails waiting for us. I always have a nagging feeling that I need to get to grips with my emails before I can start with the “real work” that I have in front of me.

My colleague Beth recently blogged about the recent review of our Randomised Coffee Trials, which pair people randomly to discuss the topic of their choice.

Alongside that, I’ve been taking part in LocalGovDigital’s Unmentoring, which is their version of Randomised Coffee Trials. In my latest discussion I had the chance to see if email really is a help or a hindrance by catching up with Lee Mallon of Rarely Impossible, who have ditched email for all internal correspondence.

Why chat about email?

Email has some issues, and a lot of that is down to behaviour. Whether it’s sending unsolicited emails or a dodgy use of the cc function to justify a sense of importance (check out Chris Bolton’s series of posts on bad email practice), a lot of the problems that come with email are down to us as users. The latest Natter On podcast gives a good account of both sides of the Email: good vs bad debate.

Another issue with email is that it tends to focus on work that specific individuals do rather than teams. That’s where tools like Slack can potentially help, as the format encourages people to work in teams. Tools like Trello can also help – why don’t we just log in and check the current state of play instead of sending a long series of email updates?

That’s not to say that changing the means of discussion is an answer in itself. Adopting a new tool comes with its own issues. People may not be particularly happy about having another source of communication to check, and an informal work tool like Slack (which comes with Emojis and GIFs) may be an anathema to some organisations’ working culture.

But if society is changing, and people’s expectations of public services are changing, do we as public service providers need to change too? A lot has already been written about how we can’t continue to communicate in the same way when using social media (including Helen Reynolds’ great post on psychopathy and social media). Can we really connect with communities when our day-to-day staff communications are inherently different? There are already signs that young people are choosing to communicate through apps instead of email.

What are Rarely Impossible doing?

I found my conversation with Lee really valuable. Not only was he happy to share his experiences over the phone, but he was also happy to share resources afterwards. It was fascinating to hear about the channels they were working through after 6 months, and their “1 year on post” is a fantastic “How to guide” for reducing your reliance on email.

And in case you think that it’s one thing for a private company to go email free and quite another for a public service, check out the work that’s taking place at Halton Housing.

Although email is our current default means of online office communication, we’re in a fascinating time where new tools are being developed all the time. If your organisation is thinking of ditching email, we’d love to hear from you so that we can share the learning from your experiences and whether it’s helping you to deliver better public services.

Randomised Coffee Trials: Encouraging networking

Could Randomised Coffee Trials help people within your organisation to network and share information? In this blogpost, Bethan Davies reviews the Good Practice Exchange’s use of the method.

Some of you may already be aware that the Good Practice Team have been piloting Randomised Coffee Trials for the past year, as a way of encouraging delegates to continue conversations after our events. Dyfrig Williams blogged about the use of Randomised Coffee Trials last year.

Back in January, we thought it would be good to get a feel for how the process is going, and whether it’s something we should continue with or whether we need to find a new approach. We decided to survey our seminar delegates to seek views of those that had taken part, and those that hadn’t, and find out what they thought.

We received 65 responses to our survey, with some really interesting responses and overall, most were positive. Some of the reasons people like the Randomised Coffee Trials were:

  • It’s good to know that colleagues in the public sector face the same frustrations and challenges!
  • It’s a good opportunity to discuss current work, share good practice and learn from each other
  • It provided the opportunity to have helpful discussions with people that would otherwise never cross paths in their day to day work
  • It’s a great way to learn about what other organisations and people do and helps identify potential opportunities that could aid own organisations work

For those that didn’t take part in the trials, the reasons varied from people not having the time to take part on top of their day to day jobs, they were not interested in the process, or that they just didn’t understand the process, which is a lesson for us.

The feedback made me think about how we ensure all delegates have the same opportunities to engage and continue conversations after our events. Having a busy day to day job may mean some people don’t want to make that extra commitment to meeting up with someone new. An interesting bit of feedback that we had from one delegate was that we should set up a Randomised Coffee Trial during or after our seminar – a bit like speed dating! That would enable everyone to take part, hopefully provide further clarification for those that don’t understand the process, and enable those who want to continue to do so. Something for us to keep in mind!

Another suggestion was about having an online space where people can share their stories and find new partners/ organisations that have similar issues to discuss. A recent example of an organisation doing something similar is Monmouthshire Made Open.

A screenshot of Monmouthshire Made OpenMonmouthshire Made Open allows people to raise challenges; crowd-source solutions; pitch ideas and ask for funding, volunteers or materials on a single platform. Unlike other social media it allows people to turn problems into actions in a single place, people make and build connections and form groups, people can ‘like’ ideas and help shape solutions which can help build consensus and a movement for change.

Monmouthshire Made Open is still in its early stages of development, but is definitely worth looking at. Monmouthshire Council hope this platform becomes a key tool in involving people in the development of the wellbeing assessment for the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and help them identify innovative and shared solutions.

We’re going to continue with Randomised Coffee Trials for the foreseeable future, but if you have any suggestions for us please get in touch!

As we all face complex and challenging times, no single individual or organisation has the answers, so it’s so important that we encourage communication between organisations and encourage learning.

The Big Lottery Fund: Making a BIG Comms impact

The Big Lottery Fund is responsible for distributing 40% of money raised for good causes by the National Lottery. Communications Officer, Rosie Dent tells us how one communications campaign is having a meaningful, measurable impact.

A photo of Rosie Dent, which she used for her Lottery Selfie

Rosie Dent’s #LotterySelfie

In Wales, we award around £100,000 a day to projects that aim to improve the lives of people and communities most in need. Last year, we launched our strategic framework for 2015-21 which sets out what people can expect from us as a funder over the next six years. Our vision is that people should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities.

As a Communications Team, we feel that one of the best ways we can put people in the lead is by putting them in the spotlight and to give them the tools to promote the fantastic work they’re doing, no matter how big or small that may be. This thinking led to us launching our #LotterySelfie campaign.

The campaign has two strands, one is to encourage projects to share images with us using the #LotterySelfie hashtag. The aim is that by us sharing these images, projects can potentially reach new audiences. This strand of the campaign has been running since January 2016 and has up to 600,000 impressions each week on Twitter.

The second strand of the campaign is our ‘Surprise Lottery Letter’. Every year our staff assess thousands of applications and send out thousands of letters notifying applicant’s that their grant application has been successful. With such a huge volume, it can be easy to forget how truly life changing Lottery funding can be to communities in Wales. That’s what led to us thinking, why don’t we get more staff visiting projects and make the projects feel special by delivering some of the grant offer letters by hand?

The organisation we surprised for our first Surprise Lottery Letter was NuHi Ltd in Cardiff who provide substance misuse awareness, education and training for the wider community. They will use the £4,775 grant to create an IT room and website so people recovering from substance misuse can access information and support. The surprise was delivered to Holly, a volunteer who came out of rehab that very same day. We kept the surprise simple, all we took with us was a tablet, an offer letter and of course, a giant cheque (because who doesn’t dream of receiving a giant cheque?), making it an extremely low budget campaign, costing nothing except staff time.

 

What was the outcome for NuHi?

When asked how she felt about the surprise, Founder Yaina said: “The volunteers are still buzzing, they’re on yet another NuHi”. Yaina felt that staff morale has increased since the surprise.

Within two weeks of the surprise, social media exposure directly resulted in another organisations approaching them about to do some work in partnership and an invitation to guest speak at an entrepreneurial event.

The exposure also led to public donations being made, leading to NuHi setting up a pledge button on their website. We feel this is an extremely positive outcome for NuHi as donations could increase the organisations sustainability. It also led to three new enquiries being made for support from people recovering from substance misuse.

A photo of people involved with NuHi Ltd.

NuHi Ltd.

What there an impact on staff at the Big Lottery Fund?

Liz Hertogs who assessed the application and filmed the surprise told us, “It was my first ever project visit so it was great to meet one of our grant holders, and we were able to give them our offer pack and talk about what happens next at the same time. To be there when they found out they have been funded by us was truly special.”

Positive comments from staff and committee members about the video flooded in, we’ve never seen staff so excited about a communications product before! For days you could overhear staff talking about it around the office, it truly felt like it created a buzz around both of our offices, in Cardiff and Newtown. And that buzz was infectious, comments came in from Big Lottery Fund teams in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Camelot and the National Lottery’s Good Causes team.

What coverage did the video receive?

Within days the video had been seen by over 8,800 people on Facebook, making it one of our best ever performing post on the platform. Social media content was shared by the National Assembly for Wales, Lottery Good Causes and We Are Cardiff, to name a few.

The video and story of volunteer Holly were featured on Wales Online, the article was shared on social media over 340 times.

Reflection

As other Communications teams likely find, it can often be difficult to evidence the outcomes of your work, especially hard outcomes. However the impact of this campaign has been incredible and exceeded our expectations. Many of the outcomes, such as public donations and enquiries for support from the project where unexpected and demonstrate how communications, especially digital media, can add value to have a meaningful impact on an organisation and communities.

If you would like to find out more about the Big Lottery Fund Wales, please visit our website, follow @BigLotteryWales on Twitter or like Big Lottery Fund Wales on Facebook.

Wisdom Bank

What is the Wisdom Bank and how can an online tool help the people of Torfaen to develop better relationships with each other and public services? Matt Basham of Torfaen County Borough Council tells us more.

Torfaen Wisdom Bank

People know useful stuff.

It’s as true as it is simple.

Everybody has a library of tips, advice, information, let’s call it “Wisdom”, that they carry around in their heads. When we start looking at our local communities in their entirety, and then multiply these information resources by all the people who live there, we are dealing with something really significant and valuable. As someone who works for a local authority, I should have at my fingertips an enormous library of wisdom, which resides within the local residents, communities and businesses. If I could only unlock these resources, I could access information and advice that could deliver huge benefits to society. I could offer support to the vulnerable, advice to the needy, intelligence to local business, help to those who need it most, from a source they trust and respect.

However, society is changing. Modern life is hectic, and we don’t always have time to chat with the people around us. We don’t meet our neighbours as regularly as we once did. We don’t always bump into our friends in the village hall, our community centre, or even our local pub. All too often, we don’t even know our neighbours names.

We’d expect, in this interconnected age, that it would be increasingly easy to share useful, local information online instead. But the reverse seems to be true. There are a number of significant barriers that stop the flow of information between residents, organisations and businesses:

  • The huge size and global nature of the internet makes it increasingly difficult to find information relevant and resonant to our own experience. We are swamped by too much information
  • Potential contributors are frozen out by fear of trolling and cyber bullying. How many informative and helpful videos have you seen posted on YouTube that are greeted by sarcasm, insults and vitriol?
  • The established social media brands are flippant, celebrity obsessed and distant.

Information Sharing on the Wisdom BankIt was with this situation in mind that the Wisdom Bank came about. It seeks to create a local environment, where resources can be created by the community, for the community.

A rigorous safety strategy puts reporting power in the hands of the user. Any reported content, right down to an individual forum response, is immediately suspended pending moderation. This means the cyber bullies and trolls can be weeded out locally. We don’t need to await a policy response from a distant web executive based in Silicon Valley, we can take action locally and immediately.

A new web brand, and intuitive site design encourages community involvement. The Wisdom Bank aims to become recognised as a destination for quality information.

Over time we want the site to work just like a bank, with people ‘depositing’ the knowledge they have to share and ‘withdrawing’ information when they need advice. These knowledge resources aren’t just helpful, they are enormously valuable. They help keep people happy, healthy and secure. They help people find work, cope with stress, or with tough situations. They help local businesses to trade and flourish. So how do we create and maintain useful social connections in the modern world? We have seen the potential of the internet to connect, to bring people together. But to date, no-one as developed something that works in a local context, to provide quality information.

So this is why we need the Wisdom Bank – to create a local online environment, where people are empowered to share their knowledge. In order for our local residents and businesses to engage with the Wisdom Bank, we must build an environment that is fit for their needs.

We worked hard to make the site as safe as we can, and developed a rigorous safety strategy.

We made the Wisdom Bank highly functional, and have developed a site that is clear and easy to use.

Most of all, we made the site welcoming, and have empowered the community to post films and web pages to share their knowledge. We believe that our residents and businesses have important knowledge to share, and we are giving them the tools to achieve this.

As well as posting films and pages, the Wisdom Bank also creates new online networks, based on common interests instead of pre-existing friendships. We give users a variety of communication tools, so they can interact, engage and support each other.

Ultimately, the quality and power of the Wisdom Bank will depend on how our communities engage, and how much they choose to contribute.

As an organisation Torfaen County Borough Council have a strong belief that our residents with respond positively, and create a special and unique resource for the benefit of all.

Visit www.wisdombank.org.uk to explore the potential of this new approach to social media.

5 things for public services to think about when using Periscope

How might public services use Periscope? In this guest post, Will Barker, Project Support Officer (Social Media & Digital), 1000 Lives Improvement, looks at ways that we could use the app.

Periscope

Persicope is a new live streaming app that is linked with Twitter – it’s just over a month old and already it has been sighted as a game-changer in the way social media effects broadcast news, and the next big platform to come along since Twitter.

It works simply by choosing what you want to broadcast, setting a broadcast stream title and clicking ‘broadcast’ this then links with your Twitter stream and your twitter followers can join the broadcast, as well as anyone around the world who is interested in what you are showing.

As with all new technology and social platforms, we have to take these statements with a pinch of salt – many thought that Vine was the app to tick this box, but it has taken a different path to what was first expected. Nevertheless, it is worth exploring how the public sector could potentially use this live streaming app to their benefit, particularly whilst there is still a lot of intrigue around it.

Forums, events and conferences

This could be one of your own, or one that you are attending/ have a stand at. Often, the aim is to ‘join the conversation’ using the conference hashtag. Perhaps Periscope could be used to shape a conversation or create new ones, beyond tweeting each other. Want to discuss key topics and highlights from the day, why not set up a broadcast that does just that, almost like a panel session. At 1000 Lives Improvement (@1000LivesPlus), we did exactly this. At a recent conference, we gave highlights and interviews with our staff via Periscope about what learning they had taken away from sessions, we think it gave an extra element to those following us on Twitter who couldn’t be there.

Question and Answer

Keep getting the same questions asked via your social media channels, or simply have the opportunity to get some key experts in their field in the same room? Through live streaming via Periscope you have an opportunity to answer important questions in more depth and more immediately. You must keep in mind that, though, that if you do open yourself up for a Q&A session, you are open for all types of questions, so it’s worth setting some house rules in place, for example: ‘today we’ll be discussing these set topics, for answers around other topics, you can reach us here’.

Important news

More and more we are seeing people, news outlets and organisations turning to Twitter to break important news. Why not use Periscope? You can keep control exactly what you’re saying, put it across in more than 140 characters and still get the benefit of reaching your audience online. It’s worth noting that with the size of audience that Periscope is bringing, and with it being so new, this type of communication shouldn’t be in isolation, as the majority of the audience is likely to miss it.

Open meetings

Got a planning meeting that isn’t sensitive and would really benefit from input outside of your organisation? Why not open it up to get the thoughts of people across the world, you never know; someone’s suggestion could be the start of your solution.

Showing the work being done/getting behind the scenes

Behind the scenes has been used a lot on Periscope already. Whether it’s the BBC showing behind the scenes of The Voice UK Live Finals, various news organisations giving behind the scenes footage of their election coverage or Cardiff Council giving viewers a guided tour of the RHS Flower Show before it opened. Giving your audience something they wouldn’t get anywhere else is a real perk of Periscope, so why not think about how that could translate to your organisation or project?

Remember what’s out there. Take a look around.

Periscope may be new and exciting to many, but remember that live streaming has been around for many years. It’s worth taking a look around at what else is out there to make sure you are using the right platform for your requirements. With periscope only being (currently) available on iOS devices, linking with Twitter and broadcasting in portrait, is it the right platform to reach your audience, or would other live streaming products like Bambuser fit better? Not to mention the rival to Periscope: the live streaming app called Meerkat, but that’s a whole other story.

There is plenty out there for you to read about Periscope (and Meerkat) for you to make your own mind up, so go and have a look – and if you can, start experimenting with how you might use it in your organisation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on using Periscope in the public sector, or how you’ve got on if you already have used it. Leave a comment below or tweet me @willdotbarker.

WhatsApp: Could it help you make your community a better place to live?

As the world changes, it’s fascinating to see how public services are changing too. A few years ago, an organisational social media account was a novel thing, like when Helen Reynolds created a MySpace page for Shire Hall in Monmouth. While lots of us are still getting to grips with what social media means for the way organisations interact with communities, it’s embedded in the way that we communicate as individuals on a day to day basis.

WhatsAppIt’s probably no surprise then that there’s a lot we can learn from the people within our communities.

As budgets are shrinking, public services are being asked to do more with less. Organisations are starting to move away from the paternal role that they’ve often played in the past to enabling people to make the most of their opportunities. We shared how the Bromford Deal is doing just that as part of our Adopting Preventative Approaches Seminar last year. You can find out more about the deal in the video below.

I’ve been using WhatsApp personally for a while. I’ve been intrigued as to how it might be used to improve the way we work, but I couldn’t quite get my head round how that might happen. This Storify by Will Barker of the #nhssm Twitter Chat changed that, and I could instantly see how organisations could use it to better inform people about what they’re doing. It’s startling that in the case of the Oxford Mail, WhatsApp has a six or seven times times greater conversion rate to page views than Twitter.

Trafodaethau WhatsApp DiscussionsBy sharing that Storify, I quickly got into a conversation with Ben Black, whose street is using WhatsApp in a really interesting way. The platform gives people the chance to better connect with each other (Ben tells me there’s a fair bit of banter on the thread). It means that when the power’s gone out, there’s a quick way of checking if it affects one house or the whole street. If one resident is heading to the dump, a quick message to the group means that they can take other people’s rubbish while they’re there. When a restaurant on the street applied for licensing, it was used to send feedback from the council meeting. It’s been used to highlight issues that affect the street like potholes, or to see if people can lend or borrow equipment or even each other’s time, such as by cutting each other’s lawns.

I was just thinking about using WhatsApp to communicate with people, but Ben and his neighbours have taken it that step (or five) further and are actively using it to help make their street a better place to live.

I bet if we asked people how they felt about the public services they received, the vast majority would ask “what public services?” Through tools like WhatsApp and Streetbank, people are actually delivering some aspects of services themselves. If we spare a second to think about how we might work differently and take a lead from Ben’s street, I reckon there’s a lot we can do to improve the work we do.

Dyfrig