Category Archives: Communications

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

Our Yammer journey – how we implemented an enterprise social network at the Wales Audit Office

In a few online and offline discussions recently, we’ve ended up discussing how the Wales Audit Office is using social networking to improve internal communication. Mark Stuart Hamilton has blogged about how we’re using it and the work involved.

The Wales Audit Office Intranet, with a Yammer feed on the right hand side / Intranet Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru, gyda ffrwd Yammer ar y dde

The Wales Audit Office Intranet, with a Yammer feed on the right hand side

We’ve recently introduced Yammer at the Wales Audit Office – for internal use. Like other social media, Yammer is a platform where people can post messages to each other, start conversations and improve knowledge sharing.

The difference between Yammer and many other social networks is that Yammer is designed specifically with business in mind.

We had been thinking about launching an internal social media platform for ages, but the time was never quite right. But after redesigning our intranet we revisited the idea.

Our old intranet had a system called post-its, which allowed people to post short messages to the front page. Original discussions focused on expanding that system (such as post-its being targeted to specific groups of people). But we soon realised that a different solution was needed.

Various options were explored and, after careful review, it was agreed that we would choose Yammer.

Yammer has a paid-for enterprise version and a free version. The enterprise version offers more administrative tools, although the free version was good enough for us for testing purposes. So, we set up the free version, along with a small pilot group.

At the start, this pilot consisted mainly of people who had asked for a system like Yammer since they would be more willing to start new discussions and breathe life into the system. We wanted as much content on Yammer as possible before the launch, so people would think of Yammer as something others use on a daily basis – not something to use a lot for the first day or so and then immediately forget about. In line with this philosophy, we expanded the pilot over time, so that more groups and content would be created.

That said, we still wanted to generate hype behind the main launch and get people excited – to encourage as many staff as possible to join in once it was officially launched. We have two television screens in the Cardiff office that display corporate news on a slideshow.  One of these slides was changed to read “Stop! Yammertime” and posters featuring MC Hammer were placed around the building carrying the same motto.

At the start, we provided no other information about Yammer. We wanted to generate discussion and a sense of mystery. Over time, we revealed more and more information, but the intent was always to instil Yammer into people’s minds rather than introduce it as a surprise.

We scheduled training sessions for people to attend about how to use and get the most from Yammer. Some staff were initially sceptical about Yammer and we have worked hard to show how Yammer can be beneficial for business, for networking and social interaction with colleagues. However, it is worth noting that marketing Yammer as “Facebook for business” is likely to generate a more hostile reaction from people who do not use or dislike Facebook (or other social media).

A few weeks after the Yammer ‘teaser’ advertising and the ‘taster sessions’, we officially launched the redesign of our intranet. We wanted to integrate Yammer into the homepage to further solidify the intranet’s role as the primary communications platform. The homepage now has an embedded Yammer feed in the sidebar.

The new intranet was originally planned to have a Yammer notifications icon that displayed the number of unread Yammer messages received, but this was cut from the release for technical reasons and will be re-added later*.

Our old news ‘comments’ system was also replaced with a ‘separate’ embedded Yammer feed. Yammer comments automatically provide a link to the article being read thanks to the Open Graph protocol.

Before we launched Yammer, our vision was that it would become a knowledge-sharing utopia. Almost everything would be sent to specific, targeted groups, and these groups would be made public so that people in different areas could provide insight into things that they otherwise would not know about.

In practice, it is hard to tell how much knowledge sharing has occurred, since people who learn something do not usually leave a comment to say that they have learned something. We also underestimated the importance of private groups. Some members of staff feel more comfortable if their messages are not sent to the whole organisation.

We will be doing a bit of work soon to evaluate how it’s being used by staff and analysing the take up, activity rates and value to the business.

Overall though, we consider Yammer to be a success – based on the amount of interaction taking place – and expect it to stay that way in future. Generally, it has been positively received and this is reflected in the kinds of discussions that are happening.

*For the curious, the unread messages icon is actually deceptively hard to create. The short version is that it requires creating a Yammer app, using the Yammer API to make the app impersonate a user by getting and storing their bearer token, and then getting their unread message count. The problems are performance-related and should be fixable by moving certain code client-side.

Elect Social: your handy cut-and-paste social media purdah guidelines

This was originally posted by Dan Slee on his blog. We have reblogged this in order to share it further and make it available in the Welsh language, as it’s a really useful resource and a fantastic guide for Local Authorities in Wales.

Elect Social / Etholi'n Gymdeithasol

Gone are the press releases from politicians and in comes quotes from officers. Why? To ensure that the council cannot be accused of political bias in the run up to polling day.

It’s been around for decades and local government comms teams have got a pretty good grasp of what this entails. It means under The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity (Local Government Act 1986) that newsletters, press releases, conferences, badges and web pages are affected.

The code says:

The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election.

Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members.

However, it is acceptable for the authority to respond in appropriate circumstances to events and legitimate service enquiries provided that their answers are factual and not party political.

Members holding key political or civic positions should be able to comment in an emergency or where there is a genuine need for a member level response to an important event outside the authority’s control.

Proactive events arranged in this period should not involve members likely to be standing for election.

What this means is that the council’s resources must not be or even appear to an observer to be used for party political ends in this period of heightened political sensitivity.

Six golden rules during Purdah

  1. No publicity will be given to matters which are politically controversial.
  2. The general presumption will be that no references will be made to individual politicians in press releases (except where there is a valid emergency as set out below)
  3. Great caution will be exercised before undertaking any significant media exercise unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
  4. No photographs of candidates in the election will be issued
  5. Before any request for council photographs and other materials is considered, enquiries will be made as to the use to which they are to be put and an appropriate restriction on use imposed if supplied.
  6. The position of Mayor as the figurehead of the authority is different and material will be issued, providing it is not of a political nature.

But what teams struggle with is social media. How does this affect the Twitter stream? Here’s a cut-out-and-keep guidance for people who operate council social media channels (disclaimer: check it with your legal team first).

Twitter

  1. Please explain that as a council channel of communication you are governed by Purdah in a period before an election. It may be helpful to tweet a link to an explanation of Purdah for guidance.
  2. Do not retweet political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  3. Do not tweet on matters which are politically controversial.
  4. Do not tweet images of political parties, politicians or subjects which are politically controversial.
  5. Do not stage a significant Twitter-based campaign unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
  6. Tweets by and about the Mayor may be retweeted as long as they are not of a political nature.
  7. In exceptional circumstances please first seek permission from the communications unit to tweet or retweet a comment by a politician during Purdah.

Facebook

  1. Please explain that as a council channel of communication you are governed by Purdah in a period before an election.
  2. Do not post or share updates from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  3. Do not post or share images from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  4. Monitor your page and delete any content which is politically controversial with an explanation that this has been done so because of the rules that govern Purdah linking to this advice.
  5. Tweets by and about the Mayor may be retweeted as long as they are not of a political nature.
  6. Do not stage a significant Facebook-based campaign unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
  7. In exceptional circumstances please first seek permission from the communications unit to tweet or retweet a comment by a politician during Purdah.

YouTube

  1. Please explain that as a council channel of communication you are governed by Purdah in a period before an election.
  2. Do not post or share updates from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  3. Do not post or share images from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  4. Monitor your page and delete any content which is politically controversial with an explanation that this has been done so because of the rules that govern Purdah linking to this advice.
  5. Videos by or about the Mayor may be added as long as they are not of a political nature.
  6. Do not stage a significant YouTube-based campaign unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
  7. In exceptional circumstances please first seek permission from the communications unit to add a YouTube clip by a politician during Purdah.

Third party social media profiles

Council staff who update third party social media profiles as part of their job are governed by Purdah. These profiles include business partnership profiles which the council supports.

There are two options:

  1. Opt out: For the duration of Purdah hand over ALL admin to a non-council member of the partnership and allow them to add Purdah-restricted content that council staff are unable to post. Resume adding content and managing after the election.
  2. Opt in: Council employees can continue to add content or share admin duties but ALL content is governed by Purdah restrictions.

Flickr

  1. Please explain that as a council channel of communication you are governed by Purdah in a period before an election.
  2. Do not post or share pictures from political parties, politicians or political opinion.
  3. Monitor your page and delete any content which is politically controversial with an explanation that this has been done so because of the rules that govern Purdah linking to this advice.
  4. Images by or about the Mayor may be added as long as they are not of a political nature.
  5. Do not stage a significant Flickr-based campaign unless it can be demonstrated that this was included in the forward diary before the election was called.
  6. In exceptional circumstances please first seek permission from the communications unit to add a YouTube clip by a politician during Purdah.
  7. Please disable the ability to download images of politicians during Purdah.

Creative commons credit
Election van: https://www.flickr.com/photos/48600108001@N01/463965443/

Gwent Scrutiny Challenge

jessica_portrait_jpg250x166Readers of my CfPS blog will know that I’m a fan of the present Welsh approach to scrutiny and its central positioning in the drive to improve public services: this quick blog is just to confirm that my fan status remains undiminished! I’m on my way back from another successful, packed, thoughtful and challenging conference about scrutiny in Wales – this time organised by a handful of scrutiny officers from the Gwent authorities of Monmouthshire, Caerphilly, Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent, as part of their plan to keep up the momentum from the epic Scrutiny in the Spotlight Conference in Wales last year.

If you’re on Twitter you can follow the debate and questions via the hashtag #GwentChallenge14, but a few things struck me throughout the morning:

  • Yet again, how the quality and effectiveness of scrutiny depends not on what scrutineers do but on the quality and effectiveness of the engagement and information they get from others – which all derives from the culture of the leadership, both political and managerial. There was some frustration over the apparent criticism of scrutiny for factors outwith their control, and some challenge back to the regulators over who scrutinised them. However, a challenge back to stay focused on what is in their control and to keep asking the questions, however difficult that can be, was reasonably well-received!
  • Another common theme reflected the vital importance of the quality of member leadership and contributions, whether how to deal with members who don’t attend the pre-meeting and then spend the main meeting grandstanding, or how to raise the quality of planning, meeting agendas and questioning skills. Mandatory training was demanded by a few delegates: is this something that should be considered more widely?
  • The scale of the financial challenge facing local authorities – and other partners – is looming ever larger in everyone’s minds. My response on the event’s Question Time panel was twofold: in scrutiny, less is more – financial restraints mean that robust prioritisation is even more important to ensure scrutiny is focusing its limited resources on the issues that really matter. And secondly, help is at hand! We have just produced a new guide to finance scrutiny, as part of our Welsh Government-funded programme, developed in partnership with Grant Thornton, packed full of tips, good practice examples, clear advice to understand a council budget monitoring paper and killer questions to ask.

CfPS logoLook out for this new guide, which is launched at the end of the month, on our website: www.cfps.org.uk and come to the free launch event on the morning of 26 June in Cardiff. The Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, is launching it, and there will be opportunities to discuss common financial challenges and hear how others are tackling them. Get in touch with Andrew.jones@cfps.org.uk to register your interest in attending.

Jessica Crowe, Executive Director, CfPS

 

What happens next?

Guest blog from Alastair Blair of The Potent Mix, who reflects on the Making a Virtue of the Virtual Shared Learning Seminar. The original blogpost is available here, and you can see Alastair and other speakers discuss the event in the below video.

In a well-ordered world, the Welsh (and English) Councils and other public bodies learn how to save money the same way the Scottish Councils have, and then adopt a portal similar to tellmescotland.

In the real world, it’s salutary to look at what has happened. Even in Scotland, although 80% of Councils have adopted some or all of the measures learned from their training by thePotentMix, a small number still have done nothing and are saving nothing as a consequence. There are still tens of thousands of pounds that can be saved, on top of the hundreds of thousands that have already been saved. Ironically, almost all of these local authorities have experienced the front page ‘Council must save millions’ headlines in their local paper, usually followed by a quote from an official to the effect of ‘we’re doing everything we can to save money’. No they are not, and as an aside, if they aren’t doing it in this little area which I have knowledge of, what other areas are they not doing it in?

The vast majority of Scottish Councils are now using www.tellmescotland.gov.uk and increasingly other Scottish public bodies are as well. However, a small minority has taken a lot longer than they should to become acquainted with and trained in using the portal. Its unique selling point – the fact that it alerts the citizen to what’s going on, makes it far better than any existing system where the public have to seek out the public notice information, either on a Council site or via an advert or poster on a lamp-post. In addition, it’s not difficult to use: in Glasgow, the biggest Council in Scotland, the planning department uploads all its notices to tellme in only ten minutes each week.

The Improvement Service in Scotland has tried to take the message to government south of the border, as indeed have I. The response has been largely muted (with a handful of notable exceptions). The proposition is simple – do this and you’ll save money, improve communication, tick that important ‘channel shift’ box, and future-proof your public notice advertising. This is such an ‘easy win’, yet too many people, at all levels (and I’ve communicated with/spoken to Directors, Chairs, comms people, procurement people etc., at numerous major public bodies – even the DCLG) are simply not interested.

For the newspaper industry though, the unwillingness of some of the public sector to change gives hope that the money will continue to flow in for some time yet. They are right to have that hope. Based on a long career dealing with the public sector across the UK, there are too many who do not want to change, and as a result change is slow and intermittent. But at a time when the public sector needs to save money, improve and future proof services, this is inexcusable and is increasingly being identified as such.

Paradoxically, to someone with a private sector background (such as a newspaper industry executive) this reluctance to change is incomprehensible. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, for Wales at least. The Wales Audit Office, which refreshingly seems to have a remit to be forward-thinking and proactive, has found out about the work carried out by the Improvement Service and its private sector partners in Scotland and are pushing ahead with plans to take this into Wales. A pilot in Wrexham is on course to save that Council c. 40% of its previous advertising costs. Further meetings are planned across the Principality and it is to be hoped that the publishers will also work with the public sector there to find a mutually acceptable way forward. Given that, privately, at a very senior level, there is an acceptance from the publishers that the revenue from public notice advertising will, one day, be gone, what matters is what happens in the interim. To coin a phrase, let’s work together.

Alastair Blair
thepotentMix