Culture Hack Day – Cambridge

I stumbled across CreativeFront’s Culture Hack Day event just after lunchtime today – with just under three hours to the deadline and just under four hours before the event was due to start. Being on my side of town (and free) I thought it was worth going along to.

Having been to a number of unConferences and digital/social media gatherings over the past year, I couldn’t help but feel that this gathering was a missed opportunity to set off something really exciting that could encompass digital & social media in the worlds of the creative arts & how those within it engage with the public, private and not for profit sectors. What follows is not going to be a ‘hatchet job’ on @CreativeFront who put in the ground work to bring people from across East Anglia together. (Easier said than done). See this as ‘constructive criticism to ensure that the Culture Hack East event in February 2012 (London tweeple, please put that one in your diary) is a success.

Developing a social media presence before the event

It was more out of luck than anything else that I found out about the event on the day. Would generating discussion over social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc) have generated both awareness of the event and a refining of some of the content? How should those looking to ‘market’ such an event generate that conversation without spamming people?

Although there was a hashtag #culturehackeast, it could have been made more prominent on the event’s web page, rather than tucked away at the end of the page. Even a small Twitter icon could have helped stimulate discussion on the hashtag – one that I only found out about when most of the workshop sessions had finished.

Offline marketing to ‘non digital types’

This feeds off what the brilliant Bill Thompson said in his opening remarks at the event – and refers to one of the biggest barriers inside organisations: decision-makers who are unaware of or who are wilfully ignorant of the opportunities arising from the world of new technology and digital media. What actions were taken to promote the event using ‘old media’ to persuade them to engage?

Presence from traditional media

It would have been good to have had more of a visible presence from traditional media people – whether local press or specialist press. For events such as this, inviting journalists to make a contribution – whether short speech or co-facilitating a workshop. The reason being is that one of the key questions listed on the event’s website is “How can we engage our audiences effectively through digital?” Given that local newspapers are now having to do this because of commercial pressures, it’s worth considering inviting journalists there to explore what they are learning in this field given a number of them are diversifying their content from beyond ‘text on the screen.’

The most basic benefit for both is that the newspaper/publication raises its profile to a ‘professional’ audience without direct advertising while the event gets to publicise its event without the hard sell. Happy editors and happy organisers both with a good news story to tell.

Venue issues

This was my first time at The Junction2 – having been a regular at its next door neighbour during my teens in the pre-internet era of the mid-1990s. Do you or don’t you have microphones? Even though the opening sessions were hosted in the auditorium/small theatre, the speakers at the “Q&A session” did not have microphones and as a result, the ‘chat show style’ opening of facilitator questioning the experts resulted in voices not projecting. Unfortunately I spotted a couple of people walking out saying to the staff as they left that they could not hear what was going on. Note for any event organisers: Think equalities. How are those with hearing, sight or mobility difficulties going to be able to engage with your event? This is especially the case with digital and social media which – fortunately – is allowing people with a variety of disabilities to take part in (& share their expertise with) these events.

Organising workshops

This in part comes back to the issue of generating a social media presence prior to the conference. The problem I have with traditional conferences is that they all-too-often treat audiences as passive recipients of what ‘experts’ have to say rather than as contributors to learning that everyone gets to take away. Personally I’d have preferred slightly longer workshops and slightly less on the ‘staged discussion on the stage’ which meant that fewer people were able to contribute at any one time.

Making use of audio and visual media…and props!

This was a point Puffles put in a tweet to a couple of the presenters. The days when conferences, presentations and workshops throw people with a wall of static text or a random collection of pictures/graphs/illustrations that fail to add to the point being made should be over. (They won’t be, but they should be).

Harry Harrold made excellent use of very big bits of coloured in card and paper to illustrate why it’s better to make ‘paper prototypes’ of web pages first (as in REALLY BIG paper prototypes) before putting fingers to keyboard/mouses. (I prefer the word “mouses” to “mice”).

When it comes to presenting about what digital media and technology can do, why not show people in a way that will capture their imagination? It doesn’t have to be in a technologically complicated way. Harry used paper, felt tips and a few post-it notes. Chris Osborne earlier this year used the deft combination of data visualisation with humour to show the power of data by creating visualisations that disproved a number of political statements on transport issues at OpenTech.

At the start of this year, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what was going on in the world of digital media – in particular in the public sector. I was picking up various musings from here, there and everywhere in the Whitehall jungle – for example Tom Watson‘s “Power of Information” work when he was in Cabinet Office. But at the time I didn’t really ‘get it’ in the way that I do now. What was the difference? Being surrounded by a group of people who were applying it to real life situations and problems – which is what UKGovCamp was all about.

Want to convince the sceptics? Show them what it can do – and show them how it can help them make better decisions, help them solve problems & hopefully make their working lives that little bit easier.


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