Just a few of the great and the good from the world of local government – feel free to suggest more via comments below.
This list stems from the excellent CommsCamp13 gathering organised by Dan Slee, Darren Caveney and Ann Kempster. Alex Blandford has published a short write-up of his experiences here, as did Ed Cook here. Despite the billions the traditional conferencing industry is valued at, it was Dan, Ann and a bunch of us social media types that managed to put on an event that had first-time-unConference-ers buzzing – as Kelly Parkes-Harrison describes here. For me, this gathering was a real ‘game-changer’ similar to how I felt when I went to UKGovCamp in 2011. Being surrounded by people who seemed to be on the same ‘wavelength’ when it came to digital and social media in the public sector was a real eye-opener.
Both Ann and Dan are essential following anyway – as I’ve mentioned in previous Twitterlists. Ann is the brains behind the Government Communications Network. But having a civil servant prepared to reach out to local government and the wider public sector is a real asset. Bear in mind that there are more than a few policy units in Whitehall that simply do not ‘get’ local government. As for Dan, have a look at his blog. If your council can get someone like Dan, your social media activities will thrive. Darren I had not met before, but was clearly one of the wise owls in local government social media too – despite introducing a fire breathing dragon to hot spicy Birmingham curries the previous night!
Are you a head of communications? Do what Ben Proctor of Herefordshire Council did
Understandably there were a lot of ‘comms’ people at CommsCamp – but at the same time there many of them came with a mindset of wanting to do things radically different to how their organisations are doing things at present. Who else would face-to-face crowd-source the job description of their new role? Ben Proctor did just that, asking a workshop full of people what they thought the role of a head of communications should be in a 21st century public service. Moving from ‘the keeper of the message’ to ‘heading a centre of expertise’ in an organisation. Moving from disaster prevention to recovery management was another – bearing in mind that with staff cuts, micromanaging a communications operation is now unsustainable in a social media world. Eddie Coates-Madden was also on top form here too.
Catherine’s master class
The brilliant Catherine Howe ran a superb session aimed at dealing with some of the territorial issues around social media within organisations – in particular communications teams. Are they the blockers? The difference with Catherine’s approach – which I like to adopt in my own workshops, is that she starts of with a very well defined problem and weaves an approach that allows people to figure out the solutions themselves even though some of the issues may be extremely difficult or perhaps unpalatable to some of the audience in the room. It was at this workshop where I met Debbie Whittingham from the West Midlands Fire Service, who illustrated perfectly some of the challenges facing comms teams in a social media world – especially their relationships with line managers who may not be social media savvy managing staff that want to, or are already using it. There was also a timely reminder from Laura Cowdrey about the usefulness of the National Archives of their ‘dashboard’ which has huge potential for a local government environment. Sticking with fire services, I also met Bridget Aherne from Manchester Fire Service. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue – are you taking notes from Bridget and Debbie?
It was a shame that not everyone could make it – as is inevitable at all big events. Tom Phillips, one of the driving forces behind the LocalGov Social Media online gatherings, and Louise Kidney, who made the move from local to central government were both conspicuous by their absence so if you haven’t had the chance to meet them in person, do follow them. The same goes for the lovely Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire Council, along with the centre of knowledge for social care on social media, Shirley Ayres.
All was not lost though. The wizard that is John Popham live video-streamed many of the workshops, enabling people to submit questions via Twitter – as George Julian – who now works in the local health and social care field in Devon – ended up doing in Ben Proctor’s workshop.
A Whitehall presence? Surely not?!!?
There was – but this was a positive thing, indicating that there are more than a few social media users in Whitehall willing to engage with local government. Interestingly, Pippa Norris (who must be one of the first civil servants to appear on telly as a social media expert) from the Ministry of Defence was one of them – which was brilliant because military personnel are scattered across the country and we sometimes forget the relationships these units have with other local public services. Alongside Pippa was Lizzy Bell from DfE (who I first met at UKGovCamp2012) and Eloise Munday of Defra, who one of the key contributors in my workshop: “How to tame your dragons” – on how public sector organisations can handle those people who regularly use social media to commentate & more often than not, criticise your organisation. Matt Navarra of the Intellectual Property Office was there too, as was Phil Hodgson. Furthermore, Shane Dillon of the Foreign Office could also be spotted doing the rounds – as was Seb Crump, who out of all the people at CommsCamp other than myself is the person who has known Puffles the longest – having first met Puffles in 2010! So even if it feels like a Whitehall department has little to do with local government, does not necessarily mean its staff are not interested. Quite the opposite.
East Anglia! We’re coming to get you!
At a separate session, I threw all of my Cambridge-related problems and issues at Lorna Prescott, Eddie Coates-Madden and Pauline Roche on voluntary sector engagement. If anything, I wasn’t able to properly articulate the challenges we face in Cambridge, other than to tear my hair out at what feels like a slow pace of social media take-up by organisations, the problem of silos in the city and what feels like trying to convince a city that stereotypically only does ‘formal’ that informality is not a threat. Fortunately I met three other East Anglians at this gathering. Susie Lockwood of Norfolk County Council was one – who along with Darren mentioned up top kept Puffles out of trouble on curry night. From Ipswich Borough Council in Suffolk I also met Paul Greene and James Ager. I’m looking forward to see what happens when the three of them link up with Liz Stephenson and Livia Oldland of Cambridgeshire County Council. Also on Puffles’ radar was Lisa Green of Breckland Council. Have we got the stirrings of a critical mass of social media public sector people in East Anglia?
There were also a number of people I wish I had more time to chat to. Rae Watson was one. She works in housing, and given the public policy profile housing is getting at the moment, I think her insights on both housing and social media will be really interesting as we head towards the next election. Kate Bentham in Shropshire was another – someone who has been ever-present in #localgov Twitter discussions and a wealth of knowledge too – especially on children’s and family services. Natalie Luckham in Wiltshire, another ever-present localgov Twitterer is also someone whose brains I’d liked to have picked too.
It was nice to meet some Twitter correspondence/friends/acquaintances for the first time in person too. As I’ve mentioned before with social gatherings, the nature of Twitter in particular means that people can get to know each other via social media so that when they meet up for the first time, the conversations that happen are as if you’d known each other for ages. Both Dominic Campbell and Beth Crowe were two of several people I met for the first time.
Now, this list is by no means exhaustive. I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Sincere apologies to those I’ve not yet listed – chances are I’ll be following this one up soon as I have done with a couple of others. There are many who tweeted at CommsCamp that you may be interested in – have a look at the Storify page here that Dan put together. Feel free to follow whoever you find interesting.
Paul Clarke also took some lovely photographs of CommsCamp – this one having me in stitches. There’s a caption competition in there somewhere!