Giving Puffles a long rest as new social media projects take off


As Ceri Jones and I prepare to teach a new series of evening classes about social media for social action for Cambridgeshire County Council, it’s time for the next stage of both of our social media journeys.

My new Twitter handle is @ACarpenDigital – matching what Ceri at @CJonesDigital is. Ceri and I are working together on a long term project which we’re calling Be the change – CambridgeIt’s an evolution of the main theme of Puffles’ election campaign in Cambridge during May 2014: encouraging people to be the change they want to see in Cambridge.

Asking for feedback and acting on it

This is what we’ve both done, which also helps explain why we’re changing our approach. Think of it like graduating from university and going into your first job. It’s a little bit like that. Actually, it’s a lot like that. For me, the evolution has been long planned. That said, at #CommsCamp earlier this week I got the sense of ‘relief’ from people that I didn’t have Puffles with me – along with the reasons for that.

On anything that you’ve spent years using, and working on and with, it’s easy to get defensive – especially something like Puffles on my side. Just as there were times say in 2012 where I felt comfortable carrying Puffles around town, today I don’t. The hardest decision when having worked on or in something for an extended period of time is knowing when to stop. In my case, I probably should have wound down Puffles last summer rather than this one. That said, doing so would have taken me back towards a London-facing route. Instead, I’ve ended up going down a much more local route, attempting to apply learning from my London years back home.

Asking for feedback has also meant asking for criticism too. In my case it’s meant been told things that have been blows to my ego and that have even hurt. Yet trying to be liked by everyone risks actually being liked by no one. One thing I’ve learnt from recent months is that I cannot be all things to all people. Much as it would be nice to, I can’t keep the Puffles persona going while at the same time trying to carve out a new niche in the world of social media training and community activism. Maintaining Puffles’ Twitter-feed has been a full time job. Mental-health-wise, I cannot maintain this while at the same time taking on new projects

Two accounts – two personas?


My @ACarpenDigital will be conversational with me (for some reason @antonycarpen is a suspended account/not available!) – not ‘Puffles the persona’. There will be far fewer tweets coming from this account, but it won’t be a dormant one.

My @Puffles2010 account will become like a news aggregator site with fewer conversations. I’ll use this account for retweets, statements of stuff happening and live-reporting from events.

“No more Puffles?”

The story/narrative for fans of the Puffles persona is that Puffles is going off for a very long sleep, with a big ‘Do not disturb’ sign. How do you disturb a sleeping Puffles? As far as Cambridge is concerned it means making very little progress on digital democracy and getting young people involved in decision making in their local area. I made my point with Puffles standing for election – and to be fair to Cllr Lewis Herbert (my local councillor who Puffles stood against), he’s already working on getting young people from Cambridge’s secondary schools more involved. I really don’t want to have stand for election again – whether as me or Puffles. I’m not cut out for what it involves. But in the very unlikely event that zero progress is made, the dragon could return.

Living in a post-Puffles world

I’ve mentioned the ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ project. I’ll give more details about my thoughts on this in future blogposts. 2011-13 with Puffles was very much about sharing learning and analysis from my Whitehall days, along with listening and outreach. What I wasn’t doing much of was overt actions – certainly not until late 2013. That’s the difference. It’s one thing tweeting and blogging about things you’ve done, but it’s quite another to organise, do and deliver.

Be the change you want to see

I mentioned this to a number of local residents that expressed interest in standing for a couple of the local parties here. They asked what standing for election involved, and what I recommended they do in order to get to a place where they would not be a paper candidate. My simple advice was to start behaving like the person they wanted to become. In their case, it’s becoming a local councillor. What do good local councillors do? Amongst other things, they help local people solve local problems and also attend public and community meetings – & even organise their own events. If an incumbent councillor isn’t doing something that you think should be done, what’s stopping you from setting an example to them? (In my case it was using social media for social action in my neighbourhood). Again, be the change that you want to see – or find & support someone who has the potential to be that change if that person can’t be you.

Be the change – Cambridge: Saturday 13 September 2014 at Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge

I’ve mentioned this to several of you online and in person. Our Facebook landing page for the event is here. I’ve got a few further meetings to have before we’re ready to go live with the Eventbrite tickets, which will be a mixture of free tickets – at least 25% of them (eg under-21s and people on low incomes) and paid-for tickets. I published a very rough draft of the event format a couple of weeks ago – see here. Thank you to everyone who have given comments on the content already. Ceri is already working on a properly typeset and designed brochure. I’ve got to this stage with the support and encouragement of Dr David Cleevely CBE, and Anne Bailey – the Employer Links Co-ordinator for the Cambridge Area Partnership. Also I want to thank Andrew Limb of Cambridge City Council and Liz Stevenson of Cambridgeshire County Council for their advice and generally sticking with me – even when I’ve been at my most unstable.

Also, a big thank you to Steph Gray and the UKGovCamp team for being the first to give a grant to support the event. This means the world to me – it really does. Having been inspired ever since my first UKGovCamp in 2011 (in my civil service days) I’ve wanted to host a similar event in Cambridge. The challenge has been synthesising what UKGovCamps are all about with the unique challenges of Cambridge. Also, a big thank you to those of you who have already agreed to take part in the event – especially those of you coming from outside Cambridge with your ideas, energy and providing us with a much-needed critical challenge. Also, thank you to the local politicians who have shown interest in this event and for those that want to take part.

A new series of autumn evening classes

Ceri was the driver for this. A conversation over coffee turned into her turning some of my ‘open thoughts’ into a scheme of work for this evening class, which Parkside Coleridge and Cambridgeshire County Council are funding us for. We went to a meeting with over 50 other tutors in Cottenham, a village north of Cambridge earlier on. This gave us a feel of where and how we fitted into Cambridgeshire County Council’s overall plan for adult and continuing education. So far as we know, no one has tried the approach we’re going for in this autumn term. Again, in the next week or so we’ll have a course description to share. In the meantime, the course catalogue for Parkside Coleridge’s Adult & Continuing Education Programme is here.

There’s still more work to do as I update or discontinue other things on digital and social media. These things won’t happen overnight, but it’s nice to have a target date in sight.


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