“The minister will see you now, Puffles”


Equalities minister Jo Swinson MP comes to Cambridge – waking up the city’s resident dragon fairy in the process. This plus some thoughts on how to make community reporting help pay my bills!

Jo Swinson MP with Puffles at Kings College, Cambridge
Jo Swinson MP with Puffles at Kings College, Cambridge

Told you!

She also had this message for young women interested in politics:


Additional videos

  • You can see my interview with Jo in this clip
  • You can see the full Q & A session she had with Cambridge students in this clip.

Some of the footage I recorded was also featured on Cambridge 105

“This interviewing of politicians – it’s becoming a regular thing for you now, isn’t it?”

Yes – but…


I’m not doing Paxman-style interviews. Given the projects I am supporting or working on, what I produce on film has to be in some way supporting their objectives. Getting more people involved in local democracy is one of my big objectives. Therefore getting politicians to talk passionately about what motivates them and what got them interested/involved is going to be far more beneficial than an adversarial one.

“Isn’t that you not doing your job?”

I’m not paid for it, so in part that doesn’t apply. Furthermore, most of the people I interview are not the people responsible for the policies I am interested in picking apart. What’s the point on having an argument in front of camera with someone who is not responsible for making the decision? Again, that’s something that comes from my experience in public policy inside the civil service. When you are unpicking a policy and want to throw questions at a policy area, have a laser-like focus on the decision makers. They are the ones you want to hold accountable.

“Don’t you want to ask lots of awkward questions and leave the politicians skewered?”

There’s a time and a place – such as here. But at a local level, what happens after you’ve left a politician skewered? They are the ones still in power. You might have got a good headline or a splendid Twitter reaction, but then what? You still have to live with each other. That’s not to say ‘Don’t ask awkward questions’ – quite the opposite. It means in my case to have an approach that influences their decisions.

“Such as?”

For quite a few years I have been calling on local parties to improve how they use social and digital media to communicate with people. Starting at the top time-wise in 2011, my actions were as follows:

  1. Start encouraging local politicians through social media
  2. Start encouraging through informal face-to-face meetups
  3. Start attending public meetings to get the issue on public record
  4. Start being more ‘assertive’ on the back of little progress
  5. Start being angry/frustrated at lack of progress – realising that I’d gone and locked myself into a commitment that would be hard to withdraw from – such as here.
  6. Find yourself called out on that issue (here) and realise you have to follow through with it (here)
  7. Beat UKIP at the ballot box as a result (here)
  8. Realise that none of the above has worked so start setting the example by demonstrating what can be done -> as summarised in this video for an ultimately unsuccessful job interview for Parliament. (I wanted to demonstrate what could be produced in a couple of hours on digital video – with warts & all!)

Being a ‘community cameraman’ does not pay the bills – yet I’m fulfilling a ‘socially useful function’.

I dare say the same goes for Richard Taylor with his archive of videos here. Our approaches may be slightly different, but we’re both producing film footage and a visual public record. It’s also one we’re told anecdotally helps improve the behaviour of some members at such meetings. Basically you don’t want to be caught on camera behaving like a jumped-up buffoon.

I’m in the situation now where some of the interviews I am recording are now being broadcast on established media – e.g. radio. I’m also learning more about producing digital film clips – beyond the ‘shoot, download and upload’ model. Here’s the result of my second paid micro-commission for the Campaign for Better Transport’s (CBT) ‘Roads to Nowhere’ campaign.


The above is timely for environmentalists given the recent announcements on road building – see the Department for Transport’s announcement here, and  see here for CBT’s response.

“How should I fund my community reporting and filming?”

Because at the moment, trying to do everything ‘for free’ is unsustainable. I can’t afford to do it all for nothing. How do I maintain independence and transparency? This is something the pioneering vlogger Rosianna Halse in the text below this clip mentions. Essentially there are three specific areas of funding that I want to explore for 2015:

  • Funding day-to-day meetings, events and workshops for which there is or cannot be any budget for – e.g. council meetings
  • Funding new equipment – for example I’d like to get a standalone backlight, a wheeled platform for my tripod to film a moving object & moving the camera to keep up with it – similar to this clip I made
  • Funding for learning new skills – there are a number of short courses and workshops I’d love to go on, but simply cannot afford
  • Funding to pay for under/unemployed and/or young people to work with me on some future projects – as with my original digital video guides.

Do I go down the route of crowd funding? Do I look for a kind benevolent and affluent benefactor? Do I need to sharpen my ‘offer’ to established broadcasters/publishers so that I’m able to charge a commission on what they use?

“I’m passionate about this, I like doing this, there’s a clear public interest in this activity being done, and a clear ‘social-good gap in the market’…but I cannot make a living from it”

Although the above may be my situation, there is a public policy issue here. How can we hold taxpayer funded organisations to account if there is no one independent of them to report what is going on? I’ve seen this issue first hand, being the only independent reporter at the count for the recent Queen Edith’s ward by-election in Cambridge. (See here). I also produced a series of digital videos from the only hustings of that campaign (see here) which accompanied Chris Rand’s excellent guide to the by-election – something he didn’t get paid for either. There was no mainstream media presence there – as it is, local journalists have their work cut out in the face of never-ending cuts.

“But the market for local print journalism is collapsing anyway – especially if you can get it online for free!”

At a city-wide level, this is the debate I’d like to start: How should we the people of our city communicate with each other and our institutions? Where do you draw the line between interested activists reporting in their own time, vs where it is in the public interest that a knowledgeable independent reporter is attending and reporting on a specific institution or event? For example court cases and council meetings? Are there things that institutions can do to make it easier for journalists (ie the trained ones schooled in things like libel law!) to carry out their work? For example co-ordinating future meetings/events so there are as few clashes as possible?

“If you’re good enough, people will pay you. If you’re not getting paid, it’s because your work isn’t good enough!”

To a point, true. Personally I’d like to see a thriving local media scene – one where paid journalists can make a living and where things are not needlessly sensationalised. I’ve lost count of the number of minor disagreements at meetings have resulted in “Row over [insert issue] headlines.

Most, if not all of the professional journalists I’ve met are thoroughly decent people. [Declaration of interest: Puffles is followed by lots of journos – a few who appear regularly on TV & radio at a local and national level!] Yes, I have issues with the editors, producers and the commissioners, but that’s because they are the ones that decide what gets broadcast/printed. The journalists on the whole do not. I found this out the hard way back in May when 20 minutes of interviews with Chris Havergal, then of the Cambridge News & now of the Times Higher Education Supplement (a well-earned step up) resulted in a single sentence in the paper the following day. No one ran the with the headline: “Magic dragon Puffles thumps Nigel at the ballot box”. 

The problem I face is that I am covering issues that have a public interest in terms of maintaining transparency & accountability of institutions (as part of a thriving local democracy) but one where ‘the interest of the general public’ is not strong enough to charge for that output to make ends meet? Note the wider public policy discussion in this piece from Parliament following the Culture Committee’s report into the future of local and regional media.

And so for 2015…?

For a start there are the general and local elections. A couple of candidates & parties have already approached me about this. The principle I’m pondering over is filming set piece things for free – such as the speech of a visiting high profile politician, but charging a small fee for medley pieces similar to this, or for specific party election broadcast pitches.

Elections aside, I believe there is a bigger conversation to be had about how we the people of Cambridge communicate with each other & institutions. Part of that discussion is the interaction between the established media and community reporters/bloggers in niche areas. For example Phil Rodgers deserves a much higher profile for his data analysis on elections. Every ward needs the equivalent of what Chris Rand produces here. The same goes for the wealth of historical knowledge that Mike Petty MBE has amassed – see his talks on South Cambridge’s experience of the First World War in these videos I filmed. There are many more I could mention.


There’s more to unlocking democracy than campaigning alone


Sometimes it takes someone to turn up to events and report from and/or film them.

Here are the results:

Or you can listen to them below


Congratulations to Cllr Viki Sanders (@Taw_66) and commiserations to Rahima Ahammed, Andy Bower and Joel Chalfen. You can view my interviews with each of the candidates at https://vimeo.com/album/3127762.

Citizen journalism matters

I made it matter in this by-election campaign. Not because I wanted to influence the election in any way. If I did, I’d have started much much earlier. No. My role in this was to report without prejudice. That is what I did. It’s for others to make their judgements on the content.

The only reporter at the count

With local media being starved of funds (irrespective of the reasons), democracy and democratic institutions are put at risk by the lack of external scrutiny of what happens. I was surprised to be told I was the only reporter at the election count. I also wasn’t aware of the need to give a week’s notice of a media presence at such counts. But…Puffles being Puffles…

***Thank you*** to Vicky at Cambridge City Council for ensuring there was someone from outside the political parties & the council to report from inside the Guildhall.

Puffles the dragon fairy with Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird.
Puffles the dragon fairy with Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird at Cambridge Guildhall

Being described as ‘local TV’

I’m quite proud of the dragon fairy for this one – the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Cllr Heidi Allen at http://www.heidisouthcambs.co.uk/news/heidi-local-tv describing my digital video account as local television. But if you think about it, that’s sort of what I’ve been doing over the past 24 hours – if not more. Me and Puffles (who was with me for both the hustings and the count) were this ‘one man and his dragon multi-media-machine’. We were micro-blogging (Twitter), macro-blogging (this), sending radio reports for Cambridge 105 and filming, editing and publishing video content – and conducting our own interviews with candidates. Think about it from another perspective. As the results were about to be announced I realised no one was there to capture it on film. Hence pulling out phone and filming it. The quality isn’t great, but it proved the event happened.

Goodwill from political parties

I can’t recall hearing a single bad word from any of the political party activists and elected representatives to my filming. Quite the opposite. Why? From their feedback the following:

  • Trust: When I tell them what I want to film for, what I intend to ask, and describe how the footage will be used, I follow through on it – repeatedly.
  • Transparency: They get to see the full footage that I publish, rather than the ‘edited soundbites’ that you often see in the mainstream media. In the May election campaign I noted how I’d do extensive interviews with the media and only a snippet gets used. Why bother?
  • ‘Shareability’: The format I publish them on means it’s simple and straight-forward for people to share the footage with others. Rather than having to mess about with large media files, all they have to do is copy and paste a hyperlink
  • Control: I’ve made the videos available for the parties to download free of charge and use in their own materials – my only condition is that they attribute it to me. This means they can use footage I’ve filmed for their own campaigns – but also are all in the knowledge that the full footage is available online. Hence an onus to use responsibly & not take a selective quotation to use out of context.

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, the Cambridge Young Greens have been the most proactive in inviting me to events to film. Following interest from some of the local Conservative Party activists who were pleasantly surprised to hear how successful things have been, it’s likely I’ll be filming for them in the near future. [Transparency: Andy Bower is my webmaster for my work things].

At an individual level, a number of Cambridge Labour and Cambridge Liberal Democrats activists are now warming to the concept of digital video. This is even more so for those that saw the footage that I uploaded from the hustings. At the election count I spoke to members of all parties on the ballot paper and mentioned how they could use the hustings videos for training purposes. What worked and what didn’t? Could the candidates have spoken more clearly, more concisely, more passionately? At what points could they have intervened on other speakers? At what point could they have stopped talking earlier? What points needed extending or following-up? Did they get tone and body-language right for the audience? The same goes for the interviews I did. Tone, posture, clarity, content. What worked and what didn’t?

“What about at a ‘group’ level for Labour vs the Liberal Democrats?”

I understand why they are more cautious than the Greens or the Conservatives. Cambridge is already a strongly-contested seat – one which I maintain is too close to call between Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner for the 2015 General Election. This means they’ll be running an incredibly disciplined operation. You only have to see what happens at election counts to watch the parties in operation. It is like clockwork, with activists assigned to tally all the votes counted to get an idea of who is most likely to win. The precious extra minutes/hours give the candidates time to prepare for any responses to the results before they are formally announced.

Me turning up with camcorder is a new unknown that existing campaigning processes haven’t yet accounted for in terms of opportunities and risks. What do you do if I record a major ‘gaffe’, or someone says something highly inappropriate/offensive that on second thoughts they want to withdraw? If they are not ‘in control’ of the person filming or editing, then what? On the other hand, this is all free publicity – which if used well could be incredibly positive. But how best to use it? With such a tightly contested election looming, is it worth taking risks with new things or is it better to focus on the tried & tested?


The stats above for me speak for themselves. With the exception of the digital inclusion video, all of the above-mentioned videos were uploaded within 24 hours prior to the election result being announced. Over 100 plays in 24 hours? I’m more than happy with that. Chances are most of those views will also have been from people who were not at the event itself. Therefore it’s making something available to a much wider audience. Remember that, subject-wise we are talking about a council by-election in November on the edge of Cambridge. I.e. don’t expect the squillions of hits beloved of marketing men.

What the videos do for even a small number of people is allow them to see and hear the candidates in their own words with their own voices. They don’t need me to ‘tweet-quote’ for them. People can view what they want and come to their own conclusions. At last night’s hustings, I heard a variety of opinions of who did well and who did not. Some I agreed with, others I didn’t. What inspires one may alienate another. That’s a risk you take when you stand for election and submit to cross-examination by the public.

“What does video community reporting mean for future campaigns?”

The challenge is with candidates. The pendulum may well swing back towards strength of individual candidates and away from ‘party brand’. There is a risk that this level of community reporting puts off some people from standing. On the other hand there may be people out there who see a panel of candidates and think: “I can do better than this lot!” and either stand as an independent or join a party and put themselves forward for selection by party members.

The team matters

For all the things social and digital media has going for it, it won’t replace door-to-door canvassing or campaigning with a rock-solid team behind them. Labour, The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had teams of campaigners out and about regularly in Queen Edith’s. If anything, this is the difference being in a party makes. They can bring in significant backing. In Rahima Ahammed’s case, Labour were able to arrange meetings with both Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman in Cambridge. If you are a first time candidate and your party arranges photo opportunities with the leader and deputy leader of your party, you’re set up for [political] life. In Rahima’s case, I also recorded footage of Ms Harman endorsing her. It also matters in the face of hostile residents – and unfortunately we’ve got a few of those in Cambridge.

Utterly depressing and completely unacceptable. There’s no place for this in Cambridge. Don’t think that the risk of such abuse was not a consideration when I considered standing earlier this year. The despicable inflammatory headlines in the print media have created an atmosphere where people are afraid to get involved in community action and local democracy. Why would anyone put themselves forward in the face of such hostility? Hence having that rock-solid support network is essential to survive in politics. It also gives an insight into why I wouldn’t be good at party politics: I’m too sensitive (and that’s not considering my anxiety/mental health issues – I have always had a sensitive disposition) and don’t have a strong enough support network to deal with the s**te that you get in politics.

Hence looking for alternative ways to ‘unlock democracy’

In my case it was doing something that no one was doing on my side of town. (Richard Taylor mainly covers North Cambridge and focuses on policing and civil liberties issues). It looks like being a ‘community cameraman’ is an interesting niche to explore in the near future. The only problem I have now is I’ve run out of digital storage space! New hard drive needed!

My first digital video commission – and employers overlooking digital skills young people have


It may only be a ‘micro-commission’, but for me it’s a giant leap on all things digital media. But are employers missing out on the skills that today’s school leavers have developed growing up in this internet age?

If someone had said to me in January 2014 that I’d be taking on my first digital video commission in about six months time…exactly. But then I’d have said the same thing about Puffles standing for election (& getting 89 votes – described by polling guru Phil Rodgers as ‘respectable‘) and Puffles appearing in a Basement Jaxx video with some of the nicest musicians in Cambridge. Then there’s all things Be the change – Cambridge where the pace organisationally is picking up, even though ticket sales thus far have been much lower than I had hoped for in the first week since going public with the ticket sales site. But we’ve got a solid plan to turn this around that doesn’t involve me sending out lots of repeated social media posts.

Getting into digital video

Some of you will be aware of the greater number of videos embedded into recent posts – in particular ones that I’ve filmed. Apart from curiosity, watching other parts of England taking to community reporting using digital video while Cambridge remained stuck in the dark ages started to annoy me in early 2014. Cambridgeshire’s community website Shape Your Place has the capabilities to embed Youtube videos but hardly anyone was making any. Finding out the only local evening class on introducing people to digital video got cancelled due to lack of interest didn’t make me any happier. Had it gone ahead, chances are me and Puffles would have got up to far more mischief in the election campaign than we actually did!

"***Hai!*** I iz meejah!" Puffles with Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett in Cambridge for the launch of the Green Party's East of England manifesto for the Euro 2014 elections
“***Hai!*** I iz meejah!” Puffles with Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett in Cambridge for the launch of the Green Party’s East of England manifesto for the Euro 2014 elections


Instead you got me and Puffles learning the hard way just how limited our little camcorder was compared to the stuff the broadcast journalists had. It’s still the case now – the footage on my phone more than matches what the camcorder picks up. This video I filmed for the Cambridge Buskers Festival (who have kindly awarded me the commission) gives an idea of the quality you can achieve with a smartphone.


Actually, this is quite fun!

For a start, it gets you out of the house. It gets you meeting people. It gets you learning by doing. And thus far, people presenting, speaking at community meetings or doing artistic or musical public performance have appreciated what I’m doing for them. After all, it’s not me in front of the camera. It’s someone far more talented! It’s only recently that I’ve started noticing the social side of things.

But how do you move up to the next level without spending a fortune?

The man at one of the larger electrical outlets in Cambridge insisted that to do what I wanted to do involved spending a couple of grand (that I’ll never have this side of 2020) on a stupendously expensive camera not much smaller than Puffles. Without repeating my blogpost on choice and camerasthere is a ****massive**** market failure for consumers. That market failure is the almost infinite amount of choice out there for buyers with a limited understanding of what they are buying and a limited amount of time to read up about their purchases. The market is failing to ensure buyers are making informed choices and know what they are buying.

The one that made me go ***Wow!*** was this one. The pocket battleship of digital video cameras. It was Carl Winberg who pointed me in that direction – someone with far more expertise in this field than me! Now, although I can’t see myself accessorising something like that to the max, the design that merely enables this is phenomenal. Something to aspire to several years down the line perhaps? But not now.

“No – really. How do you move up to the next level?”

I’m still trying to work that one out. Although learning all the time, everything has become very complex very quickly. It’s one thing filming, working out where the best angle is accounting for light, wind and background noise. It’s quite another thing editing – whether the video or (from my point of view more importantly) the audio. The perfectionist in me wants to get this to standards far higher than my skills and equipment are capable of.

Is mobile video the future?

I did a quick straw poll at Model Westminster which I was a volunteer facilitator at recently. (See here). This was an event aimed at students from their final year of secondary school to recent graduates. The way many of them are using social media is much more ‘in your face’ – literally – Snapchat being conspicuous by the number of people mentioning and using it. Most importantly, they are more than comfortable creating their own video content. Shy in front of the camera this lot were not.

The skills mismatch again

This was in the news again. Yet what I’ve noticed – and I’ve spoken to a number of business owners about this – is that too much of the business world is not set up to harness the digital skills that many young people now see as the norm. The tragedy is that the potential of both is being lost. Firms don’t see young people for the skills they do have, but the skills they do not. Despite studying for what the system points them towards, too many young people find themselves turned down for too many jobs.

To help resolve this, there needs to be a significant cultural and attitude change from the generations that are in positions of power and influence. In November 2013 I had a number of exchanges with local councillors about social media skills in local government. You can read some of the councillors’ responses here. That’s not to say these are their views now. People and priorities change with time and new experiences. From a political perspective, the 2015 general election may well see a spike in the number of older people using social media to engage with candidates. As any trainee teacher will tell you, one of the most important part of the learning process is reflection on the journey you’ve travelled down.

As for my path ahead?

If it’s there, I can’t see it. It’s very different to say 2006 when it was crystal clear: An internal civil service transfer to London come hell or high water – a path trodden by a number of my contemporaries before me. But then perhaps that’s the point. This time around with the technology being so new and progressing at a very fast rate, perhaps the path hasn’t been beaten out from the undergrowth.

It reminds me of the cub scout camps we went to when we were little, just outside Cambridge. Upon arrival in part of the woodlands we’d face a wall of stinging nettles taller than us. By the time the camp was over, many a path had been beaten through them. Maybe that’s what I’m doing now metaphorically: beating a path through those stinging nettles – and getting stung or pricked by the thistles and brambles along the way. But it’s only when you stop, look round and reflect that you see the path you’ve created.

Uniting East Cambridge – with a lake or three


How a former quarry and current ‘problem area’ could be turned into something for the community in a part of town not brilliantly served with things for people to do 

The website for the Cambridge Lakes Project is here. Their Facebook page is here. Every summer we get stories like this. So rather than keeping people out, how about turning the old quarry lakes into a facility that people can have access to? I went along avec camcorder and tripod at the invitation of the project group to a meeting at St Martin’s Church Hall – in my home ward where Puffles and I stood for election in May 2014.

Unfortunately I arrived just after the presentations started, so wasn’t able to film the very interesting history of the site. I managed to film the second and third presentations though.


The above video – apologies for the not great quality (I’m still learning!) featuring an in-depth presentation by Andreas Mitchell is the first time I’ve seen anyone really explore the issues beyond a scoping phase. Hence I’m glad I was able to get it on film for others to see. The team is also asking people to complete a survey which Amy talked about in the next video below.


The survey is now available at http://www.camlakes.co.uk/home/community-survey/

A project big, exciting and radical enough to bring together the wards of Coleridge, Romsey, Cherry Hinton and Abbey?

In a word: Yes.

(Even though the lakes and the path of the brooks and streams don’t sit so easily with the city council’s area committee setup).

I remember when Steve Turville, the chairperson of the group, first mentioned the project to me. This was back in 2012 around the time it was featured in the local paper. Knowing what I knew of local council systems and processes, I thought the idea was splendid but could not see how it would get through local government, let alone getting the funding to make the project a success. So to see it get to this stage is testament to the huge amount of work Steve and the team have put into it.

Over fifty people came along to the meeting – mainly from Cherry Hinton but a handful from Romsey and Coleridge too. The local Lib Dems and Labour parties were represented by Councillors Kilian Bourke and Dave Baigent, which was good to see. I wonder whether at such events our elected councillors could wear the name badges they have, so that people less familiar with the council and councillors can easily spot them. Amongst other things it would help combat some of the views about the visibility of councillors.

‘Yeah – where’s Puffles?’

A couple of people asked me where my dragon fairy was. A fair question given that Puffles was on the ballot paper in the most recent elections in the ward where the meeting was taking place. But here I was in ‘community reporter’ mode. As with the Mill Road depot meeting (see here), my focus was on digital content. ie ‘Get stuff on film, do some quick edits to improve sound and stabilisation, get it up on my vimeo page and share’. A sort of ‘Richard Taylor for South Cambridge‘ if you like. (Richard films lots of local council meetings).

In my case it’s fewer ‘strong opinions’ from me (as that was what the election campaign was for) and more filming what other groups are presenting – enabling them to reach a wider audience. It chimes with my Be The Change – Cambridge projectThere’s only so much you can talk, plead, persuade, encourage and ‘threaten’ (not in a malicious way – but in an ‘I’ll stand against you at the ballot box’ sort of way) people and parties to do the things you want them to do. Sometimes you simply have to set the example yourself. ‘Be the change you want to see’ as I am often heard saying.

A city of civic pioneers?

We’ve got more than a few. But as a city we’ve not given them the support we need over the years to make what they do something great. Andrea Cockerton and Dowsing Sound Collective along with the Dosoco Foundation, Mel Findlater and the You Can Bike project, Andrew Entecote and the Net-Squared social media surgeries, Jennie Debenham, Anna McIvor and friends in Transition Cambridge – as well as those in  Cambridge Sustainable Food City and Food Cycle Cambridge. Neil Prem’s Future Possibilities (& his 30 day challenge). Also the Cambridge Science Centre. We have our civic pioneers. For those that want to, the challenge – as NESTA in London state – is how to make them big.

Are we reaching a defining point in Cambridge’s history as a city?

More than a few things tell me that we are. Interestingly, several of the local politicians from the four main parties active in Cambridge have indicated similar. (The Greens being number 4 rather than UKIP being number 4 – having secured over 5,000 votes in the recent local elections to UKIP’s 300 or so.) You won’t see that reflected in the party political debate locally. The focus of those debates are defined primarily by the structures and constraints imposed by Westminster and Whitehall. For example councillors have to debate then formally vote on a budget. If they don’t do this, your bins don’t get collected.

What makes this era interesting and challenging for Cambridge and the surrounding area from a civic pioneering perspective is we’re getting towards a critical mass of people and organisations that want to be part of the solutions. This may not be reflected in voter turnout or engagement with councillors, but it is reflected in many other ways. It’s as if people and groups are doing things despite [national] party politics rather than because of it. This has a noticeably different feel to what things were like in 1996/97.

Be the change you want to see

This is what I’m unleashing in the autumn –  and yes it will remain work in progress. (eg Website updates and logo not yet sorted).  I’m still recovering from an awesome weekend singing with the Dowsing Sound Collective in Bury St Edmunds. Here’s the collective in Ely in 2013 if you missed it.

(See the second half of this for my write up of the Bury St Edmunds performances). On the community reporting side of things, a few of us have tried to encourage people to do community reporting and make digital videos for Cambridgeshire’s Shape Your Place website. – with very little success. This is one of the reasons why I’m making digital videos as part of community reporting. My blogposts go up on this blog, and the digital videos onto my Vimeo page (see here) which I then embed into blogposts as I have done here. Where I can’t film, sometimes I record an audio version of speeches – such as here.

“Why do this?”

Accessibility & a permanent record.

I’m not really interested in debating who said what at which council meetings. I’m more interested in filming presentations and performances and making them available to a wider community audience. Having paid for an upgrade, I now get detailed data on the digital videos. Put it this way, the short digital videos of others presenting seem to be more popular than my recent blogposts!

But then, I like this. For a start, it takes the focus off me. The digital videos are a much better way of bringing other people and their ideas & talents into the conversation. On social media pages of local groups, they can have conversations about the content that I filmed. One of the reasons why I’ve disabled the comments on my Vimeo account is that I want the online conversations to take place elsewhere (ie on the pages of the community groups rather than on a page I would then have to moderate).

The feedback I’ve had so far has been splendid – mainly on the accessibility point. People have expressed appreciation at being able to see and hear who said what. While social media makes it easier to share, someone still has to go out there and create the content. For now at least, that’s what I’m experimenting with – even though I’m still a beginner with the camcorder.


My new Twitter account


A new account for a maturing social media age

I’m running with @ACarpenDigital, which will be conversational and very much ‘Me’ – with @Puffles2010 evolving into a news aggregator. This is part of a long term project Ceri Jones and I are working on under the Be the change – Cambridge banner.

More to follow later this week – in particular on the Change Cambridge event scheduled for Saturday 13 September 2014 at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. For those of you on Facebook, you can add it to calendars here. I’ll be publishing updates soon with a brochure and details of tickets (paid and free).

Some of you may also be aware of experimenting with digital video. I’ve been trying to take footage that captures movement while moving (while not putting self at risk!), in the hope I’ll get footage that I can use in future digital videos. Hence being quite pleased with how this one came out: Fenland wind turbines from a fast moving train.


(Bonus points for those that spotted Puffles’ avatar on my Vimeo page!)

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.

Repairing our democracy with a little digital help


Some thoughts from a gathering of the revived Democracy Club of 2010 -> with 2015 in mind

They are tweeting at @Democlub, are on Facebook here and have a website here.

I’ve blogged a lot about democracy (see here for a sample). With Puffles having stood for election in Cambridge in 2014 I took Puffles for a rare post-election outing to London. Miserable rainy day it was too, so being stuck in a lower-second floor basement without wifi or mobile signal wasn’t as bad as the morning tweet announcing this sounded.

There were about 20 of us there, several of us being familiar with each other by reputation if not face to face, and people with a talent for computer coding and development conspicuous by their presence. Hence I noted that as conversations went on, where me and Puffles were coming from was a very different place from where everyone else was coming from.

Bringing people from disparate, diverse communities and backgrounds & getting them to act in unison is never going to be easy

The organisations notable by their volunteers included 38 degrees, MySociety and FullFact. I didn’t get the impression that many had stood for election for the main parties, though most had experience of campaigning and/or community action. Yet the aim of the Democracy Club’s campaign happens to be one of the main aims of Puffles’ campaign: to increase the number of people who feel that they are casting an informed vote.

Two focussed issues for Democracy Club

1) How can we use all things digital to make some of the essential information available to citizens?

2) How can we collect data and analyse the impact that the above has?

This touches on my first draft evaluation (see here – I need to finalise it over the summer) where I noted that there was no way of being able to measure and attribute the impact of Puffles’ campaign on social media use for local democracy by residents. The only thing part of the campaign – the posters – might have done, is to remind people of the date of the elections.

I’ll leave the Democracy Club team to provide more details in their next blogpost (which will be here) on what their plans are. In the grand scheme of things I don’t have enough of the historical knowledge of more established activists or the technical knowledge of the coders to elaborate further on what they have planned. What I do know is that the vision for what they have planned in terms of digital tools are things that will be really useful for someone like me. For example I have no idea how they went about ‘coding’ the freedom of information website WhatDoTheyKnow.Com. I do, however have experience of how to use the Freedom of Information Act to get public bodies to release information – even when they refuse first time around (as this example shows).

Will Will (and Sym – of Democracy Club) create the umbrella organisation that the country could do with – bringing together an otherwise fragmented assortment of individuals and organisations?

Because although there was a huge amount of talent in the room, the scoping activity we did at the start showed there are people dotted about all over the place that want to do something to improve our democracy – but outside of political parties. This was the idea in 2010 – see here. That was an intense period of activity over 4 weeks. This time around we’ve got just under a year to prepare. Can we make the links quickly enough to have a much bigger impact for 2015? Because as Will said to us at the start, by doing nothing we risk having the media and the senior politicians ‘doing the election to us’. Think of the bland churnalism where a reporter says:

“And the economy is going to be on the agenda in the election campaign today as [insert name of politician] is in [insert name of town] to make a speech on …”

…followed by a Q&A session with some hand-picked ‘ordinary people’. The problem is that most people are not told in advance which politicians will be campaigning when and where. The only times I got to meet Ed Miliband in Cambridge were when people tipped me off on Twitter. It’s the same with the main political parties. There’s no means of publicising when senior politicians will be around for the public to meet. The reason parties give is that they don’t want their senior politicians to be ambushed and outnumbered by opponents. Tactically I can understand it, but it ain’t good for democracy. It means the public who might want to ask something substantive and interesting have to rely on luck rather than being informed about who is coming to town.

Within the room, I got the sense that between us we had enough contacts and connections to bring some of the more well-known campaigning organisations together to co-ordinate actions, provide the necessary core funding for the developers to weave their magic and give some user-friendly digital tools for those less technically proficient to run with them. Helping people find out about the tools created by the likes of My Society & bringing them to wider audiences falls within my remit.

The democracy gap

And there are some big ones – ones that several people came up with. The nature of our system and the existence of ‘safe seats’ means there’s no incentive for incumbents in such seats to do anything that’ll make their life harder. I’ve spoken to enough political activists from all over the place who have said they’d quite like the easy life of a safe seat where you don’t have to do much campaigning vs the intense campaigning in a contested seat. (That said, some of the younger activists with ambitions for elected office have said to me they’d rather fight a contested seat than be ‘handed’ a safe seat). The gaps means that there is no one person or organisation with a responsibility to ensure some democratic basics happen:

  • Who organises hustings?
  • Who organises more formalised online debates (rather than some of the over-personalised abuse that is too often becoming a substitute for substantive discussions on issues, ideas & policies)?
  • Who collates, prints and distributes the election addresses so that people can have them all at once?
  • Who puts up posters in places where people wait lots – public transport hubs, cafes, doctors/dentists etc to inform people when elections are on?
  • Who collates the digital contacts and websites for people standing in their area? I tried it in Cambridge when no one else did – see here. And that wasn’t exactly successful.

The above are all things I’d like to see Cambridge’s civic society groups discussing at some point in the autumn so that between them they can create a programme of events & actions in 2015 for people to get involved and informed in the run up to the general election.


Cambridge Regional College Students question Cambridgeshire councillors


The view from the director’s box as further education students at Cambridge Regional College give local politicians a television media masterclass – and comprehensively myth-bust the stereotype that media is an ‘easy’ subject.

The whole show is below:

First of all, a big ***Well done*** to students (and their teachers & mentors) for producing such a professional production of ‘Question Cambridgeshire’ – our first local version of Question Time. To make it crystal clear, this wasn’t a simulation or some sort of ‘staged learning experience’ for young people: this was the real deal. This was local politicians being put on the spot by students at the college in a production filmed inside the college’s in house TV studio – fully equipped with the sort of equipment you would expect to see in a small professional media firm. And unlike me with digital media at the moment, they knew how to use their kit. Sabrine Hubbard of Cambridge Regional College explains more below:

(I’ve not edited the footage above – hence me saying ‘and cut’ at the end).

The BBC Question Time format

Rather than being on the studio floor, I took up a position inside the director’s box. Although the reason for this was me having to leave early for a medical appointment, (they lock the studio doors when filming – as is standard), it ended up being a very fortunate thing. This was because I had already been in the audience for when Question Time came to Cambridge in October 2013 – see what I found out about TV production here. What I had not seen until today was what happens in the director’s box during the live broadcasting (in this case online) of a show. The time inside the small room watching the students go about their live broadcast was an education in itself.

Just as politicians on the panel go into a mental ‘zone’ (as I experienced at Kings College in the 2014 local council election campaign), the same was true of the students as the clock counted down to the commencement of broadcasting. You could feel the tension too – in particular when small mistakes were made (as they inevitably are – we’re human). Concentration from the students was as total as it was exhausting. Combining strict time constraints – they had 60 minutes of broadcast time – with multitasking made for a very pressurised environment. What was the most draining – particularly for the students leading on the production, was having to be aware of so many things going on at the same time, having to process all of that and knowing that there were their fellow students responsible for lighting, cameras and sound who were completely reliant on their instructions.

Cllr Amanda Taylor (@Librallady on Twitter) as seen on screens inside the director's box
Cllr Amanda Taylor (@Librallady on Twitter) as seen on screens inside the director’s box

“Did the politicians say anything interesting?”

To be honest I wasn’t paying too much attention to what they were saying – I was busy watching and learning from the students. Only on a couple of occasions did I tip off the students as to which politician to focus on for ‘reaction shots’ when say a panellist made a controversial comment or criticised an opponent’s policy. The challenge the students faced with picking reaction shots was anticipation. Long time Cambridgeshire politics watchers might be able to pick out who was likely to give which face/body language reactions to given comments, but there is almost no chance that students would have had the chance to have followed local politics as closely. For a start, some of the panellists were elected councillors before many of the students were born.

As far as ward representation went, there were three councillors from Cambridge – Ashley Ward (Labour), Amanda Taylor (Lib Dem) and John Hipkin (Independent). Steve Count (Conservative) and Peter Reeve (UKIP) were from outside Cambridge/South Cambs – the towns of March and Ramsay respectively. Although I picked up bits of what councillors said, I don’t feel that it’s my place to pass comment – not least because I wasn’t paying attention. The people whose comments matter the most are the students. They came up with the questions, and they selected the best of them to put to the councillors.

Can we make this an annual/bi-annual or even a termly event please?

Yes – really. It was that impressive.

The media production experience alone merits more frequent events like this – and that’s before we’ve even mentioned awareness of elected councillors and local democracy. In Cambridgeshire, the simple fact is that we don’t have Question Time-style events where local councillors have to represent their local political parties alone, and have to look into the eyeballs of a constituency of people that are chronically under-represented in politics. What struck me about this event was how the power was with the students, not the politicians. They decided the questions and the format – though I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the panellists and the students in the audience. When you are up there on a stage or platform faced with an unfamiliar audience, the dynamics are very different to normal council meetings.

At Cambridge City Council area committee meetings (see here), the power is with the political parties. As an ordinary citizen you are going into a political lions’ den. Some local people have privately said to me they fear being mocked or being responded to aggressively at such meetings by politicians. Understandable given how politics and Parliament are reported in the mainstream media. As a result, the few people that turn up and speak regularly are those that either know many of the councillors socially, those that are confident enough public speakers &/or those that are particular passionate on a single issue or theme – such as cycling. For example The Cambridge Cycling Campaign regularly has (very well-informed and educated) campaigners at such meetings. For quite some time I’ve been saying that Cambridge in particular needs to try different things to strengthen our local democracy. Credit to Cambridge Regional College students for being the change they want to see: They put together something that had not been done before and the results were brilliant.



Going beyond ‘simple’ social media


Branching out into more complex digital media – with some thoughts for how my main Cambridge-based project will evolve

Some of you will be aware that I started a 10 week digital film evening class recently. With good reason: I want to get much more out of the kit that I have. For several years I’ve felt that I’ve never really used the features on things like mobile phones or laptops to their full potential. At the start of the year I promised myself that 2014 would be different. As far as digital media is concerned, I’ve published my first podcast (have a listen here) and my first self-filmed and self-edited/processed digital video. I haven’t done any editing to enhance the audio or visuals, it’s more been a case of extracting media files from one place or one gadget and uploading them. How complicated can that be?

Filming at the Strawberry Fair 2014 in Cambridge

Louise of Flaming June is a local (to me) musician who I first saw performing at a demonstration in Cambridge, followed by a gig as part of Oxjam 2013 (see my review here). I went down to the Strawberry Fair to see her play as she has a new album coming out. I filmed several of her numbers. Here’s her final track – and one of my favourites, ‘Psycho’.

This was taken on an iPhone5 with me lying down on the grass trying to hold the gadget as still as I possibly could. I don’t have a steady hand when it comes to photography and filming so am pleased at how well the unedited footage came out. Make of it what you will. (Louise kindly gave me permission to film – thank you!)

Getting the footage is the hard bit

For someone like me that is. I said to my counsellor (yeah – things have been a bit tough mental-health-wise this year) I’m trying to break away from the inertia of perfectionism: from a mindset of getting everything right first time every time. Now if you’re making satellites to go into orbit, then you have to get things right first time and every time. A few years ago I watched a documentary about a firm in East Anglia that makes multi-million-pound satellites. One of the posters they had in their workplace was about there being no repair vans in space to fix mistakes. Hence a strict regime of regular testing and re-testing, checking and re-checking. When you’re making a film, much of the film footage is left on the virtual cutting room floor.

I found this out for the first time when I took part in a BBC film back in late 2006 as a ballroom dancing extra. It was for the Stephen Poliakoff film Joe’s Palace. This was just before I transferred to London in the civil service. We all had to be in Regent’s Park, London at 5am for filming. It was early December. It wasn’t warm. It wasn’t till just after midday that we were able to leave. The actual length of the scene in the film couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes. But the time it took to film the scene took much much longer. The second part of the scene is below – see if you can spot me in the black velvet jacket and white trousers at the very very end!

Pressure driving innovation

As it turned out, Puffles’ election campaign was a massive driver for trying new things out. Although I wanted to try out a few new things, the sequencing, timing and impact of the pressure were things I had not anticipated. Yes, I wanted to make a couple of digital videos, no I didn’t make any. No, I didn’t expect to make any podcasts, but yes I made one. I didn’t expect the posters I made to get positive feedback but they did – even though I’ve never really seen myself as a creative type. I hadn’t expected to launch a website – especially one that is now going to become the basis of some joint post-election local work, but me and Ceri did.

The most important thing looking back was getting some momentum going. This included stating or doing things that implied a follow-up action. By the time I got halfway through the campaign I felt a sense of being on an ‘autopilot’. Why didn’t I just stop and go back to bed? That in part explains the past fortnight post-elections: I’ve been exhausted – especially emotionally. At the same time, I’ve also looked back and asked myself if I really did all of that stuff for the election.

‘Film Skool’

This has been a good spur to get going because we have a nice small group of us and someone competent in short film making to tell us to do stuff. And sometimes you need that. For someone who is a bit of a ‘beta male’ that thinks too much, having someone else telling me what to do in order for me to learn something that I want to get good at. What was nice last week was seeing a couple of the younger people in our group experimenting with the kit they had, even though they were not at the stage of what a future short video might look like. For me, it was the other way around. I’ve got a clear but flexible vision of what I want to achieve for a series of short digital videos, but not the confidence and ease they have both with the kit and with experimenting. If anything, this shows why having diversity of backgrounds (including ages) in a creative team is a good thing.

Music school

Some of you may also know that since February 2014 I’ve been rediscovering my singing voice with the Dowsing Sound Collective, after a couple of decades of relative silence. The past couple of months have been a challenge musically too. There was the Basement Jaxx recording at the end of March (see here). We also did a recording for Cambridge’s ‘Cycle of Songs’ which is part of our Tour de France celebrations when the race comes to these streets. Finally, there is what will be my first sung concert since my school days and this side of the Millennium.

If you want to come and see us and are in the Cambridge area, we’re performing at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds on 13 July.

We get to sing in this! We’ve got two performances – one at 4:30pm and another for those of you that want to avoid the World Cup Final at 8:15pm. (See here for tickets). Given my utter contempt for FIFA and their executives (a contempt that’s spreading worldwide – see here in the NYT) I’m prepared to give the final a miss.

The tenor parts that our musical genius director Andrea Cockerton has arranged for us are challenging. Karaoke this isn’t. But that’s part of the fun. It’s here that the pattern emerges: people from ‘outside’ challenging me on things that I want to do and become good at. In the case of the music, there’s also been a tempo and intensity similar to the election campaign that has generated a self-sustaining momentum. It’s that self-sustaining momentum that is pushing me towards new digital media with a greater level of confidence and curiousity than in years gone by.

The need to, and the challenge of diversifying my own skills

It’s not that I find blogging and tweeting boring. Rather there’s an immediacy and an intensity with mainstream social media that isn’t good for my health – physical, mental and emotional. I’m also at a stage of being sufficiently far away from London and out of the public policy bubble that I’ve gone down my own road. When I turned around to see who else had come with me at the start of the election campaign, it turned out that hardly anyone had. Me and public policy world had diverged.

The challenge I face is that the problems the London-based public policy world is trying to solve are very different to the challenges Cambridge faces. The context is also different too. Learning the differences between those two contexts has taken a good few years of listening and learning. One example of this difference is the recent announcement by the executive director of Government Communications Alex Aiken: No digital skills? No promotions. Note I call for similar in my manifesto for Cambridge – but go further than communications, expanding the principle to anyone with management responsibilities. Much as London is full of interesting events, gatherings and workshops, I can’t afford to get to them. Following a hashtag is not the same as being there face-to-face. If you’re not there face-to-face, you’re easily forgotten – no matter how much you tweet.

Solving the problem that is there, not the problem you’d like to be there

That’s one of the learning points from my election campaign (the evaluation of which I need to do more analysis on – but note the initial findings here). If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If the only tools you think you have are digital…exactly. As I found in the campaign, the digital only approach did not work in Cambridge. That’s why what I’m working on in these post-election months are just as much offline as they are online.

Going past ‘Peak Puffles’

In the grand scheme of things, the election result was ‘Peak Puffles’. It also marks the start of a transition period from Puffles towards something called Be the change Cambridge. Note that since the election results were announced, I’ve not taken Puffles anywhere – despite opportunities to do so such as The Strawberry Fair. This is deliberate. Basically I’m learning from Hootsuite’s rebrand – see here. Outside of Twitter it’ll mean more Antony and less Puffles. Because let’s face it: the problems Cambridge faces are ones even a dragon cannot solve. It requires people – all in this together.

Puffles4Cambridge – an evaluation (1st draft)


The full first draft is a good 6,000+ words but is by no means the completed version. Hence why your comments are much appreciated

Click here —>>> 140530 Evaluation of campaign AC v1 to open the PDF document for the big document. It’s in four parts:

  1. Background
  2. The campaign
  3. Lessons learnt
  4. Conclusions and recommendations

For those of you who think this sounds like too much work, the summary of findings I’ve made are as follows:

  • There is a general lack of trust between people and party politics
  • We are failing on the basics of citizenship and civic awareness
  • Citizens have a number of basic expectations of what candidates standing for election should be doing – you need to start from where people are, not from where you want them to be
  • ‘Digital’ won’t work while this lack of trust remains
  • ‘Digital’ won’t work if we cannot get the basics right
  • There are very different perceptions of local democracy between those inside the ‘guildhall bubble’ and those outside of it
  • There is a big variance in understanding across Cambridge of who does what and why in local government
  • There is a lack of understanding across Cambridge of how local political parties function
  • Local groups could organise cross-party ‘question time’ style meetings, but there is a lack of initiative within them and from local politicians to encourage such groups to organise these events
  • Dealing with low turnout and low engagement will require some cross-party co-operation, but will local and national political climate allow for this?
  • One person cannot do everything – and it’s not just a time/resources/effort issue – you need the right person to do outreach for different groups
  • When engaging with new audiences, you need someone who has the credibility with that audience you want to engage with. Don’t send a climate sceptic into a room full of atmospheric scientists, don’t send someone who’s not part of the local arts & craft scene to do outreach there
  • We have the tech, tools, skills and people to try new approaches, but not the desire from within the city
  • Party politics is a barrier for places that want/need to remain apolitical but that could help in democracy outreach
  • We still have not mapped our communities in Cambridge. Political parties focus on communities of geography (ward level) unless a specific community of interest takes an active part in local democracy – eg Cambridge Cycling Campaign
  • There’s a yawning gap between public policy and party politics – both sides don’t seem to understand where the other is coming from