Category: Hyperlocal

Pokémon Go, Goes into the the Community


Technology, gaming and social media often gets a bad wrap. Zombie teens alone in their bedrooms staring at screens, people isolating themselves staring at a hand held 4 inch screen, shunning real life interactions, Kids no longer willing or able to play outdoors. All this and more has been said of digital technology.

I’ve never bought into any of it.

I am a mom to a gaming teen, I am a fan of mobile phones, social media, the internet and more. I play games myself, I use the the tools available to enhance my work life, my social life and to work with and improve my community, But I do also understand why some people who maybe don’t make the connection between the real world and virtual and how they can work hand in hand, worry about the disconnect and the social ramifications of digital technologies.

This week however Nanantic Labs released Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game based on the 20 year old Pokémon franchise. The release, which in its first week out in America has surpassed Twitters entire 65 million user for the same area, is massive. It has outstripped search results for other cultural phenomenon and it has bought the “real world” and the virtual crashing together in the  most brilliant way.


The game is based on the 90s phenomenon that spawned card games, a TV show and multiple gameboy games.

Essentially you use your phone’s GPS, and a map to track and hunt Pokémon in the real world and there are set locations in your area that you can collect items from, and others that you can battle your Pokemon for after joining teams, but you have to physically be in the vicinity of them with your phone. If your phone has a gyroscope you can use your handsets camera to “see” the Pokémon in the “real” world” but you actually have to get up and leave the house to play.

I side loaded the app 5 days before the official UK release after reading some of the hype coming from the States, Australia and NZ. Stories that included examples of communities coming out to play together, local police departments engaging with players, people being galvanized into getting out and walking – and the benefits it was having to peoples mental health through both the exercise and socialising (and the stories keep on coming – I love this).

It already had a core local audience when I got it, but mainly Pokemon fans and traditional gamers. But bigger communities online were emerging both global and local as people connected with the game, so I played and waited with anticipation for the official release, I had already engaged with some of the local players, but I wanted to see what would happen when everyone else caught up – I saw the beginnings of that yesterday.

UK Release bringing people together

The app officially launched yesterday 14th July and I first hand saw some of what had been going on in America all week;

Yesterday lunch time my son and I walked to the shops, phone in hand, a group of teens coming the other way caught our eye. “Pokémon” one of them shouted. “Pokémon” we shouted back, waving our handsets in their direction. A van pulled up along side us as we passed by a “Pokéstop” rolled down its window and the driver began to play, he looked at me sheepishly and smiled, I smiled back and went on our way.

Last night I went to the supermarket, I deliberately parked where I could see what I knew to be an active Pokémon area, with multiple “stops” and 2 “gyms” in walking distance. I spent a while watching as a group of teens walked around the area, to the casual observer aimlessly, but with the map open I could see they were looping around the Pokéstops. As I watched (and caught a few Pokémon of my own) a car pulled in besides me and a young girl got out and walked over to the nearest stop, I sat and listened as a conversation took place between her and the wandering teens and what was obvious was that some of these kids had never met before but were working together to capture the Gym – the lone girl joined in with their group and was all smiles, Her dad (or at least that who I assume it was) who was still in the car grinned as his young daughter made new friends.

In the store I overheard some of the staff were giving a colleague some gentle ribbing for hunting while on her cigarette break, to which her retorts, while said in jest, said a lot – “I’ve walked further today than I have in years” and as I left a Mom and young son were sitting together on the benches, he actively instructing his Mom how to battle in the app.

And that’s not all, I got home to find that the local Pokémon Wolverhampton group were arranging a met for that night in West Park, and were actively encouraging solo players along to buddy up with people of the same teams so that they wouldn’t be alone, The Community Centre I help to run is next door to gym, so we’re trying to make the most of it and we are planning on hosting a Pokéhunt, using out location as a charging station and base so that younger players can come together to hunt safely

So in one short week, and only 1 day after the official UK release this mobile game and franchise has bought people and communities together, it is getting people out of the house and exploring their neighbourhoods, it getting people on their feet and walking, making new friends and offering up marketing opportunities. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this can be optimised upon before the initial excitement dies down, and more importantly what comes next as we learn that our communities aren’t big scary places, and technology doesn’t have to be the death of social as people play together. But for now you’ll have to excuse me as my mobile has just told me that there’s a Jigglypuff somewhere local, and you know, I gotta catch ’em all.

Why Public Services should take the time to grow the civic conversation

Later this month I’m heading up to Huddersfield for #notwestminster.  It’s  a collection of civic minded folk who get together to think about democracy, digital, changing relationships and changing power. It’s not in Westminster – hence the name.

I’m going mostly to learn and meet, but I’ll also be talking briefly about ‘growing the civic conversation”.  Here’s me just drafting some thoughts.

Public services should have more than a comms function – they should actively grow the civic conversation.

Growing the civic conversation is what probably half of our work is about.

We deliberately find ways to help more people who are civic minded or have roles to create some sort of civic good get online and talk about such matters.  The social media surgeries are an example.  The training we provide that allows public servants and active citizens and community groups to learn together is another. Our Impact Assessment App helps social organisations bring to the surface what their clients are experiencing – enriching the civic conversation.

Why do it?

  • The media isn’t doing it – as much as we need. Newspapers and media tend to provide a particular type of civic conversation.  It’s often very attention grabbing and aimed at providing content for a broad audience. It is also limited (less than it used to be ) in terms of access. Those who can get the attention will be part of this civic conversation.  This is limited.
  • If we can get the people who are actively thinking and doing in their communities confidently using the web it will be easier for them to find each other and achieve new things. It will also be much easier for public servants (also involved in active civic stuff) to find them, find each other, create new forms of working and new flows of useful information.
  • Parochial is good –  but for that very granular level of communal activity to be shared and find an audience it helps to have a wider range of people involved.

Acting to grow the civic conversation should be part of the background hum of the work of public services.

  • Channel shift is likely to happen faster if you do so.
  • Your consultations will probably get a wider range of response.
  • You will find it easier to find allies in communities who can help you achieve things.

This approach also helps public services build towards the five stars of open local democracy I suggested a couple of summers ago:

  • 1 star:  Be seen and be welcoming.  Putting agenda’s and minutes somewhere where it is very easy to find them and where it is easy for others to share them. Make sure everyone knows they’re invited.  (This could be a blog, just on google docs with a link or creating an eventbrite to invite people to meetings. It can include putting invites through doors and agenda’s and minutes on public noticeboards.)
  • 2 star: Talk about what you’re doing.  This means that you have a #hashtag for your meeting and publicise it and also share what you know (make sure that background information to papers is publicly available). You are open to others live reporting or recording what you are doing.
  • 3 star: Do it live.  You do the above but you also do it during your meeting or event.  This is where you can introduce a livestream of video or audio or live social reporting through twitter, facebook and or a blog. This also means you only hold meetings in places where there is good, publicly usable wi-fi or 3g.
  • 4 star:  Involve people outside the room in the meeting.  This is a step change from being seen to be doing. This values the questions and comments made on the web as being as important to your meeting as the ones made in the room.  They are incorporated though hashtags or services like cover it live, blyve or a facebook q&a as the event unfolds.  This could also mean organising events specifically for talking to people on the web.
  • 5 star:  It’s a permanent conversation. This fifth step recognises that the civic conversation you’re having doesn’t just happen at times and places you decide.  It can happen all the time. It means being responsive in between meetings when, for example a comment appears on a website or a hashtag.

As I said – this is me starting to organise some thoughts and and that “Public meetings have moved from the bedrock of local democracy to the rocky-bed.”. Others who chipped in are

Dave McKenna

and his Post on the Double doughnut of Democracy.


This suggests that government isn’t well placed to deal directly with the public – and is best to do it  through intermediaries. He calles them sharers. I think growing the civic conversation could well be about partly growing the number of shares and partly about strengthening the networks of sharers through which information and conversation can flow.

Dave mentions these sources of inspiration.

The first is a conversation we had about online democracy at govcampcymru.

The second is a set of ideas developed by Catherine Howe that I heard about first at localgovcamp.  While Catherine is more interested in a citizen perspective here the implications for government are centre stage.

The third source is some conclusions form the academic literature.  Lawrence Pratchett in a paper for Parliamentary Affairs suggested that intermediate bodies such as the media and community groups might be the best route for public participation as local government is essentially a representative rather than participative institution.  Similarly, Marion Barnes, Janet Newman and Helen Sullivan in their research into public participation, suggested that participation initiatives might be more successful when semi autonomous from government and run by voluntary groups.

It also chimes with some of the skills/qualities outlined in the the 21st century public servant work (we’ve been involved with)  –  which suggests skills that will be more prized in future public servants, skills such as “story teller”, “networker” “system architect” and being human.


Growing the civic conversation is also about recognising the place you serve as a platform, or a series of them. It helps shape and strengthen the platform upon which local democracy sits. Surely that is partl of the work of any local civic or democratic body?

More after #notwestminster.

Thanks for reading thus far.  You’ve helped me collect some thoughts.



Persistence pays off…. ward committee restarts live streaming.

Last year we provided support to councillors at the Billesley Ward ctte for them to experiment with low cost live streaming.  They tried it once as a learning exercise – 15 months later they back with this….

It’s just shows that patience and persistence pays off and something we find all the time: that the skills you help someone develop today can turn into fruitful activity much later. Bravo Cllr Alex Buchanan for taht persistence.

Do hyperlocal websites fall foul of Leveson and the new press regulator and libel laws?


Last week I spent a couple of hours at a consultation in Birmingham run by the Press Recognition panel, which is the regulator set up to oversee the creation of (a?) new press regulator(s) following the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter. (I know this has already got a bit “what?”, but stick with me.)

I was there because I’m interested in what it means for hyperlocal websites (which we have helped people set up over a number of years).  Especially the implications for those run for the love of their community,  sites like B31voices or WV11 –  not run for the money. Talk About Local has already questioned whether hyperlocals fall within Leveson and I wanted to be clear one way or the other…

So this is how my thinking has evolved…. if you find an asterix next to an assertion I’m not 100% sure this is right – or that I have conveyed it correctly (some things may be accurately reported but are factually wrong!)

This is a disaster!


This is what I picked up from the press recognition panel.

  • Under the new law a publisher is someone(two) who publishes either online or in print and has two or more authors.  So according to this a publisher would include a number of no pay hyperlocals.
  • In the autumn the law of how a libel action is brought will change for publishers.
  • If you are part of a recognised Royal Charter approved press complaints body – complaints against you will come through that and will be resolved through mediation.  If someone does sue you they will be required to pay both their’s and your legal fees*.
  • If you are not part of a recognised complaints body people can sue you and you will be required to pay both yours and their legal fees.

This leaves two or more person hyperlocals that are not in it for the money very exposed. The conversation, involving myself, Dave Harte and others, at this consultation included various thoughts that I took down in note form…

The mere threat of bankruptcy can stop people publishing,  Does this mean we need a hyperlocal regulator to provide this protection to hyperlocals?  Who pays for it, do the hyperlocals need to pay for it? How to create one as cheaply as possible?  Could there be a cooperative? Are hyperlocals aware of their potential exposure?

This also seemed to have implications for student journalism and perhaps even for sites like Birmingham Newsroom – blogs published by public services.  two or more people writing them?  Then they are publishers.

The two people from the press recognition panel were very clear that hyperlocals fall within the change of law.


Oh hang on. Phew, I think…


That was last Wednesday evening and I left worried about the future of hyperlocals.

On Thursday I spent the morning at #commscamp15 and popped along to the legal session run by David Banks.  He was talking about other changes in libel law and I shared what I thought I had learnt from the night before – and my concerns about it.

Someone else in the session looked a bit more closely at this.  Kelly Quigley-Hicks dug out the legislation and (I think) established that the understanding I (and others) had gleaned from the consultation was wrong.  The hyperlocals I’m concerned about are exempt… this is what she writes:

What is the definition of a ‘publisher’? If you have more than two people publishing news-related content, you may be defined as a publisher and be sued for libel as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Exceptions include public bodies and charities publishing “news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.” and multi-author blogs that come under “microbusiness” definitions

Checking her working I find the law says “exclusions from the definition of relevant publishers” include:

Public bodies and charities

6   (1) A public body or charity that publishes news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its                  functions.

(2) “Public body” means a person or body whose functions are of a public nature.
Company news publications etc

7   A person who publishes a newsletter, circular or other document which—

(a) relates to a business carried on by the person, and

(b) only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the person’s business.

8  (1) A person who, in carrying on a micro-business, publishes news-related material where either condition A or condition B is met.

(2) Condition A is that the news-related material is contained in a multi-author blog.

(3) Condition B is that the news-related material is published on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main  activities of the business.

(4) “Micro-business” means a business which—

(a) has fewer than 10 employees, and

(b) has an annual turnover not exceeding £2,000,000.

(5)  The number of employees is to be calculated as follows—

(a) find the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of the business are contracted to work;

(b) divide that number by 37.5.

(6) “Employee” has the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (see section 230 of that Act).

(7) “Multi-author blog” means a blog that contains contributions from different authors.

So this appear to mean that most hyperlocals are not included.

So questions to resolve….


  1. Is this right, are most hyperlocals excluded, therefore don’t need to join a press complaints body?
  2. If this is right what is the libel law that now applies to hyperlocals (who pays the legal bills)?
  3. Does this exemption apply to student publishing online as part of their course?  After all universities are not micro-businesses.

Any answers?


Kelly  found this, which suggest others think there is confusion…