Leadership


Live Streaming Council Committee meetings – How we helped Birmingham City Council Billesley Ward Committee get online.

Posted on 28th March 2014 by

I’ve mentioned about how we’ve worked in South Birmingham in conjunction with the South Birmingham Community Safety Partnership when we wrote about what Austin Rodriguez , South Birmingham Safer Places officer had to say about the project.

What I haven’t said yet is that we’ve been working on a second phase of the surgeries with him.

Austin has been doing a great thing empowering the people he works with to use social media to talk to each other, to improve where they live and  to  build a stronger communities and with him we’ve continued to build on the momentum from phase one of the project.

In February we were holding a surgery in Bartley Green that  Alex Buchanan  – Ward Councillor of Billesley – attended. He came along with Austin with the idea that he’d like to trial live streaming his ward committee meeting .  Birmingham City Council have been live streaming their meetings from the council house and he wanted to see how he could make that work locally.

The Technology

Out in the community centres and church halls where community meetings are usually held there isn’t the infrastructure the council have  - there isn’t high speed Wi-Fi or  high definition webcams and high quality controlled audio. Nor is there a bespoke website to send the feed to,  so we had to look at what was available. 

Councillor Buchanan had invested in a laptop with a webcam and a decent microphone so we decided Google Hangouts would be the way to go, using the On Air function to stream to Youtube, which also meant it could be shared via other platforms and embedded into blogs – We spent about an hour looking at how this could work for them and then on the 20th February they put it into action.

Some observations – Be brave.

You can see in the video above that while the camera was positioned in such a way that the whole top table could be seen – the microphone struggled to pick everyone up. As the people farthest away from the set up took their turn to speak at times the audio wasn’t very clear at all but then they weren’t using a multi-directional mic that can pick everyone up like at the council house. What they had was a small mic plugged into a laptop  -  but  it could have been moved to pick up more voices.

This seems obvious watching it back but again it comes back to the fact this was a trial and a learning experience. What it needs next is just a bit of bravery, Bravery to do it again and to take what they’ve learned doing this and apply it. If during the meeting they were willing to pause proceedings by just a few seconds to re-position the mic before people took their turn to talk this would greatly improve the quality of the audio, make better use of the technology they have available and improve the experience for the community watching.

In saying that though it is fantastic that Councillors are looking at ways to open up the local democratic process to more people, and live streaming of meetings is definitely a good way to go. The fact that Councillor Buchanan was willing to even consider giving this a try is fantastic and who knows what could be next? What other public conversations could take place in – well – public?  

The Sprit of BCCDIY rides again – an open data platform in a day in Birmingham

Posted on 20th February 2014 by

 

I often talk to people about BCCDIY.

In 2009 a group of local developers and bloggers got together and built an alternative to Birmingham City Council’s website. They called it BCCDIY.

They wanted to demonstrate that information could be better organised and more easily accessed.  They did it in a day (with some preparation) (you can see a version here) .  The council’s new website had taken one of the countries largest consultancy firms four years and they had charged £2.8 million pounds.

A group of people working on BCC DIY

BCC DIY taking shape in 2009 – image Dan Davies

When I tell public servants and residents about the cost of the council website they gasp. They’re not surprised, but they are angry.  When I tell them about BCCDIY they also gasp – with a sort of mischievous happiness. They are delighted to see people taking things into their own hands and showing where bad decisions lead to wasted money and effort. A councillor involved in spending the £2.8 million pounds response to BCCDIY – when I explained it to them – was “we didn’t have the knowledge.”

Now you do, or you can (come and talk to any local developer – they’ll help you learn).

And now is not the time to repeat the mistake of just doing what the big consultancies tell local government is right.

The lesson of BCCDIY was not learnt when the Library of Birmingham website was built (by the same contractor) for £1.2 million pounds.  I don’t know how much it should have cost – but I’m confident I know local agencies who would have been delighted to deliver it at a sixth of the price and to maintain it for much less than the current annual cost.

So let’s not make a similar mistake a third time, when the council eventually creates a place to put and share Open Data .

On Saturday Simon Whitehouse and some others will be building an Open Data platform for the West Midlands – in a day. You can join in, if you like.   In effect he’ll be doing the equivalent of BCCDIY before a silly sum of money is spent by the public sector…

This is what Simon says about the plan for Saturday:

In Birmingham we are holding an event at Birmingham City University where we are going to set up a West Midlands “Open DataStore In A Day”. The idea is quite simple. Over the day we will set up a website that can hold open datasets and publish what we can find to it. You don’t have to be a technical whizz to take part. Enthusiasm and curiosity are enough to make it worth your while coming along.

We’ll spend the day finding and collecting the data that people are interested in and we’ll put it all together in one place online, in the West Midlands Open Datastore. Once we’ve done that, it makes it all a lot easier to do something useful with.

If somebody can’t find the data that they are interested in then we will help them to write a Freedom Of Information request to ask for it. When those are answered we will add them to the Open Datastore.

I’m really pleased that Data Unlocked, the co-operative venture that I’ve recently helped to co-found, are providing the website for people to work on during the day, and that we will continue supporting it afterwards. We’ve helped to organise the day along with Open Mercia and RnROrganisation.

In Emer Coleman’s recent post about the City as a Platform she says that she has seen quotes of up to £200,000 for Data Platforms. We think that we can do a lot with some free open source software and the goodwill of people volunteering their time and skills.

Emer Coleman goes on to add that any datastore should be deliverable well within a developer budget of £20k.  It seems that  Saturday might  get local authorities in the West mids off to a flying start.

 

 

 

How advantaged thinking helped Fiona help herself to help her organsiation help itself.

Posted on 11th July 2013 by

We get to work with some brilliant organisations.  Foyer Federation has been developing approaches around what it calls Advantaged Thinking and talent -  intended to allow foyers and the young people they work with to use an emphasis on finding positive ways to view the world and focus on talent (rather than deficits) to improve how young people work with foyers to further their lives.

Today I bumped into Fiona McCance who describes herself on her blog:

My name is Fiona and I am 21. I have been living at the Northampton scheme run by Mayday Trust since 4th February 2013. When I arrived at Mayday I was very concerned about having to build a relationship with someone new and was very reluctant to communicate with the staff but after meeting my then Key worker I was challenged with the patience of a saint. After a while the barriers I had set up slowly disappeared and I was able to communicate what help I needed and what ambitions I had in life. Well, that’s where the fun started and my life changed completely

Fiona came across some of the Foyer’s work and was so inspired by this positive approach that she encouraged the people who run here Foyer to get more involved with the advantaged thinking as a way of working.  It has changed all sorts – seeing the first Learning Abilities Foyer established by the Mayday Trust and also changed Fiona’s life – as she tells you in  the video above.