Social Media


Why public meetings are the rocky-bed of the public talking to public services.

Posted on 24th March 2014 by

Microsoft_Word_-_Report_v2_docx_-_citizen_engagement_final_report___dib_pdf

A very honest piece from Delib called Why Delib Has Given Up on Police and Crime Commissioners has given me an opportunity to pull together a range of things about the bleedin’ obvious.

Delib is a business which helps public services with digital engagement – much like us but a bit different.  They’ve spent months trying to get Police Crime Commissioners talking to them about better ways to talk to the public about policeing and crime and safer communities.  They’ve now given  up.  Why?  Because they keep being told that the Police Commissioner holds public meetings, and that’s good enough:

You wouldn’t walk to a phone box to call a friend in Australia anymore. Equally you wouldn’t walk to a draughty town hall, at an inconvenient time, to ask a question of a PCC you’ve never heard of.

Public meetings have moved from the bedrock of local democracy to the rocky-bed. A place that only seems still comfortable for those used to a diet of lumpy and cold communications – or those who would rather not share their bed with anyone.

This has been recognised in Birmingham with an impassioned report from Cllr Lisa Trickett and her scrutiny colleagues on public engagement. (I gave evidence to the ctte).  In it they conclude that the traditional Cllrs meeting with residents in a hall doesn’t cut it:

7.3.10. Overall our conclusion is that Ward Committees are not currently fit for the purpose set out in the Leader’s Policy Statement (2012) as the major means for citizens to engage on issues affecting their area.
Its recommendation opens the door to radical democratic alternatives.

7.3.13. Some strong pioneering effort should be promoted across the city for radical experimentation with new and different formats.

We are about to start working in Kings Heath and Moseley to support that shift.  There the aim is to create a fledgling partnership. How this will happen in detail I’m not yet clear.  That’s a good thing.  It is very easy for those who organise one process to replace it with another which they in turn have organised.  Doing that misses the opportunity to involve new people in change, but there’s a tricky balancing act between the open and involved and the organised enough for people to appreciate how it might help them.

That’s the core of it:  it’s better to meet people where they are – very few people are in draughty halls and more and more people are on the internet.

—–  Some extra stuff…

but, there are also wider changes for the council centrally to

1. to improve the Council website
2. for an improvement plan for how the Council deals with citizens as customers
3. for a ‘cross-cutting improvement plan’ for consultation
4. to ‘bring forward a plan that addresses the key concerns raised and opportunities set out in the report and take on the fundamental step changes set out in Chapters 5-8.’

Number 1 is actually about the core problem that for years the democracy section of the council’s website has been unusable – you can’t link to an individual document.   I found the report on the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Birmingham Against the Cuts website – I couldn’t find it on the council site through a google search. A google docs accounts with some folders in it would have been cheaper and better – and that, or dropbox, still might be the best solution.

As for two -when given evidence I bashed on a bit about this thinking of us as customers.  I’m very keen to encourage officers to be thought of and act as citizens – not as shop assistants.  This report talks of people as citizens (although recognises that  often all we do really want is a simple and effective service from the council).

Our job is to encourage a wider participation in local civic conversation on the web -  encourage people to use the web to say what they want to say and try and help public services learn how to listen to that – join in and make what comes out of the conversation useful for the community.  Of course Moseley and Kings Heath already has plenty of that.    Which is why some people still stick to their public meetings – because they can be fairly confident of what will happen.

 

West Midlands Police Working With Hyperlocal Bloggers through Podnosh

Posted on 22nd October 2013 by
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Lol being shown around the new West Midlands Police website by Digital Service Manager Stuart Davis

Working with the Community Safety Partnerships in Birmingham has allowed us to help partners start great conversations across the city.

In North Birmingham a whole host of police officers are now tweeting and community groups are starting to organise themselves online. In South Birmingham a whole spectrum of people from the Community Safety Partnership now blog & tweet to help inform their community of the things that matter to them.  In East Brum?  Well in East Brum we have Lol .

We’ve written about him before, but Lol Turstan is a  resident who loves where he lives so much he hasn’t waited for any of the local partners to get online, he ran with it himself and created B26 Community - A hyperlocal website for the community of Sheldon, where Lol can help spread the message from his Neighbourhood Watch group.

Lol has been working to forge partnerships locally to make the most of his site for the local residents, including strong links with his local police team.

I caught up with Sgt Hanif of Sheldon’s Neighbourhood Police team to find out what they thought of Lol and working with the B26 Community Blog;

“Lol is a very active, influential, member of Sheldon’s community, and already has vested interest in our area, so when we saw the opportunity for our team to attend the social media surgeries he was an obvious choice for us to take along. When it was first suggested to him he couldn’t dream of being involved – he was scared his age would be a barrier to understanding the technology.

But he went along with some of our officers and a few weeks later when I saw him next I was just, well WOW!  He’d set up a website and was doing everything he could to make it as useful as possible.

Every time we have a community meeting he brings handouts to promote the site and is always asking others to get involved. We’ve worked with Lol to share our messages and make other things happen in the area – but some credit has to go to our PCSO  Steve McGrath too.  He’s worked especially close to Lol to get things on the site.

Together they’ve coordinated local schemes like installing locks on residents sheds after a spate of break ins and and recruiting for the street and neighbourhood watch groups.

We forward everything to him not just police stuff but anything that’s relevant.  It gets it out there and it works because people tell me they’ve seen it on the site – and this level of communication was especially important to us after a murder in a local public house.”

Reassurance

“The day after the murder took place, because of the nature of the incident, we had to get a reassurance message to the effected communities as soon as possible, and while technically it happened in our neighbouring ward residents don’t recognise those boundaries we had to act fast.

There had been a shooting, and a possible case of mistaken identity and we wanted to help allay any rumours. I was informed at 11am and within 2 hours we’d got key members of the community  together at the station and gave them what information we could for them to share.. We had a time sensitive message to get across.   We wanted community we had gathered together  was to share that message with other people.

Lol used his website and the contacts he’s made there to circulate this for us. We know his distribution is vast so for us it’s a short cut to the community. An officer on the beat or any other member of the community by word of mouth may have only reached out to 20 people they bumped into – with Lol and B26 Communty we reached potentially hundreds in a short space of time.

Moving forwards, as his contact list builds we would like to work with Lol to use his website to spread other key messages – we can reach a much wider audience than before and as a result we have a better informed community – which means they can make safer choices for themselves.”

Direct Link to Local People

Hannah Fitzgerald, West Midlands Police East Birmingham Communications Officer had this to say about the usefulness of communicating through community websites;

“Having someone like Lol running a site like B26Community is really useful  for Sheldon and East Birmingham as a whole. There is no really localised press coverage in that area so he’s a direct link to the people there.

He’s hosted our live webchats for us on his site.  The last one we broadcast was around Anti Social Behaviour and as Sheldon Park has suffered from episodes of Anti Social Behaviour in the past it was good to be able to communicate directly with the community there.”

Richard Eccelstone, West Midlands Police Social Media Champion added;

“We used to promote our webchats on our Twitter and Facebook pages – but that would attract comments from the whole of the West Midlands even when we wanted to focus on a  specific area –  that would really dilute the conversation but by connecting to  local blogs we were able to use their audience to focus the talk and make it more relevant. This is true of B26 and other hyperlocal websites across the midlands.

We are looking to focus more of our communications on a local level and working with hyperlocal blogs such as B26Community is a fantastic way of doing this”

What’s great about the approach the police are taking to local communication is how effective it is. Our work with all the community safety partnerships has proven that talking with local people using the tools they understand improves communication right across the neighbourhood and in turn improves the perceptions of safety in those areas and helps make things happen. The video below is of Safer Places Office Austin Rodriguez, he’s talking about how using digital tools to communicate locally has benefited his area – evidence that partners working with the community – talking to them at a local level, works.

 

Fresh start for the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery – new volunteers from BBC Birmingham

Posted on 9th September 2013 by

Central Birmingham was the first social media surgery set up to support local community and voluntary orgs -  nearly 5 ears ago on October 15th 2008.

We’ve used various venues, from BVSC who generously helped with that first surgery through to the fine Fazeley Studios and for since April 2010 the wonderful Studio Venues.   So thank you to all those who have given us free space and dealt with our relaxed, rather laissez faire approach to helping the smaller bits of the local third sector with free social media help.

This month we have a new venue and some new helpers:  BBC Birmingham.  For a couple of years now one of the surgeries in Manchester has eclipsed what we are doing here (not that it’s a competition) . Steven Flower has been collaborating with the arm of the BBC that gets it’s staff involved in volunteering.  Whereas a busy Central Birmingham Surgery might see 20 people in an evening he  (and Kate Fox) are  involving  sometimes twice that.

BBC at the Mailboc in Birmingham - window with a reflection of a crane

BBC at the Mailbox in Birmingham – image courtesy of feltip1982 on flickr

So what does this mean:

  • If you are from a local community or voluntary org sign up here http://www.socialmediasurgery.com/surgeries/central-birmingham  for our first surgery at the Mailbox on 17th September 2013. You might be getting help from a local blogger – you might be getting help from a local BBC staffer – either way it will be relaxed and useful.  Do not worry if you are new to all this – we are gentle!
  • If you know someone who might like a surgery please share this link with them http://www.socialmediasurgery.com/surgeries/central-birmingham
  • If you are regular surgeon then it’s a new venue.
  • If you would like to help manage this surgery then please contact me through @podnosh.
  • If you’ve helped us in the past – thank you.

So onwards and where-everwards.

ps:  Since we started in 2008 this surgery alone has seen 309 different people through it’s doors on 43 different evenings.  They’ve used what they have learnt to create or work on a minimum of 73 different websites (I know it many more – but we have recorded the 73).   It’s one of 147 that have sprung up in some shape or form across the UK and the rest of the world since then.   Last week we tipped the 4000 mark in term of organisations and people involved.