Category: Policing

5 stars of open local democracy?

a set of steps marked with one star at the moment and five stars at the top

There’s a conversation going on in South Birmingham – led by Karen Cheney and Austin Rodriguez and others – about how to get more public democratic processes shared more widely.  This builds on various work (including a Cllr in Billesley buying some kit to live stream for the first time their ward ctte meeting).    At a meeting yesterday we talked a bit about equipment and platforms, but also that not all meetings need to be live streamed etc.  So, I wondered, could establish stages of activity for digital open local democracy?  I said I write up my thoughts as a blog post….

What are the principles?

In the mould of Tim Berners-Lee, I’m adapting his 5 stars of open dataI’m know I won’t be the first person to think through these stages, – I’ve searched but not found the 5 stars thing for very local public meetings. If you find it then please share.  Update: this is where I’ve seen something similar before:

This is a summation of some of our experience social reporting over the years and the following list applies to local processes, currently things like police priority setting meetings,  patient forums for GP and CCG’s, council ward committee’s, housing association walkabouts, neighbourhood forum meetings or neighbourhood watch groups.  This is the myriad of daily democracy that we have created over time.

5 stars of  open (hyper)local democracy


1 star:  Be seen and be welcoming.  Put 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.


There are other stages I could have added – using open data for example, but I’m trying to envisage stages by which we can help us develop from the familiar “meeting with 1 man and a dog in a draughty village hall”.  So perhaps the 5 stars of “more” open local democracy.

Behind all this is another core principle:

Keep it simple:

  • Collaborate.  Don’t do this in silos, have things that involve many services, voluntary or statutory.
  • Use available tools.  make things happen with the mobile phones around you, using livestreaming through google hangout or similar, rather than needing to build a thing.  (there are very fine services used for some formal democratic processes, but they’re not essential here)
  • Use available kit – what can you achieve with a smart phone or two?  How much do you really need to buy, is video right for your sort of event?
  • Go to where people are  If the busiest place to find people is on facebook can you use that for your online conversations.  Sharing live events online through hyperlocal blogs is another example

If you can’t make it work without these then clearly start looking for other ways of doing but start with keep it simple, not with “we need to build a portal for that” .

Thanks also to our very own Steph Clarke for helping me think through this – she’s oodles of experience of encouraging public services to get involved with people online both at work and her volunteer efforts at




West Midlands Police Working With Hyperlocal Bloggers through Podnosh

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.”


“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.


Awards for the Social Media Surgeries – and boy did we feel like frauds!

I’m probably going to cover to much ground in this and waffle a bit.  So lets start with something you can get a handle on:

Award the first….


A week or two ago we picked up an Adult Learners Week 2013 Award for the Social Media Surgeries.  It was an honour and I think an achievement.  1500 nominations turned into to 21 national awards. Ours is the BBC Learning Through Technology Award.  It’s an award for the close to 4000 people who so far been to a surgery. It also for the almost 500 people who been a surgeon – and helped people learn.

I try avoiding getting the surgeries tied up in ideas of formal learning.  I’ve always argued they are a place where people can get on with each first and foremost – learning improves as the relationships shape up.  NIACE understood informal learning well.

So thank you BBC Learning  and NIACE.  This is the film NIACE  made about the surgeries:

It meant a trip to an awards do in London for Steven Flower (Various Manchester Surgeries),  Steph Jennings (Lots of Birmingham and Wolverhampton surgeries – and works with me to deliver surgeries for public sector bodies), myself and George Marston.  George is a volunteer running the Low Hill Community Centre and he more than doubled visits after learning to use social media at a local surgery, one which was supported/funded by Wolverhampton Homes (thanks Kate Reynolds) , Wolverhampton Police (thanks Mark Payne) and the Partnerships team at Wolverhampton Council (thanks Sam Axtell).

Here we started to shrink into our chairs.  So many people had overcome so much through learning that I certainly felt like messing about with a laptop didn’t quite match up to their achievements.  Here’s a couple to watch, including the brill brum organsiation MyTime CIC

and Jenny Dimmock

There was another trip to Leicester for the regional awards.  This time with two people.  Austin Rodriguez – who’s worked with us through the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership to help change the way communities are using social media in Brum.  Austin has himself become a prolific blogger  ( at  and other sites) and now shares his skills at social media surgeries. And Lol Thurstan – an astonishing man who took just three weeks to go from knowing nothing about publishing to the web to running his own hyperlocal blog ( )  alongside local police officers.

Awards – the ones I didn’t mention….


This is where I go  on a bit too much.  For some reason I’m reluctant to write about the awards we get here – or anywhere.  We encourage our clients to share their achievements online – but I’m a bit rubbish at it for us.  Anyone who knows me will know I’m not shy – can sometimes be a bit cocky.  I’ve no idea what it’s about. So for the record two other awards I’ve not mentioned on this site before.

Innovation in a Networked Society.  First Place in this European wide competition run by The Oxford Internet Institute and the Knetworks programme from the European Union – last November (I think)

Creative City Award – most helpful thing in Birmingham – voted by the public 2009 (I xan’t even find a link now!) .


Hyperlocal folks in South Birmingham – a few notes from the first social media surgery in Kings Norton.

	 Lynn Horsnett, Steph Jennings and Sas Taylor

This picture shows three hyperlocal bloggers all come together through yesterday’s first Three Estates Kings Norton social media surgery.

On the left is  Lynn Horsnett of the Friends of Kings Norton Park.  She came along for some tips – having started a blog.  We helped her make it more blog like – activating comments and looking at trackback (the way in which when one blog links to a post of another blog it appears in the comments section) and writing google friendly titles for posts. We also helped her change her twitter account and improved the prfile a little.   She is though in her own right a hyperlocal blogger – but he local is a park in south Birmingham.

Lynn’s feedback was that the surgery..

helped Friends of Kings Norton Park to open its blogspot up for conversation and helped set up a twitter account, hopefully meaning we can now hear from the important people, the wider community. Love the ideas of interlinking community groups and widening networks. Social media workshops are really positive experiences.

In the middle is our own Steph Jennings – a hugely experienced hyperlocal blogger around to offer tips about her work on

Beside Steph is the amazing Sas Taylor – listen here to why she and her husband Marty run the B31voices local blog.  Sas was sharing her expertise with a range of people at the surgery, including Kizzy Bent of Birminghsm City Council’s Environmental Health team.

Kizzy Bent and Sas Taylor

Kizzy commented after the surgery:

Sas showed me how Environmental Health can promote the work we do in Northfield District on her blog and twitter sites to ENGAGE with the residents. I was amazed and will definitely be sending regular updates to the site. The Podnosh meetings have boosted my confidence using technology and highlighted social media is the way to go to connect with a wider section of the community. Thanks I will be encouraging my colleagues to do the same.

Austin Rodriguez – of the Birmingham South Community Safety Partnerships –  is working with us to run surgeries in south Bimringham, blogs in his own right on the site

which brings together a lot of social media activity in South Birmingham plus news of their work.  Austin helped his colleague Lewis O’Rourk.

Austin Rodriguez and Lewis O-Rourke

Lewis said after the surgery

I was initially a little bit wary of social media. The session has provided me with a decent insight into the simplicity of using this mode of communication. It is easy to use, a fantastic way of engaging with people and cost effective. I will certainly be using social media in future for various projects and media campaigns.

The best thing though by miles was bringing these people together in one place – one place where they could start to share not just skills but ideas and work together. Social media surgeries are about much more than technical skills – they are about confidence and relationships and building trust to make things better.