Toby Blume runs Urban Forum, a charity helping community groups and local people influence what happens in their area. Toby is interested in understanding how we can make policy and data understandable to help people engage with decisions that affect them and to help them make informed choices.
Above is Sarah Lay from Derbyshire County Council talking about her recent experience of using social media to tell the story of the council elections of 4th June 2009. As SOCITM the organisations which represents the folk who run council websites, puts it:
County Councils saw their web traffic double last Friday and Saturday thanks to their provision of a sophisticated online election results service coupled with use of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and email alerts.
Sarah describes how the council announced the results straight onto twitter (followers trebled), plus offering an election map and a virtual council chamber. They also used a Facebook fan page (yes 74 people claimed themselves fans of a local election) where people were able to have their own conversation about the results.
In effect they by-passed mainstream media. This system treats journalists just the same as any other citizen, offering us all the same information at the same time and space to talk about it. However this is also good news for journalism, because it allows the professionals to spend increasingly precious time checking for truth and getting to the bottom of the implications of the election, rather than simply shoveling fact.
Sarah has written in much more detail on her own blog. In the first of two posts, on election day itself, she wrote with great passion about preparations:
All of this has been going on for a number of months (not full time) and has been a learning curve and exciting project for this team to get into. For the first time we have had a significant presence internally in promoting and reporting on elections. It’s provided an opportunity for us to raise awareness of our work internally and work with colleagues in other departments to enable everything to happen.
Our results system will hopefully be the jewel in the crown of what we’ve done so far. We won’t know until the dust settles tomorrow and we have some feedback from Derbyshire voters, councillors, other officers and colleagues in the public sector who are kind enough to take the time to have a look.
After the elections she said:
I am still a little emotionally charged from the adrenalin of working at such pressure yesterday and giddy with the joy of how well our team worked together on the day and in the run up. Now we just need to decide what to tackle next!
Simon Wakeman at Medway Council was one of a number of people who gave support and encouragement to Derbyshire and other councils embarking on this path. He has written about how a variety of local authorities used the social web on election night. Also on Sarah’s list of supporters was Al Smith in Newcastle.
All the above was recorded at the truly wonderful localgovcamp, held here at Fazeley Studios in Brum
I’m rootling through my feed reader catching up.
On Thursday Tom Watson announced that Crown Copyright was to be revised so those wanting to data mash with information from the Office of Public Sector Information will now be automatically granted a license. With a rather neat turn of phrase “They say information is power, but only distributed information is truly empowering” he went on to say:
the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) has looked again at the restrictions of Crown Copyright, and now a licence will automatically be granted to anyone wanting to use the information rather than having to apply beforehand. OPSI has also shown how Government can publish in a ‘web-friendly’ way rather than just as PDFs, and I want to see this approach rolled out across Government. Today I’m pleased to announce that COI is launching new standards on quality to make Government sites as effective and easy to use as possible.”
The Guardian has been continuing it’s Free Our Data reporting, with Charles Arthur a little underwhelmed by the announcements above:
Umm. It’s not quite the revolution that some of us were hoping for. It doesn’t even yet seem to legitimise the re-use and repurposing by sites such as theyworkforyou.com of the contents of Hansard – which is Crown copyright. That’s the trouble with tectonic shifts, though. Nothing seems to happen for a very long time, and then sometimes it happens all at once.
I don’t agree, (and neither does Tim Davies) the shift won’t be seismic in the sense of some sort of overnight social media sensation. The last 5 years has seen steady change and the groundwork is still going on at government level. The COI’s social media guidance document (a pdf – tut) says civil servants should:
Help non-governmental bodies to build new services by structuring information so that they can combine public data with private data. Avoid replicating what is already being undertaken by non-governmental bodies.
Wednesday saw the launch of a 12 week consultation called Archives for the 21st Century, again data, how we capture and share it will be at the heart of this. The press information mentions one wonderful example of a data set created from digitising the log books of ships going back to the 17th century. Hour after hour mariners from Britain, Holland, France and Spain would log the time, their position and the weather. The CLIWOC project is now a database for Climate Change Study. Another example they use is Birmingham Stories.
Also on Wednesday Downing Street restored the e-mail the Prime Minister service and Hazel Blears announced that one way for councils to save £600 million a year was by listening to their communities. This riled Julian Dobson who called it an “empowerment heist”:
‘Involving communities are key to unlocking greater savings – when it comes to finding efficiencies, empowering local people is part of the solution, not part of the problem,’ she said.
There is of course some truth in this – councils that listen to local people and provide services that are valued will achieve more for their money. But the crude equation of ’empowerment’ with savings is dangerous nonsense: there’s no rationale for turning what may be a fortunate by-product in some circumstances into the raison d’etre. Yesterday’s speech might have been excusable were it not for the ten years of rhetoric that had preceded it.
Ofqual’s new Chief Officers report has been made comment-able and Spaghettitesting listed the Government winners of the Webby’s including a non-governmental site from the transparency movement GovernmentDocs.org.
The Straight Choice website is a place where anyone can upload any election leaflet delivered to them, so we can all keep track of what the parties are saying and whether it is true:
Election leaflets are one of the main weapons in the fight for votes in the UK. They are targeted, effective and sometimes very bitter. We need your help to photograph and map them so we can keep an eye on what the parties are up to, and try to keep them honest.
It has been put together by 3 very fine people: Julian Todd who wrote Public Whip with Francis Irving, which became the input for mySociety’s TheyWorkForYou.com. In 2007 he made undemocracy.com which applied the same idea to the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. Richard Pope was also behind the Planning Alerts project, Groups Near You and StreetWire. He has a track record on this sort of site from the 2005 Election Memory project to record and publicise manifestos of the different parties in the Lambeth local elections. Francis Irving has also done substantial work on mySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow.com. Great Job.