Tag: New Media

Digital scrutiny: the web’s the tool

While I’ve watched the election drama unfold over the last few days I’ve been busy trying to finish off the first stage of my digital scrutiny project – which is looking into how it might be possible to use the web to help the public scrutinise local government.

My idea has turned into a blog – Where Can We Swim – that I’m busy trying to develop as a sort of laboratory for the scrutiny of swimming pool provision. At the heart of my idea is a basic belief that we – the public – in all our great unwashed glory, might be able to help to run public facilities – not just as volunteers, but because we’re clever and can actually come up with new ways of doing things.

A reappraisal
When I started the project I hoped to develop a kind of tool kit for scrutiny. I even imagined I’d be scraping data in order to provide really good quality information. But my assumptions were totally off. By posting about my swimming pools idea on Podnosh I’ve learned of the work that Plings has done to find out all the local authorities providing free swimming to under 16s.

The Where can I swim for free site

This has made me think about how this provision will continue in the future. I’ve also realised the mines of local information that exist from websites locally, like the Moseley Road Bath’s excellent updates on swimming pool news in Birmingham and are helping to keep an eye on how the city council runs its pools.

Swimming around the web
And, when I first encountered the daftness of the Active Places data set run by Sport England (the store for all the country’s public sporting facilities), I imagined I’d spend my time trying to unlock the data, but it turns out that the folk at Rewired State have already had a crack at it.

What all this is beginning to prove is that my idea of a tool kit makes no sense whatsoever. Instead it’s pretty simple really: the web’s the tool. The real trick – something I’m only beginning to understand – is learning to use it to make connections between you and other people who have the same idea. And, if you do that, then suddenly all sorts of clever things begin to happen.

What happened at the May Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery

May Social Media Surgery

After some very busy surgeries recently, May’s was small, but perfectly formed. Emma Neil and Hannah Severn from The Birmingham Conservation Trust got help from Gavin Wray and Nick Booth with their blogging work for the trust. Both Emma and Hannah are volunteering for the Trust and have been doing some really interesting stuff since coming to the Central Birmingham surgery a couple of months ago.

They’ve both been blogging assiduously for a while now, on a variety of different subjects for the Trust, as you can see here and here. They also write reviews of local history books, which allows the trust to raise small aounts of money through the Amazon affiliate system.

This time they learned, in particular, about Google Analytics because they’d been worried that too few people were commenting on their posts on the site, as this video interview with Hannah (left) and Emma (right) explains.


Emma and Hannha weren’t the only people to come down – even if we happened to pick the moment the UK got its first coalition government in 70 years. Anna Watson, from Localise West Midlands, was down for her first surgery – and seemed to really enjoy it. Heidi Blanton, who was down to help as a surgeon for the second time,  helped Anna to learn about Twitter, WordPress and other forms of social media.

We also had a visit from Dr Monika Metykova – who is a media and communications research associate at Goldsmith’s. Monika is conducting some really interesting research into changes in media consumption and production – and was down to learn about what we’re doing at the Social Media Surgery. She also got a little bit of help from Simon Gray on setting up a Twitter account. Monika said she was particularly surprised how quickly it is possible to make some really significant, useful steps towards understanding social media at a surgery.

In the video she explains a little bit about the context of her research and how her visit to the Social Media Surgery fits into that.


Make a film for the big city plan.

Dominc Campbel phot of Big City Plan poster Birmingham

I’ve just received an e-mail from Richard Rees at the city council encouraging me to mention the digital challenge which the council is throwing out for anyone who wants to contribute more to the big city plan process. Thanks for prompting me to do this, I meant to write something when the competition launched last month.

The council want you to use video or still photography to express your opinions about the plan.  You can win a flip camera. It’s a great idea and I would encourage you to use any combination of video, still and or audio to show what you want changing in the city centre.  How about a two minute world wind tour of your neighbourhood?

Sadly I can’t enter because the rules appear to prohibit people who are professional image makers from doing so.

If you want to take photos or make a short film then the closing date is April 20th and the rules are here.  If you want to read the big city plan (work in progress)  as the council expresses it please go here, if you would also like to look at a plainer English version please go here.

Some of you may know I took part in creating a plain English translation of the plan for the bigcitytalk site. It was mentioned as an example of the future of consultation (link to mentions of Birmingham) in the Cabinet Office sponsored Power of Information Report:

The original Power of Information report was one of the first to be re-worked and presented on CommentOnThis as an experiment.  CommentOnThis was an early innovator in reworking government consultation documents online so that they can be used more easily.   More recently a team of civic bloggers in Birmingham has translated and re-purposed Birmingham’s ‘Big City Plan’ on the web in Big City Plan Talk.

These technical developments could improve the effectiveness of policy development in consultation, but will require new skills amongst policy makers and communicators.  A plan for supporting the change needed in policy development skills should be developed by Government Skills by end 2009, with a concomitant training plan from the National School for Government.

The big city talk site saw a conversation emerge involving 274 comments.  Not sure how those comments have accounted for in the consultation report itself. The council tells us:

All attributable comments submitted to date have now been processed on our consultation database and are visible to all. As of 4 March, a total of 1,864 comments from a total of 273 contributors have been logged as follows:

Directly into the consultation portal:  719

Via e-mail:  679

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I’m imagining big city talk would best be covered by other? What do you think?