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LGA Conference – Day 3

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The day of great conversations

Today was the final day of the LGA Conference and for me it turned into a day of some great conversations and ended with a bizarre twist and the realisation that lots of work still has to be done.

Over the previous 2 days those that stopped by at the stand ranged from those with a genuine interest to those who were there just to have a go on the wii or pick up a business card holder. Today was different. Nearly all the conversations today were great ones. We had councillors asking us to talk to their service areas so that they could learn from us; I had the chance to show how to mash an RSS feed into Google Maps to show detail; I asked aCounty Councillor to consider shared ICT services with a neighbour; I asked another councillor to go back and find out who their BA was!

I really think that many of those who visited the Digital Inclusion stand went away educated, and I would hope in some way inspired to include Digital Inclusion in future plans for their councils.

I also managed to have some great conversations with other exhibitors (unfortunately I did not win the IPad). I learned today about the cultural transformation programme that Fenland District Council has implemented. It was very impressive to hear how it has changed the organisation from a demotivated, hierarchical council to one that driven by the employees for the benefit of the citizen.

Fenland have really understood that Leadership is different to Management and that people respond differently to leaders than managers. Many authorities and many companies can learn a great deal from that approach. (Learn to relax, learn to win.)

I also had a conversation with the Big Lottery Fund who are looking to support a number of projects that could really change peoples lives. In addition there will be the chance to bridge the Digital Inclusion gap with this funding.

By the time the Councillors and delegates had left to tell Michael Gove what they thought of him, I was on the way home feeling quite smug that, maybe, I had made a difference.

The bizarre twist

Having battled the traffic I got home and changed hats. One of my personal roles is Vice Chairman of Solihull Round Table and was invited to attend a local community meeting to help understand Council priorities for the future. I really thought that this was very timely.

It was a real shock entering that room to find that I was the only representative of a community group and the other attendees consisted of Local Council officers, Local Councillors (none of whom were at LGA) the Fire Service and the Police Service. The local people had put their trust in their councillors.

The conversations resolved around the work that the Council was planning to improve the neighbourhood and they were asking for affirmation that this approach was correct. The data used to formulate the projects was years out of date, a point quickly picked up on by the Councillors.

On Tuesday Eric Pickles made it very clear that from now on Councillors were in charge, the community knows what’s best and the council needs to meet the needs of the locality. Big Society was born!

The bizarre twist was that these Councillors did not know what was happening in their area and did not seem enthused to find out. I challenged the Councillors at the meeting and they admitted that they only learned and followed the bad news stories (such as bin collections!) and never the good news stories.

The council had put a lot of effort in trying to engage with the local people but actually had a poor response from the public. It happened that I was also a resident of the area discussed and it turns out that I was putting my trust in these Councillors to accurately represent my needs to the council. I have never even met my councillor, how can they tell the council what is working well or needs to be improved?

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has released an excellent paper discussing the need for engagement with the community and how Councils should work with community groups to understand local needs. It also describes the roles that Councillors should take in the future to meet the expectations of Central Government.

My personal experience has made me feel that unless the community realises what is expected of them, their councillors will not change their attitudes and we will continue along the same path with the Council second guessing what local people want by using out of date data.

My challenge to Councillors: Get on the street, talk to every resident, learn what’s working and what’s broken. Ask the RIGHT questions!

My challenge to Community Groups: Be part of the Council, get involved, make sure your voice is heard, be active, promote the good and the bad.

Till next time,

Paul

What will Council 2.0 look like?

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In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.

Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…

The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.

As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.

I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?

Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.

With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.

Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.

My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).

Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.

If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?

By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

August 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Learn to relax – learn to win

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http://scobleizer.com/2009/04/23/learn-from-zappos… 

This blog entry describes a visit by Robert Scoble to a company called Zappos. Although what they do is less important – it is how they do it that is of interest. The approach taken is not one of the traditional workplace with stringent hierarchy, with managers, line managers and directors  – but it is an in formal structure more resembling a family rather than a business. Zappos have learned to relax and by doing that they have learned to win. Another classic and often quoted example of changing the workplace can be found at Google.  

By relaxing their organisational structure the company has empowered staff making them feel part of the family and as such has increased the productivity. Staff want to go to work and want to work. Even the simplest steps can make an organisation more employee friendly and each step is a step away from the traditional Victorian factory structure that can be perceived by employees.

Some ‘quick wins’ could include relaxing the dress code. Firstly why some organisations insist that employees wear suits and ties is beyond me. If there is no reason for your staff to wear a suit then why do you make them wear a suit. The feeling of being able to work in clothes that you feel comfortable in is important to staff. It is a simple psychology win that will allow workers to feel that they have some say in the company.

Secondly wins could relate to flexible working – sometimes this is not possible, however where possible it will allow workers to feel more in control of their lives. Flexible working could include the ability to come to work between set hours, or taking lunchbreaks when staff want and not by a prescribed =time. Other flexible working could include ‘flexi-time’ or the ability for staff to earn additional time off work by doing additional hours in advance.

Thirdly wins can also be gained from allowing employees to work from home. This is not suitable for all organisations, and in some places it is not suitable for many employees due to their personal circumstances, however the ability to work in an environment of their choosing can increase productivity and loyalty of the employee.

The way that organisations relate  are just as important as the perks that they offer to staff. As described above hierarchy exists in many companies and the way that staff are treated can resemble a feudal system with a Chief Exec at the top, directors below, managers, team managers etc. etc.. unfortunately to accompany this structure similar communication channels exist with any bottom up messages having to be approved by a more senior person before being passed on – or not in some cases.

More flexible organisations are removing this communication barrier and looking at a social network structure rather than a traditional hierarchy. A social network structure is made up of those people required to deliver the goals and many networks may exists depending on the aspirations. A network may exist for a project and may include staff from many different departments from across the business, it may even go wider than the organisations. The social network appreciates the skills of the individuals and does not distinguish rank but, when working for the goal, gives each member of the network equal status. This improves the speed of communication resulting in faster decision making processes. in addition it also removes individuals who do not need to be part of the chain. In some cases it may be possible to utilise technology to assist social networking in the workplace – but that is for another post.

The key blocker to more organisations not empowering their workforce and learning to relax and win can be summed up as ‘line of sight managers’. These are a special breed of managers, usually suit and tie wearing (even at the weekends) who are convinced that staff do no work unless they are smart and can been seen at all times. They can be described as ‘old school’ managers who live in a world that they know best and everyone else is mistaken.

In some cases it may be possible to reeducate these managers so that they can become more flexible and learn to trust their staff to achieve goals – but in some cases it cannot. What will a leader do if one their managers cannot, or will not, change in line with the organisations..? What happens if a manager recruits only people like themselves – how will the organization develop?

Organisations need to ask the are they ready to plan for the future and realise that the organisation as we know it is changing and are they equipped to deal with that change, have they the people, the processes and the technology..?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

June 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

PSFBuzz – Local Gov and Social Media Manchester 2009

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I recently attended a conference in Manchester discussing the uses of Social Media in Local Government.

The event was using a twitter hashtag to gather comment from members of the audience and also those who could not attend the event.

I was lucky enough to be video interviwed for  the event and you can see what I had to say here…

You can find out more about the event from this site www.psfbuzz.com

Till next time

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

May 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Twitter – how to describe it…

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Sometimes the role of Business Analyst is to explain concepts and ideas to individuals and businesses. In the following paragraphs I share how I explain concepts to people. This can be challenging if the concept is complex or the individual does not understand the topic concerned.

At this time we are still racing through a technology revolution and so it is even more important to ensure that when describing concepts it is done so in a language and way that can be understood by the listener. I always try to understand how much the listener knows and when speaking compare complexities to simple situations that the listener will appreciate and be knowledgeable.

Anyway on to the post….

Following on from my previous post Education the Authorities I was speaking with a friend from the communications team of a local authority about social media and the sort of tools that are appearing in the main-stream. He, by his own admission, accepts that he is not always at the forefront of new technology but is always willing to find out more, so over lunch we discussed the entity and the culture that is Twitter.

I have been using Twitter for a couple of months and I still only consider myself a novice when compared to some who have embraced the technology and are reaping the benefits. So how does one novice describe this sort of technology to an even greener novice. I chose to ignore the technology and focus on the usage and compare it to current forms of communication.

Let’s assume that Twitter is a form of information and, as we know, information has been arriving in many forms for many years including, books, newspapers, websites & blogs. The 2 biggest differences between these forms of information and Twitter is length of information and speed of communication. With regards to the length of the message Twitter is limited by technology but can be used to send links to longer messages, so when explaining this- I avoided the subject! The second main difference is speed of delivery, and this is what I chose to start with when explaining how Twitter works.

Books are always a snapshot of history, no matter how hot of the press they are, it will always be something that has already happened. In addition those who want the message have to get the book and only when they have read the information can they say they have ‘got’ the message.

Newspapers are the same, they too are a snapshot of history, however this time history is more recent and the subject matter varies greatly. Those wanting to get the message still have to get the paper, but now the reader can pick and choose their stories to suit their requirements. This allows a newspaper to target a wider audience than a book as the subject matter is now greater.

Websites are faster way of communicating than newspapers, they can be updated quicker and scanned or searched by the reader for information relevant to them. Many newspapers have websites displaying an on-line version of their paper, but with the addition of later stories. Websites are a broadcast of information, in the same way that a radio broadcasts the news. The reader (or listener) does not get a chance to comment or tailor the news to suite their needs.

Blogs takes newspapers and websites to new level. Information posted on a blog can be fresher than a newspaper but the significant difference is the way that readers can now interact with blogs. Readers still have to find the information and choose the blog to subscribe to which meets their requirements. A blog invites reaction from the reader, asking them to contribute to the conversation, challenging or supporting the author. The reader now has a way to interact and develop the information, tailoring it even more to their needs.

Taking communication to a new level is the Twitter culture – here authors take part in an on-line conversation. The information does flow, however it is guided by all the participants and not just an author. Users choose who to follow and who to interact with and listen in to the conversations going on and contribute when appropriate.

When trying to describe this further I asked my friend to imagine that Twitter was an extension of an open plan office where you choose who you want in your office. Try to imagine sitting in your Twitter office, puzzling over something or wanting help or a second opinion, now call out to your friends and colleagues asking them the question. Alternatively listen to the banter that is going on around you, and join in to the chat, answering someone’s query or supporting them.

One thing to remember about an open office, and Twitter, is that when you go out of the office you cannot hear the chatter. Twitter goes on 24 hours a day – there is always someone in the office, however you may not be. Just as in a ‘real’ office if you step out and a colleague requests assistance, you are not there to help – however someone else might. Twitter is the same, it is not necessary to ‘in’ on every conversation.

Twitter is a networking tool.

Twitter is a communication tool.

Twitter is an open plan office, where a lot of people work, all doing different things but sharing a common social ideal of helping others and spreading information.

Written by Paul Jennings

April 1, 2009 at 11:57 am

Community Content Creation

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Two stories took my eye today that got me thinking and I wanted to share them with you. The first, an article about the online fan base for Terry Wogan and can be seen here…

BBC – Radio Labs – Fan cultures in radio (3) – TOGs or “This Ordinary Group”

The article focuses on how the community feel closer to the celebrity by being part of the website rather than just being a listening body receiving information from the radio. In addition the article asked the users what could be done to improve the site – the response was very encouraging and just goes to show how those that use the information can better tell the creators what is best than the creators second guessing the content.

This got me thinking – if we can do it online, why can’t we do it in real life. How do we as citizens engage with each other and our providers. This leads me on to the other item that caught my eye today.

An author of a blog I follow posted an entry live from a conference this afternoon about a speaker, Dominic Campbell, from an organisation called FutureGov he spoke about how Local Government were missing the point when consulting with their citizens. He gave examples of Brent Council and highlighted this video to help engage the citizens.

Local authorities need to engage and trust their community to help develop both the services that it delivers and also the information provided on their websites. Local authorities have to move away from the ‘We are almighty, we know what you want’ position to a ‘Help us to help you’ approach.

Web 2.0 can help with this, build an online community reflecting the real life world.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 8, 2008 at 4:21 pm

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