Tag Archives: LinkedIn

Walls are good

Glasswall by JanneM, on Flickr
Glasswall by JanneM, on Flickr

My life is pretty transparent – if you Google me you’ll find a pretty lengthy trail of bits and pieces strewn across the internet (although I claim no connection at all to Beat The Rator, whatever that is).

I like freedom. I like openness. I like sharing.

If you follow me on Twitter, are my friend on Facebook or read this blog then there’s very little you won’t quickly learn about me. And I’m entirely comfortable with that.

But that’s not true for everybody. Continue reading Walls are good

Cumbersome processes

Just a quick thought.

Tomorrow the new Lord Mayor is getting installed and beforehand all 59 councillors have got the opportunity to press the flesh with the different directorates and service areas that make up Hull City Council in a marketplace event.

It’s a pretty good idea – councils are massive and it must be pretty daunting for any newly elected councillor to get a handle on what it is we do. And there’s value in taking a similar approach for communicating that breadth to the public (Walsall100 is a practical demonstration of that).

Anyway, in preparation for this event the different service areas and directorates have been pulling together briefing notes. In the Regeneration Directorate are two services: Economic Development & Regeneration and Physical Regeneration. And that covers a further 11 distinct areas of activity (BSF is part of Physical Regeneration). So putting together something brief that communicates everything from new schools to museums with European funding in between is not straight forward.

What we’ve ended up with is succinct and (hopefully) helpful in giving a nice overview of the directorate. It was the result of three different people working on it in their own spheres of influence – someone from the Economic Development & Regeneration wing, someone else from the Physical Regeneration arm and also the BSF team. In the end it’s come to us to wire the different bits together and produce a single document.

There’s no trouble in doing that but I yearn for a day when we might together, in our three separate offices, have been co-authoring a shared document and discussing the amends in real-time rather than the slightly delayed and cumbersome fashion that has seen slightly different versions of the same basic document flying about whilst different additions ping into inboxes; there is a better way to do this…

Remember Tom?

In 2003 Tom Anderson helped launch MySpace.  It wasn’t the first social network but it was the first to capture the world’s imagination.

Even for those of us who’d been using IRC and ICQ, or the Messengers of Yahoo and MSN Myspace represented something very different: a website, not something you installed.

You might have been invited, in which case you’d have a friend. Or you might know what you were doing and be confident. But neither of those were guaranteed, there was every chance you’d be joining this strange and alien world without any friends.

With nobody to hold your hand or guide you through it Myspace did something very clever. Everybody who signed up was welcomed, hosted and befriended by Tom. Continue reading Remember Tom?

Where should they sit?

Yesterday Dave Briggs spotted that Stoke were looking for a new web editor, somebody to be ‘the councils (sic) on-line champion’. And they’re not alone in allocating a specific resource, Hull’s recent restructure included a new e-communications role with a similar brief. Both these roles are in Communications.

This prompted a discussion on Twitter (Storify here).

Brief conversations like these are one of the great side effects of using Twitter. But not everybody will see those tweets. So I thought I’d try to start capturing interesting exchanges in case there’s some value to those outside the conversation (the Alpha(Local)Gov post was originally prompted by something similar).

So what follows is my adding a bit of flesh to the opinions communicated in 140 characters. As you might have seen if you’ve looked at Storify, the discussion asked whether Communications is the right location for ‘social media’ (although neither role is Twitter Tsar). Continue reading Where should they sit?


I started this post at the start of April, returned to it with the demise of Flip but finally finished it after Andrew Beeken shared his own thoughts yesterday.

April saw the demise of Flip. Despite being the leading camcorder brand in the US, parent company Cisco judged the marketplace to be unsustainable in the face of the competition posed by our mobile phones.

Given that they paid $590m for the technology two years ago it’s a bold move. Equally, their quitting from a position at the top is shrewd because of the inevitable future of hand-held video recording.

I really like my Flip camera and when the product was first introduced it disrupted the market but I expect to get similar functionality from my next mobile phone without having to carry something else in my pocket. Whilst convergence is not good for the 550 employees at Flip, the rest of us benefit – we get one thing where once we might have had to use more.

It’s that sort of approach which lies behind Martha Lane Fox’s vision for a single government domain and over the last three months it has been brought to life by 11 people somewhere in London. There had been glimpses of what they were working on and The Telegraph had featured a couple of screenshots as well as some interviews but this week we were able to get our grubby mitts on this “proof of concept prototype“.

Continue reading Alpha(Local)Gov

Is Storify the answer?

message board
Photo by Hungarian Snow

Twitter is still evolving but thus far nobody seems to have come up with a clever way of combining the thread of a discussion on Twitter with contributions from elsewhere.

It’s something that has come up in looking after Vital Bradford. I’ve found Twitter an excellent companion to supporting my football club and there’s a very active community with considered opinion and not the sort of stupidity that can plague footballing message boards.

One of the reasons it’s a pleasure is the way you can capture a sense of the match in real-time from all corners of the ground. But even though we are the most followed #bcafc account it’s only a fraction of those who might be interested.

Whatever the subject matter we need to be careful that the coverage of any event doesn’t get stuck inside Twitter. Your updates can get missed by your followers so it’s good to keep them on record somewhere. But it’s actually quite hard to record and curate a specific time-bound period of activity, especially if it involves many voices. Continue reading Is Storify the answer?

>Success and how you define it…

>In the last 24 hours I’ve seen two totally different ideas of what success looks like. I liked one, I didn’t much like the other.

Today we had a celebration of Hull City Council’s graduate scheme. We three grads popped over to the Guildhall for an hour with our line managers, mentors and the HR guys who’ve been running it. In the end four line managers made it, out of 12, and one mentor, of three. And rounding it off were our two handlers, a big HR boss (who I’d never met before) and an even bigger HCC boss (who I’d not met but who seemed, on the strength of our brief conversation, like she will be an asset to Hull. She’s also been to Sierra Leone before which gives her many brownie points).

When we got the invites it felt a little weird. It didn’t seem to make much sense to celebrate a scheme that has four of us looking unemployment squarely in the face come October 1st. Gallows humour on my part suggested it was more like a wake so when there was a little speech on how successful the scheme had been and there was a (muted) round of applause I just couldn’t stop the incredulity and had to ask what criteria of success we were using. For me, the elephant in the room was our future employment, or not, as the main criteria of how successful this two years was for us.

I shouldn’t be surprised. When we started in 2008 the graduate scheme made no promise of further employment and the 5 graduates who made up the first cohort warned us very early that little planning or forethought went into what had happened for them (eventually shoehorning them into temporary contracts until something came up…only 2 are still there today).

Call me naive but I thought they might have learned from that and heard the disappointment of our predecessors. It was the first time they’d run it after all, wouldn’t they clock that paying the salaries of the three of us for two years, paying for an MSc in Public Administration at INLOGOV and giving us the breadth of experience and knowledge and building relationships across the organisation would make it strategically worthwhile to retain that value come the end of the programme?

So I asked the question and it led to a healthy discussion between me and the speaker. From the HR perspective it was successful – look at what we’d done in our placements, how we’d grown and how we were now really valuable assets not just to Hull but well prepared to go and contribute to the wider public sector. Sadly we were just the victims of poor timing and there was work going on to try and match us to vacant positions in Hull but clearly noone could have foreseen what the situation would be.

Those vacant positions form something called redeployment. Now, as you might imagine the public sector is full of terror about impending doom (we’ll bypass the bit where that writing was on the wall 18+ months ago). So we have a recruitment freeze. That means they can’t just keep us around in a job they make for us on an ad hoc basis. So since July 1st we’ve been on redeployment – that is we get first dibs on jobs at the same grade. We’re not the only people at our grade and there aren’t many jobs. Since July 1st there have been 3 jobs. None of us have got one. So, with four weeks to go, we are creeping closer to not being in education, employment or training.

However, the thrust of that argument about success was very selfish – what had we got out of it for ourselves. Call me old fashioned but I’d like to reclaim Weber’s ideal of ‘bureaucracy’. I am not working in the public sector for my own personal development. It wasn’t about being a good way of getting another degree (who needs three anyway?!). It wasn’t about what I would get out of it. It was, and is, and always will be, about the public. I chose the switch from international development because I desperately want to get stuck into the communities and lives that I can engage with as a British citizen who understands where people are coming from because I understand language, culture, history, food, weather, etc. And I chose to apply for the graduate scheme in Hull because of the hope filled vision of the future that this council shared with us. This idea that actually the problems facing Hull, of which there are plenty, aren’t insurmountable and we could be part of that organisation getting stuck into it over time.

It’s wonderful that the council is altruistic enough to train up people for two years so they can give them away but I’m not sure you could sell that to the ordinary man or woman on the streets of Hull? Don’t they want organisations to develop people and retain the knowledge and build on those individuals? That’s what I’d want City of York Council to do.

The reason this stuck was because of something I’d heard at Conversations on Wednesday night. We watched Nooma – Today, a video from Rob Bell (leader of a church in the US and author of a couple of really good reads – Velvet Elvis and Sex God). He was talking about how being stuck looking backwards means missing today and what that means for our approach to the future.

He talked about the exchange between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane after his resurrection. Jesus says to Mary ‘don’t hold on to me’ and Rob Bell made the point that after the resurrection, Jesus wasn’t saying carry on and do what we did, he wasn’t saying to keep harking back to the loaves and fishes, to bang on and on and on about the Sermon on the Mount and how great it was when he turned water into wine. Jesus’ point is that all of that, it was about what’s next, all that has been is nothing compared with what is next. And so we have Acts and the Holy Spirit and the church turning the world upside down on the basis of the resurrection kicking that off, not really because of the nice stuff Jesus said.

Rob Bell illustrated it with stories of people who spend so long rooted in the past and holding on to their experiences that they fail to live for today and tomorrow. The decisions that get put off because ‘we’re not ready’ only to find that the opportunity has gone. Of not being able to see beyond the success we had before.

Instead it begs a different vision of success. One that’s totally about the future and how it impacts on your life, the lives of those around you and the life of your community. That’s a measure of success I can get behind because it’s rooted in the hope of the future and what can be as a result. Not just pointing to how great stuff was (even if that has a longer term impact). I wanted to commit to Hull, I did. We might not have moved from York (and I’ve had the 4 hour daily commute as a result) but that wasn’t because I wanted to leave after two years it was because of Christine’s phd. That’s finished in April, we could have left York and moved. Success for me would have been the future implications of what Hull City Council invested in us these two years. But for Hull, not for anyone else.

I’m full of hope about the future because it’s literally the only way I know how to think. Naive idealism to some but I’ll take your cynicism. There’s some great stuff happening in the public sector and I’d love to be involved with it. There’s some great stuff happening in the space between the public sector and the public public and it’s going to be brilliant watching that unfold. What I do next is something of a mystery. There is a phenomenal job in York that I’m applying for but I don’t just want to do a job for the sake of doing a job…If that’s what keeps me in Hull beyond October I’d rather get paid less and temp in York so I can look after Christine and get stuck into my community than just go to Hull and get paid public money to do a job that happens to be there. At 26 I’m not prepared to just settle for shunning my passions.

The bottom line is that it wasn’t a very celebratory affair. I hope what I said was reasonable, I certainly hadn’t planned to get into the question of the scheme’s success and I didn’t go to cause trouble. It’s not bitterness or anger, it’s just disappointment. Maybe it was the fact this celebration didn’t even have any refreshments. Too much to ask for tea, coffee, water and biscuits given that we were celebrating? Not even a round robin email saying ‘we can’t spend money on such frivolities but maybe we could all bring something’. It felt nothing more than a self congratulatory back slapping exercise for a vision of success that’s rooted in a measure of how it makes your own life better, not what it’s made possible for Hull.

So, now the dissertation is done it’s time to get into what that future looks like. Exciting, innit? 🙂

Picture credit to:
su-lin: Party Poppers and More
Will Lion: successes and failures in this version but original CC image from parrhesiastes: 4th Dan throws First

>Hull-Freetown Good Practice Scheme

>My arrival in local government was more by accident than design. After finishing my History degree I decided I wanted to throw myself into serving other people and help rebuild war-torn countries and work in international development.

So I did an MA at York’s Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit and that included great discussions with various professionals on the course as well as those teaching us. We went on a group research trip to Lebanon (during the Parliamentary sit-in) and I researched my dissertation in Sierra Leone.

It was a fantastic year. The people I met and the discussions we had offered an incredible opportunity to learn as well as to reflect that, again, most good practice is effectively sound theology (I have a number of partially completed blog posts exploring this which I will get round to completing, one day).

However, by the end of it I had reached two personal conclusions:
1 – that the most inspirational people I met, the people whose jobs I wanted to emulate, were those who had lived through the conflicts and were rebuilding their country for their families with an understanding of language, culture, food, weather, etc that would always be difficult for me to acquire.
2 – that I had very little other than youthful enthusiasm and academic training to offer a post-conflict situation.

That is not to criticise those who work for the aid and development sector, just to say that for me it wasn’t the right moment. But I still wanted to pursue something akin to the work of international development but in a British context. And so I ended up on the graduate scheme in Hull.

I’d argue that in our wealthy country our lead development actors are found in the local public sector agencies. I have a lot of love for a system that is not without its flaws but which tries to recognise local concerns whilst applying national policy in a coordinated fashion.

I’d also argue that for development will always struggle to take root and produce national improvements for a country if competent and effective local administration isn’t sat at the table talking about how to coordinate programmes and identify priorities.

My dissertation considered the ‘Peace Gap’ between elite ideas of what makes peace and the reality for those who live in places that are still recovering from conflict. We spend a lot of time and money and effort with national governance – getting countries to a place where they can trade internationally and receive delegations. At the same time international NGOs work at a local level to meet the most pressing needs of a community. And both of those things are brilliant because they will help to transform lives.

We bypass the bit in the middle at our peril and it’s often identified as being the least effective bit of the jigsaw because of corruption or lack of skill. ‘Good governance’ is a much discussed phrase but does the focus on national governments and democracy overlook the need for all sections of a public service to be effective?

I only have fairly vague ideas about what my career might look like but I’ve been lucky enough to study for an MSc in Public Administration whilst in Hull and I have this hope of bringing the two worlds together. At the end of my MA I didn’t have anything particularly special to offer but perhaps a grounding in international development and local public administration can prove useful? Whether that’s true or not is a question to be answered in a few years – 2 years of experience is not enough to provide credibility and besides, I’m quite excited by the potential waiting to be unlocked within local government.

So, what has that got to do with Freetown?

Well, Hull is twinned with Freetown and has been for 30 years. Last Autumn a delegation from Hull visited Sierra Leone to look at how we could support Freetown City Council in delivering a waste strategy for the city and then we got some funding from the Commonwealth & Local Government Forum to do it.

Which means four of us are heading to Sierra Leone for a week to begin the first phase of the project – the evidence gathering. Our brief is to look at procurement, contract management, asset management and performance monitoring within the council. The goal is to start to put into place a waste strategy for the city but to get there we need to make sure the right foundations are there. Part of that is talking to Freetown City Council about their role at the hub of various efforts at tackling waste, water and sanitation.

Earlier this year the European Union provided 6 million Euros to organisations wanting to tackle these topics in Freetown. That’s a lot of capital money that will be applied to the work that Freetown City Council is trying to achieve. Obviously it is vital that whatever is done includes the council, and doesn’t take place full of good intentions but ultimately completely disconnected from any strategy the council may have.

Which is brilliant really.

This was meant to be sent from Heathrow before we left but sadly didn’t get a chance to post it! So, we’ve been here a couple of days already.

>LocalGovCamp Yorkshire & Humber: #lgcyh

>I spent last Saturday at the National Railway Museum but I wasn’t there to look at the trains. I was there with about 80 others for an unconference about local government.

Erm, what’s an unconference?

I’m sure there’s a full definition at Wikipedia but I think of them as being what you’d be left with if you turned the principals of participation on their head and removed keynote speakers and the cost from a traditional conference. There is a venue and there are organisers but the agenda and the structure are pitched over coffee and bacon sandwiches. Some come more prepared than others; the experts can be relied on to bring their insights, others collaborate before the event but equally things just bubble up as the day progresses.

Hold on, you gave up a Saturday during the World Cup to talk about work…are you mad?

I have some sympathy for those who looked at me like I’d lost the plot when I attempted to entice them along and I wonder whether it’s hard to see the value if you’ve never come face to face with the concept in the first place? I’m not sure of the conversion rate but it always seems to find people singing their praises afterwards.

Twitter eavesdropping had given me my exposure to these events as well as connecting to some of the main protagonists but I did get to LocalGovCamp Lincoln where I put real human people to @s and avatars and found the unconference format to be really enjoyable (Andy is talking of hosting another). And Saturday was another opportunity to rub actual shoulders with some of the people pioneering new ideas in local authorities around the country. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to collar all those I follow and sadly I was the only person from Hull City Council to make it (obviously I was more irritating than persuasive in my efforts to encourage people to come!)

One of the other disappointments of the day was the absence of the movers and the shakers. I work in a very hierarchical environment and it seems that across the country there’s a real disconnect between the influential and the innovative. Of course there are notable exceptions and it’s clear that some of the places represented at #lgcyh have achieved significant victories. Their trailblazing can help to further the debate but, for now, those paid to provide leadership in facing down the challenges we face are conspicuous in their absence from the discussions and these events.

In many ways perhaps there was little point in my having gone on Saturday given my role at work. However, from a completely selfish perspective it was fantastic to spend the day surrounded by a group of people who are passionate enough about the work they do and the public they serve to give up a Saturday and travel significant distances to share ideas and talk about the challenges they are overcoming. I took plenty from the four sessions I attended (blogs coming soon) and it was great to meet new people as well as those I already knew.

Last week saw the start of the formal process of the Graduate Scheme coming to an end. When I applied for this job I was excited by the hope of transformation that shone through the city’s rhetoric. That excitement has been dulled by the discovery that much of it was just words and the apparent lack of value or strategic thought given to our futures. However, it’s great to know that elsewhere in the region real value is placed on innovation and that there’s a real ambition to transform public services.

An event like #lgcyh fits snugly with the excellent parts of the Graduate Scheme. Our flitting from service to service has offered a wide experience of local government. Our studying in Birmingham has exposed us to new ideas and encouraged us to explore innovation on an equal footing to men and women with varied experience and varied responsibility. Saturday was an opportunity for the story of local government to be told from a variety of angles and provide a fertile environment for new ideas. It was inspiring, exciting and challenging.

Huge thanks to Ken Eastwood, Kev Campbell-Wright and Melanie Reed who were the ringleaders in organising the day and kudos too to the National Railway Museum which was a cracking venue and put on a good spread (I judge most things on the quality of the cake).

Picture credits:
‘The Programme’ by London Looks (@ingridk)

Listening to the interwebs

The other day I saw a tweet that pointed me towards @SavvyCitizens and their Top Ten online resources for getting savvier ahead of the general election. It really is a top list of resources and all but one of them are fully featured, for free.

Council Monitor is the one that you have to pay for to get all its features. Now, for a basic ability to look around the country and see your council’s sentiment rating or look at how it compares to others this is excellent. It can give you at a glance that sort of information. However, to find out anything more you need to pay. And, for me, the costs they’re suggesting make this a little bit more than just Freemium.

The basic subscription of £99 a month gives you insight into your own organisation and allows you to actually see the mentions being made about you. For an extra £100 a month you can add 5 keywords and for the princely sum of £299 a month you can have up to 10. And they’re the special introductory prices.

OK so that’s only about £1,200 a year and no more than £4,000 tops, so what’s the big deal? After all that’s nothing for organisations with budgets in the multi-millions. But it’s this seemingly common attitude to the pennies leaves me thinking that it’s no wonder we have a problem with the pounds. So, perhaps what will follow is not worth your effort but I end up feeling a bit disappointed that we’d rather end up paying for a service than shaping the tools that are out there ourselves*.

Council Monitor is an aggregator of content that can be found ‘out there’ but happens to be housed within a shiny package that allows for comparison across the national picture. I have nothing at all against the shiny but what is most important is actually hearing what is being said, listening to it and then responding. It’s gratifying to know that ours is the council with the most positive mentions in the country but it’s not what’s important.

What’s important is recognising that people are saying things and we need to hear them because our service delivery can be improved by responding to the comments being offered in cyberspace. Not in a terrifying Big Brotheresque fashion but in the way that we’re coming to expect of organisations and companies that are important to us. The way that sees a need and then fills it or hears a criticism and fixes it so that not only are people valued for their contribution but the next person benefits from such a proactive response.

So, on that basis it’s content which is key. It’s not the overview of sentiment, which can be picked up for free but it’s the actual information itself, the stuff that sets you back £99 a month for a single keyword that an organisation wants to hear. Set against Radian6 or one of the other very impressive, and fairly expensive reputation management/social media monitoring services that seems good value.

But we don’t have the budget even for the good value. Dave Briggs flagged up this list of Social Media Monitoring resources which are free and sometimes have similarly shiny interfaces. But we’ve been thinking about how we make something that we can control and that which can pull a variety of different sources into one place. It is still in a prototype stage but the idea of doing something ourselves, whilst it might seem daunting, may actually be preferable.
But first, 2 caveats, and 3 tools:
  • These are not pretty solutions
  • There is a lot of potential to improve them
  • A variety of search engines
  • Yahoo Pipes
  • Netvibes


There is an impressive array of tools with which to interrogate the internet. We identified the following 15 services as being useful for different reasons but it is by no means exhaustive.



Almost all of these use APIs to enable the interrogation of their results from afar. What this means is that we can enter a search term away from the site in question and get a response directly to us or as part of an RSS feed or into an email or a widget.

In order to do this I use Yahoo Pipes. Now, I’ve blogged here and here about how to do this for wildly different purposes and I like Yahoo Pipes. It is certainly quite daunting to begin with and it can be quite temperamental but on the whole it is a very clever environment in which to build tools that can search for information, connect it together and then filter it as necessary. We’ve used it to make pipes for the search engines listed above.

So, using that lovely technology we’ve put together a pipe that looks at SocialMention, and, crucially, for the point I’m hoping to make, it does return sentiment too. At the moment it is pulling two pipes – the Social Mention search and the Sentiment tracker into one.

If it doesn’t work in the page then take a look at one of the following:

SocialMention (all mentions)

SocialMention (sentiment)

SocialMention (mentions and sentiment)

We’ve got pipes for all the search engines we listed above and had wanted to make a single feed from these individual elements but find Pipes cannot cope with this although, if we had there was a recognition of what we could do and a commitment to resourcing it I think we could probably identify some other solutions too. And the beauty of it? Once you have it set up outputting for one search term you can set up more using the same infrastructure (if you want it all lumped together it will accept multiple search terms separated by commas).

We have a dump of all our pipes onto one page. Some of them do not contribute anything to us and will be rooted out; some of them duplicate content and that may mean those two feeds could be merged into one; and being a public page makes tracking and storing activity impossible. In practice this would be a private page accessible to whoever has the responsibility to keep track of the content that had been seen and/or dismissed and that which was still of interest or had not yet been looked at. The Comms & Marketing team are going to be testing it out and exploring how best to use the information and how to process it for the benefit of the organisation.

It is true that we might not be getting the same results as Council Monitor and we might not be able to gauge sentiment elsewhere (although with the right commitment to developing this we could certainly get there). It’s also true that we can’t get trends but that’s just a metric that means nothing if we’re not hearing or responding to the people who are talking about, or to, us.

We’re exploring how we make this better and more useable. I’m moving placements but I’ll look to blog through the technical aspects of making these things happen so that you can make your own sentiment monitoring tools. But, in the meantime, feel free to test ours and see whether they’re useful as an alternative to spending money.


*I feel the same about GovDelivery. What they offer is much more technical and would require more effort to duplicate but, nevertheless, it is essentially publishing content in ways that would not be difficult to fashion yourselves. At least that’s my take on it.