LocalGovCampNW (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a post about LocalGovCampNW, an unconference held in Preston on 4th February. It’s the second instalment, as last week I ran out of time, and had to get something in by midday on Thursday to meet Weekly Blog Club‘s deadline.

I was interested in most of the session pitches but, sadly, could only attend one at a time. The rest of this post attempts to summarise some of the points raised in the sessions I attended.

Organisational change and social media

The first session I went to was loosely based around organisational change and social media. Memorable bits for me:

  • Large self-organising groups existed way before the term ‘social media’ was invented. As Clay Shirky remarked in Here Comes Everybody: Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies – it happens when society adopts new behaviours.
  • Camps are non-hierarchical; attendees share a common interest in constructive change, and are prepared to devote large chunks of their own time to share with – and learn from – each other
  • Change can occur from the bottom-up as well as top-down
  • Camps are no passing fad – the fact that so many keep on attending various different camps like UKGovCamp, LocalGovCamp, LocalGovCampNW and BluelightCamp show they have staying-power
  • Sugata Mitra put a computer in a wall which helped children in a slum learn without supervision. I’m surprised I han’t heard about that before, as it’s an inspirational story. If you haven’t seen it, he gave a great TED Talk about it in July 2010.
  • Someone made an interesting assertion about councillors – that it’s their job to disrupt. That hadn’t occurred to me, but there might be something to it.
  • There are many examples of collective and collaborative action – frequently assisted by social media – surely we can do more of this in local government
  • Social media is a means to an end, not an end in its own right
  • Can’t individuals – professionals – use social media as part of their job? The analogy given was the official closing a road who tweets to say it’s closed and why it’s closed.
  • Social media provides huge opportunities to engage directly with the public. Experts in their field just need guidance and maybe some training and social media can become a useful tool
  • There was consensus that empowered people behave responsibly
  • Many businesses have been using social media for years to engage with their customers (admittedly, with varying degrees of success). Yes, there are risks, but they should be managed.
  • Shropshire has an online newsroom – they don’t issue press statements any longer
  • Social media is widely used within organisations to help the flow of information – via conversation. Business networking tools like Yammer are in use throughout the public sector. Other tools like The Knowledge Hub are being developed by and for the sector.
  • LinkedIn is another opportunity for local government to engage with business, particularly via groups
  • There was the story of a councillor who couldn’t access email in the council chamber, so she brought in her own Mifi thereby creating her own wireless network. She and her colleagues then used that access their email.
LocalgovcampNW an unconference for public services
Just a few of he participants at LocalgovcampNW

This particular session began with a presentation and then moved to a discussion. It was very interesting, but there was a bit too much emphasis on presentation for my liking, and not enough discussion. I’m not sure everyone got a chance to speak either. I think in future I’d prefer to do away with PowerPoint altogether and focus on conversation, ensuring that everyone who wants to speak gets the chance to do so.

Digital Inclusion and Adult Learning

I looked at the title of this session and thought it’s not something I know very much about. That’s usually a bit of a trigger for me – I like to find out more about stuff I know nothing about. My experience in this area is limited to trying to show my dad how to use Word and email over ten years ago. It was hard work, but we got there, mostly because he knew what he wanted to achieve, and he was very determined to succeed.

A few highlights from this session:

  • Training courses can be geared towards what we think people should know
  • People on courses are generally polite when they give feedback – they may tick boxes saying they’re satisfied, when actually they haven’t learned what they want to learn
  • People’s computers and software at home usually don’t conform to the standard kit they are trained on in a classroom. They may return home from a course and get stuck at the very first hurdle. Without further help they might well give up.
  • Kate Norman talked about some work she’s doing with an informal group of people in Cumbria who share their knowledge. In Kate’s words: “I teach people whatever they want to learn”. The group is part of the University of the Third Age (U3A) which I hadn’t heard of before. According to the U3A web siteU3As are self-help, self-managed lifelong learning co-operatives for older people no longer in full time work. What a brilliant idea.
  • A lady whose name I didn’t catch said: “The iPad is a gift for older people – it makes it very easy for people to get online.” She mentioned an elderly gentleman who has an iPad he uses to read The Telegraph online, Mail online, and BBC sport – nothing else. It just does what he wants it to do.
  • Trust when training can be an issue – too much trust  – people keep giving their passwords to trainers even when told not to.

Time passed very quickly and I’m not sure we explored the subject in sufficient depth, or from a sufficient number of perspectives. One of the great things about the camps is that the conversations go on long after the physical meetings are over. Lots of people blog about them, and then others comment on the blogs, ensuring interesting debates continue. It also allows others to join in. A good example from this session is Daniel Goodwin’s blog post which attracted further discussion and resulted in new material being posted.

Wikipedia – how volunteers can help local government

Like many people with a computer, I use Wikipedia all the time. I might begin by searching for something on Google, but frequently I find myself reading a Wikipedia article because it’s been returned as one of the top search results. I might use Wikipedia all the time, but I don’t actually know very much about it, or its many potential uses. Fortunately, there’s a man who does – Andy Mabbett aka @Pigsonthewing.

Andy Mabbett @Pigsonthewing editing a Wikipedia article
Andy Mabbett caught in the act of editing a Wikipedia article

Andy’s pitch for this session was how local government – particularly galleries, libraries, archives and museums – can make use of Wikipedia volunteers. I only managed to take a few notes during this session (I confess, I was trying out the Wikipedia iPhone app Andy demonstrated early on). A few of the points I did manage to write down: The QRpedia project is about ‘the things’ in museums and galleries. Basically, by using QR Codes visitors can be delivered a Wikipedia article on an item in the language of their choosing. I won’t attempt to explain it fully as I wouldn’t do justice to it. Besides which, Andy blogged about it in his post: Talking about GLAM, Wikipedia and QRpedia in Amsterdam and Hamburg

Andy described how he visits local government staff and managers to explain how it all works, he also offers training for both staff and volunteers. Most councils have scarce resources and use of volunteers can help museums, galleries and other facilities to realise the potential they might not have achieved otherwise. He explained that volunteers can help analyse artistic style, subject, and biographies – in his experience sometimes achieving really excellent quality. Other benefits include a reduction in the volume of basic informational requests.

Andy recommends giving a license that enables people to copy and share images. He suggested that – unless images are very famous and valuable – any lost income might easily be offset by sharing, through increased publicity and therefore footfall. He went on to discuss Wikimedia Commons which is a database of freely usable media files. Anybody can use re-use Wikipedia content – it’s all available under an open license, so is free to use with attribution The only exception is those images available under fair use.

Lots of councils have many thousands of pages on their web sites but are under pressure to reduce the volume. Andy suggests that, instead of deleting content, it could just be moved to Wikipedia instead. It does mean giving up control of the content, but the old saying: many hands make light work, applies.

I’m not quite sure how that led on to Tetranitratoxycarbon, but it was an interesting story. It tells of a ten year girl in America who built a model of a chemical not known to science. Scientists say it is hypothetically possible, and they are working to synthesise it. It is predicted to have explosive possibilities.

Explosive, only in its popularity, is Monmouthpedia which is the first Wikipedia project to cover a whole town. Andy described how the whole community has contributed to the project, which has had great support from the county council. The local press is doing an article each week about the project, and most of the shops and pubs are using QR codes in their shop windows.

I mentioned earlier that I was playing with the Wikipedia iPhone app during some of this session instead of taking notes. It’s jolly good. I love the fact that it shows you Wikipedia articles about what’s near to you now. For the sake of balance, I should also mention that there are also Wikipedia mobile apps for other devices, including Android, Blackberry and Windows.

My notes about the next bit are thin, but I did pick up that:

  • It’s totally taboo to make updates which attempt to portray you / your subject in a positive light – every page on Wikipedia has a parallel discussion page where you can state your opinion, ask questions etc.
  • There’s a separate policy for curators to enable them to write about their specialist area
  • The best inducement for Wikipedia volunteers is cake and the equivalent of a back stage tour (volunteers like to feel they are appreciated)
  • Some language teachers set their students an exercise to translate a Wikipedia article – a normal translation exercise might be thrown away afterwards, but a Wikipedia translation could potentially stay forever
  • The Wikimedia Foundation spans all the projects, which include:
    • Wikisource – source documents
    • Wikiquote – Bon mots, including correct source
    • Wikiversity – some academic institutions upload their material to it

Andy did set some homework – we all had to register with Wikipedia and edit an article. Fortunately he didn’t set the timescale, as I haven’t done mine yet. It’s on my list though.

Other stuff

As expected, I learned loads during the day. I went with an open mind and wasn’t disappointed. I met lots of interesting people and had the chance to catch up with some I knew already.

QR code advert for e-reader
An advert by Lancashire County Council featuring a nice use of a QR code

Some voices were louder – oftener – than others, which is a shame because some of the real gems came from the softly spoken and less gregarious. I particularly like the Lightning Talks where everyone gets their three minutes. I’d like to see these included in all unconferences.

Innovative use of QR codes featured throughout the day for me: When I arrived I saw them in an estate agent’s window, QRpedia reaching out to new audiences, and as I was leaving I noticed that Lancashire County Council is using them creatively, as in this example on a poster at Preston railway station.

John Popham is a real star for recording so much of the day, either on video or audio.

Ken Eastwood deserves both thanks and congratulations for making it all happen at LocalgovcampNW, as do sponsors Learning Pool and Jadu.

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism


  1. This is great reading Mark, You attended different sessions to the ones I did, so it’s really good to get some views on what took place in the other sessions. Seeing/hearing the sessions is informative, but getting an insight into someone else’s perspective adds another dimension.
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Laura. Thanks very much for commenting. I’ve been relying on other people’s blog posts for ages now so it’s nice to be able to reciprocate. Thanks, Mark

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