Another LocalGovCamp another brilliant event. As always, it’s a chance to catch up with the people I follow and converse with on twitter. Those hardy bunch of masochists who are trying to do things in Local Government differently, better, with the new tools that they have found.
This year there was a different feel to the thing. It feels like we’re making progress, the conversations have moved on from how to use Twitter and applying Agile. Those topics were useful, but now they are just the job in hand.
I attended some fascinating sessions and had some fantastic conversations including:
Led by Liz Stevenson and Catherine Howe we discussed the growing gap between the what Councils and corporates are doing in the area of data sensing, gathering, analysing and sharing and what systems and platforms are supporting citizens doing the same. It seems that data is being captured about us and our shared spaces with little input from or visibility by us.
During the discussion it was mentioned by someone (sorry, missed your name) that much of the research being produced in Europe is highlighting the need for openness in Smart Cities projects, however this seems to be getting lost in translation when getting implemented in the UK.
I certainly feel that this is the case. There appears to be a lack of consideration about how the public will be able to use the sensor networks that are being implemented.. And I don’t just mean getting access to the data archives, but how people and organisations get to build apps on the sensor networks and displays.
Carrie Bishop suggested a session on how the rise of 3D printing might impact local authorities. I attended simply because I had no idea whatsoever. Some interesting ideas came up, first was that assisted living and social care devices could be customised. Examples were given of hand grips that were ‘moulded’ to the person’s grip and remodeling switches and buttons to be easier to use or more familiar.
One participant (I think it was Esko Reinikanen) talked about the potential for a local authority to get ahead of the market and support the development of a local centre of excellence in the emerging 3D printing and Fab Lab industry. I think he was inferring that by giving local digital creative people access to the technologies, they could develop the skills that will be needed in future. This sounded like an excellent proposition for any council who have a dispersed creative industry.
There was a question about the potential moral objections to 3D printing technologies and a valid point was made that, at present, it seems like a technology that will simply fuel disposable consumerist behaviours in the developed world (where product distribution is not an issue)
I was most interested when Ben Proctor helped me make a leap of scale and talked about the possibility of printing prototype houses. The thought that a 3D printer could be scaled up to let us produce prototypes for things that we currently have to imagine or visualise illustrates the power of the concept over simply customisation to meet the preferences of an over-privileged consumerist few.
I lead a session in which I hoped to find out what barriers there would be to using crowd-funding style models or platforms to facilitate local councils or social enterprises co-funding projects that would not otherwise get off the ground. Granted, it’s quite a stretch to jump from taking $20 from 50,000 individuals to using similar techniques to get a dozen councils to provide a few thousand pounds each to develop a new online tool or carry out a pilot project, but I hoped we would work out whether it was even feasible.
The group pointed out some significant issues. First that current procurement rules requires any spend greater than £500 to go through a competitive tendering process and secondly that councils already enter into local consortia to do this kind of collaborative purchasing. Unfortunately, it seems that both of these processes are quite long winded and cumbersome, if not completely broken.
However, the group moved on to discussing the possibility of using crowd-funding platforms to raise money for activities that would be considered non-essential and, under current economic pressures, would simply be cut. The discussion centred around the benefits (greater ownership and engagement in community activities) and the problems (effectively introducing voluntary taxation and the lack of any in built redistribution of wealth). However, it was clear that many thought that crowd-funding has great potential for communities either through councils or just with its support.
My last session of the day was chosen almost at random. The post-it note simply said ‘Stories’ and I was half hoping for a nice relaxing Jack-a-nory session to round off the day. As it turned out Peter McClymont was leading a discussion on the use of story formats in council comms.
Council communications is one of the topics I tend to steer clear off, but I was drawn in by Pete’s experience of using local blogger tweets, official council sources and Storify to create their coverage of the recent Olympic Torch procession. Pete talked about how, with hindsight, he would’ve starting documenting the story from earlier as much of the interesting issues were in the early days of negotiating the procession with LOCOG.
While I could appreciate that Pete and many other teams are doing great things with the new tools at their disposal to create more interesting and compelling, I was feeling a little disruptive at the end of the day and so I asked whether it should be the job of the comms team to find the stories not just in what the council does, but in the things that the community does.
So instead of being a service to the council, communicating to the citizens the value that the council delivers (with pictures of councillors cutting red ribbons on things they spent citizens money on), they could actually deliver value directly to the citizens by bringing visibility to the civic activity that they do.
After a few minutes of puzzled looks I saw a few nods (and tweets) of agreement, but it was Si Whitehouse that pointed out the need for comms teams to also find stories in council data, to provide some context or counterargument to the prevailing ‘truths’ that are commonly used to influence opinion or drive policy.
It was interesting that no-one suggested that it’s actually the role of local journalism to do both of those things - but perhaps that’s a discussion for an entirely different conference. #localjournocamp anyone?