Bins, mags, shops and more: Talk About Local at #LocalGovCampNW

Local Government Camp-ers braved the wintry NW weather at the weekend for a get together of collaborative plotting and just a teeny bit of geekery. Mike, Sarah and Karen from Talk About Local took part – here’s some of our post camp thoughts.

Session on council magazine publications
Mike says…..The session on magazines & social media run by Kate Norman (@sarahkatenorman) was broadly following on from a session at a Local by Social event in Blackburn last year. The discussion was about the loss of council ‘newspapers’ was this really a loss and could people find a better way of getting information out to residents. Kate showed us, the site that she created after the Blackburn event.

Following on with this the discussions were split in to two different camps, the Local Gov people saying that they had either stopped the council publication, scaled it back and or were keeping it as is.

The other camp, the hyperlocal people, suggested that maybe councils should stop the publications and help to organise ‘community editors’ to aggregate content on a local level, maybe as low as ward level, the content could then be printed with the funding and support of the local council who would have their content added in return for the funding.

Council publications are a knotty problem, I personally don’t like them because they tend to be a bit like Pravda and only telling you how great your council is. That said, a lot of people do like them for the statutory information they carry.

Session on bin collection data
Sarah says……….Hosted by Garry Haywood(@_garrilla) this session looked at how best to persuade local authorities to share their data about waste collections – not simply provide a search on the official council website, but release the data so that it’s available to whoever wants it. It might seem a relatively uncontroversial and extremely relevant dataset to release but no-one in the room had come across any councils which had done this. The advantages for the council which the group came up were numerous and included:
– cutting the costs involved in answering calls in the event of missed rounds/service changes
– ability to create apps at low or no cost from data developers/enthusiasts
– one central API to notify a host of services/sites/apps so cutting staff time.

A few tweets later and it seemed that the ball might have started rolling – first Shropshire got in touch with this, then Hull council started some local conversations and expressed interest in the idea and finally Eden. So do we have lift off? I’d certainly like to keep the conversation going so count me in if we can help move this agenda on in any way.

Session on Occupying Social Media
Karen says………this session was hosted by John King ( and Kevin Campbell-Wright ( What I got out of this session was the idea of being digitally disruptive. With organisations, both public and private, there is often a hesitancy in getting involved in using social media. Mention setting up a twitter account to interact and connect with the public/customers and The Management can sometimes react with the need to set up a top-down list of rules and regulations. It was suggested in this session that sometimes the best way to approach introducing social media is to lead by example and just do it. By demonstrating the engaging use of social media this way it can remove some of the fears that may be held.

When we hold our talk about local training sessions a frequent question is ‘What if someone says something bad about us?’. This was discussed in the session as well. People are talking about companies anyway – whether they have a social media presence or not. By giving yourself a platform and being online you have the ability and the power to address those people directly, acknowledge their concerns and talk about what you are going to do to address them. From our experience in the cases of running hyperlocal sites, the fear of a negative comment far outweighs the chance of it actually happening.

We were directed to a website called Positive Deviancy. It’s well worth a look “Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges”

Session on Hyperlocal High Streets
Sarah says………this was my latest bash at this topic which has become close to our hearts at Talk about Local (read a previous blog post on the subject here).
The group talked through some of the issues which have been thrown into focus during The Portas Review such as competing with out of town shopping, retail that’s geared to the needs of local pockets ( shops), the need for action on rents, help in understanding online opportunities and support for a community hub of some sort, a place offering more than just shopping. The enormity of the challenge seemed quite overwhelming at times – the number of different interest groups who’d have to come together to effect change in itself a  daunting prospect – but the discussions sparked some interesting conversations including the idea of using an empty shop somewhere as a sort of pop-up community hub.

I’m keen to pursue that further and am following a couple of leads from the group.  Anyone reading this who is involved with a community group which likewise wants to pursue the idea of running a pilot project – we’d love to hear from you to see if we could help join some of those dots and get hyperlocal in your high street!

Lack of use of technology by councillors and members
Mike says….. My final session, this was pitched by Judith Derbyshire @ruralgurn who is an elected member for Penrith North.

This was an interesting discussion with Judith asking for help on different ways she could use technology in her role as a Councillor. She really wants to do really simple things like have meeting agendas & documents on her iPad and be able to annotate them so she has notes for the meeting.

Currently the way that Judith can access any of her council documents is to use the Citrix connection to the council network when what she really wants to do is have the documents in something like Google Docs so she can read them on-line add notes to them and even collaborate with other members. All this of course is strictly forbidden by the IT department due to ‘security issues’.

It was pointed out by Judith herself that the bigger security issue was her carrying large bundles of papers around and leaving them in her car for example.

I said the ‘security issues’ line was started about 25 years ago to stop people asking questions of IT departments because people didn’t understand the technology. Now most people who are digitally connected understand the associated risks, so the ‘security issues’ line is no longer relevant, but nobody has come up with something new to use yet…

The discussion covered a whole host of points around applications that ‘could’ be used if the council were a little more open or *cough* they didn’t know *cough*.  Password security and wifi in council chambers.

There were no right or wrong answers other than Councils really need to be looking towards technology & cloud solutions for people to be able to better collaborate on-line. The London Borough of Hillingdon and their plan to migrate to Google Apps for Enterprises in February 2012 was also mentioned

Digital Inclusion session
Karen says…… What was highlighted for me was that not everybody will use internet access in the same way. Not only is it important to enable more people to get online and at least have the option to tap into the internet, but we also have to show people how to use it. The case of the elderly was brought up and how it’s a good idea to take some time out to show someone how it works, but an important thing to bear in mind is to ask them “what do you want to do?” and not make any presumptions. For some people it may be enough that they have wikipedia at their finger tips, or they can write an email, or research the family tree or simply watch videos. It was also noted that the equipment used can play a part in whether someone will adapt easily to the internet and the iPad, with it’s simplicity to use, was mentioned as a very low barrier instrument to get older people online.

* There’s a collection of some of the links, tweets, videos and pix on here too.

* Andy Mabbett @pigsonthewing has curated a list of links here