Can communications professionals help reinvent what it means to be an elected representative? If that question strikes you as Sir Humphrey calling the shots in a Yes Minister style scenario, the discussion captured here on video about the role of the 21st century head of communication will be an eye-opener.
“Coach, mentor, leader, trainer, storyteller, data intelligence, listener, enabler, wheeler-dealer, an educator ” the list of roles which the group felt now makes up the modern day ‘comms’ job is daunting, with the rise of digital forms of communication adding ever increasing layers if complexity to the job in hand.
This session was one of several along the same theme pitched at the recent CommsCamp13 in Birmingham. The event was run as an unconference I.e. the attendees decide the agenda on the day by volunteering to pitch sessions on topics the feel important and relevant.
It’s a process many attending were well versed in – it’s also the format we use at our annual Talk About Local unconference – and provides an opportunity for everyone to get involved.
Or does it?
As the volunteer speakers pitched their wares, one delegate, Lorna Prescott, spotted a trend – plenty of men happy to get up and pitch, but fewer women.
Grasping the opportunity she took the plunge and pitched a session on ‘why don’t women pitch?’. I joined the 11 other women and one man (two more did arrive later) to consider the issue and heard some fascinating insights.
There seemed to be a feeling in the room that women were reluctant to present themselves as the experts they were in a situation where they didn’t know the other participants – and in some cases there was even a fear of the other women being their harshest critics. I know from my own experience how frustrating it can be to find women’s voices absent from technology discussions along with the ‘normality’ of all-male panels at events I attend, so it was heartening to hear one delegate quoting Madeline Albright:
There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.
The slides here are from a session I hosted on five ideas on turning data into usable items for communities. The group who participated were interested in how to make data meaningful in their local areas and had good insights from their on the ground experiences.
An aspect of our conversation I found worrying, from the point of view of someone passionate about transparency, is what happens to the data when services are hived off to non-public bodies? Who is ensuring service agreements are keeping that data open to us all? Who will prevent that public information from being hidden or available only for paid services? Our elected representatives? Or will it be those comms people?
It strikes me that the hastily constructed list of skills and roles mentioned above in the 21st century comms role will already out of date if it doesn’t move to embrace the potential of open data.
The challenges and opportunities opening data for an increasingly active and informed public presents will surely need to lie at the heart of those comms roles going forward.
Other links to CommsCamp coverage
– Resources and bright ideas on the Comms Camp blog
– John Popham created a live stream of some sessions which are archived here.
– The tweets and Flickr pictures from the day are captured on this Noticeboard I set up here.
– Video interviews with participants from Andrew Brightwell are here.
If you’ve got a link I’ve missed, please feel free to add it via the comments below.