Content, Stories, Networks, Relationships and Trust

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I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot lately around the future of local government (a recent post here) and the “inevitable doom and gloom” [PDF Warning ] that awaits us all in the coming years. It really isn’t healthy to maintain focus on that future for too long, but It has made me think about what I’m doing and more importantly why I am doing what I do.

I’ve also been thinking and reflecting a lot about content, not just the traditional content you find on local authority websites but compelling content, content that provokes ideas, ideas that are contagious and then become stories, which in turn contributes to changing behaviours and transforms local services.

In my work at Public-i I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about networks and networks of networks and the power and potential of networks to help connect and reconnect people online and offline

In various situations I’ve been thinking and reflecting about relationships and the importance of trust. As people and organisations everything we say and do is a representation of who we are and it is only when we create relationships built on this authenticity that we can attract others and foster the bonds that will empower us to achieve truly great things.

In this post I’m going to try to bring this thinking together as it is very much all part of the same picture in my mind…

Content and Stories

Last week whilst in Brighton I spoke to Matt Bond (Cornwall Council) about stories and related things and he pointed me in the direction of Coca Cola’s new content excellence programme and the excellent videos they’ve produced which explain what they mean…

What struck me was the focus on stories, provocative stories as way to affect change. I recommend watching the videos yourself to gain your own insights but I’ve included some of mine below

Part 1

Part 2

Some of the key points for me are below, although the whole thing is very useful in a number of situations…however in the context of this post the following stood out…

  • stories provoke conversations
  • we need to act and react to conversations
  • technology can enable brilliant creativity
  • exploit existing community behaviours
  • story telling is at the heart of families and communities
  • we need provocations that will lead to bigger transformational actions
  • data is key to this and will become the soil of which ideas will grow
So our challenge is to not only transform our content around our services to make it easier for people to interact digitally, but also to transform our content so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Networks

In relation to networks I think about Citizenscape as a platform, it is aiming to address the heart of these issues, in the projects where it is used, it is really about fostering empowerment within communities and networks online and offline. I recently blogged about my views on this here. A particular quote which comes to mind in the context of this post is:

So when you consider this and then what Citizenscape states its value is, the value isn’t directly in the technology itself (although without it, it would be pretty empty) but in the connections, the networks, the communities that are now able to come together and share learning, to reconnect at a civic level to address local issues and problems. The key role for the platform (Citizenscape) is to facilitate those connections, without it those networks may not get the chance to reconnect.

So our challenge is to understand what networks and what networks of networks exist with our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Relationships and Trust

When I focus on relationships and trust, I think about an example that I was fortunate to see last friday at the DCCSMF (Social Media Forum), where a couple of local PCSO’s (Police Community Support Officers) came and shared their learning around connecting with communities. One explained how his use of social technologies as well as physically meeting people face to face helped build a relationship and trust within his community.
Devon Social Media Forum 2012

The another PCSO shared his experience which wasn't about technology but in understanding where the networks were and simply connecting with them...In his case it was simply going to the local primary school at the beginning and end of each day to connect with the local parents. This approach has started to build relationships and trust.

The reality is and this is really obvious, but it takes time and more importantly effort to build relationships and trust and if we want to seriously address the challenges facing us over the next 8-10 years we need to start building new relationships, networks and fostering trust now to begin to have a chance.

I've said it before that it is all about people and that comes through explicitly in this great video by Simon Sinek called if you don't understand people, you don't understand business.

So our challenge is to develop those relationships and levels of trust and to connect them to the networks and networks of networks within our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

The questions ?

All of this brings me back to the future of local government and local public services.

  • Can we create content and share stories which provoke conversations that will lead to bigger transformational actions?
  • Are we actually capable of engaging with the content and stories as consumers and have conversations which trigger bigger transformational action?
  • We need to ask ourselves - even if we can identify networks and networks of networks and we can connect them, as members of those networks ourselves, are we prepared to engage in the challenges and are we capable of acting creatively?
  • As individuals and as professional people we will continue to develop relationships and trust - are we prepared to use it to change and influence the way our communities and networks operate, grow, develop and respond to the challenges facing us over the next few years?

Finally...

This isn't a political question, this is question for every one of all ages.

I am personally reflecting on what these questions mean to me as an individual, as a parent, a husband, a friend and as a professional person - It isn't easy, but it isn't supposed to be, it will be hard, we need to prepare for this and stand up to the challenge.

The alternative simply isn't worth considering, we must imagine and create a sustainable future.

Further developing the Content Strategy

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It has been a fascinating process developing the councils first content strategy, the personal learning and development which I’ve had to do as well as helping others understand the benefits of what we are calling a content strategy has also been an interesting and rewarding challenge.

In an email conversation with Sarah Lay (my unofficial content strategy peer review person) we touched on the issue of whether the content strategy I am creating is actually what the content strategy community would recognise as one…we both agreed and concluded that it didn’t really matter, as long as it did the job!

We touched on the fact that in #localgov we are really getting to a point where a group of disciplines are coming together and depending on your organisation it is likely to approach it slightly differently.

The types of things the content strategy is informing, linking to and dependant on are (in no particular order):

  • Communications strategy
  • Engagement Strategy
  • ICT Strategy
  • Information Strategy
  • Access Strategy

It has replaced a traditional web strategy altogether in my mind as we recognise that the “web” as a platform is essentially how we will manage our ICT infrastructure.

So unpicking the old web strategy further, a new strategy which is the responsibility of my ICT colleagues is an Application Strategy – this is essentially the strategy that informs our delivery of online services.

In my informal consultation on the draft content strategy, it has become clear that:

a) everyone agreed with the spirit of the document but it relied on conversation and explanation to answer people’s questions as they weren’t found in the document < but this is what the process was intended to tease out.

b) I didn't clearly articulate the strategic direction and focused too much on the 2 year roadmap < people were actually more engaged in where we are going than I had anticipated.

c) people didn't understand some aspects of what it is being proposed and the full extent of how we would apply a global experience language < My view is that it will be a complete rule book covering our web domain and not just the visual design of it, it will also form a critical and core part of a future procurement and commissioning framework for web/digital stuff.

One of the benefits of developing a content strategy is that I don't feel we need a social media strategy now. If we get the content strategy correct then our use of social media platforms to increase the engagement and interaction with our content will naturally increase…this does not mean that our use of social media will simply go crazy…but more than we will focus on the needs of the content, where the audience is and how we connect our content with the audience…the logical conclusion is that it won't be on our website but in social spaces.

And it is this strategic direction which people are really supportive of and are really engaged with…I've got one more week of informal consultations then a period of refinement and amendments on my document (which I've already started) then the content strategy will be ready for formal sign off internally by our corporate leadership team (gulp).

The next few weeks are going to be interesting.

Do we really need web managers?

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Now this is a question that has bothered me for some time and has caused me to question the validity of my job.

I want to ensure that my councils websites is one which can benefit and deliver efficiencies for the organisation and one which provides services and information for our customers. A simple vision but one which is way out of my scope as a web manager.

I of course have influence on aspects of the website, style, tone, design (although branding is more important). But when it comes to range of services and what people really want to do in terms of performing tasks, this is something that a service manager needs to be engaged in and needs to decide whether they wish to spend their service budget on a channel that for some is still unknown. When we don’t have huge amounts of information about the types of online customers we have and serve.

My dilemma and perhaps cause for confusion is that the web is too broad an area to be managed by just one person, a web manager and their team.

When the web is in fact at the heart of a range of existing disciplines in the council.

  • Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at.
    In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
  • Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
  • Information Management (metadata and taxonomy) – This is the field of information specialists and we also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
  • Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
  • Design – last but not least, a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.

How can a web manager truly manage all of those aspects to ensure that the website as a whole develops consistently and in a usable way. They would need to be multi-disciplined and have a wide range of knowledge or they focus on one area and do that well.

It maybe that what we need is effective governance and key people from each specialist area to ensure that we can deliver a multichannel approach. Not to cut myself out and sell myself short, i have managed to do elements of this co-ordination for the past 4 years, but that is all it has been – “Co-ordination”, it has not been about truly managing the website as a strategic platform for business and staff. Perhaps my dilemma is that iu ahve outgrown my role instead of it out-growing me.

The web needs to be mainstreamed into everyday business thinking and when that happens you won’t need a web manager as it becomes part of how we work.  However you will need all those specialist areas to focus on the wider picture.

I could be tempting fate but stating such things but this is my dilemma, i welcome your thoughts