Children are the best teachers…

One of the many joys of having young children is that they can teach you so much – how to enjoy simple moments, how to express yourself through dance and how to skip along to just about anything. One of the most interesting areas my children teach me most in is about how human behaviour has changed around the use of technology.

The look on my sons (7 & 5) faces tells me so much when I try to explain that when I was their age, or even a bit older – I had to wait over an hour to “hopefully” load a computer game called manic miner on the ZX Spectrum.  For them it seems to take “forever” to wait for Angry Birds or in fact any game that shows the words “loading” on the screen before you can play it….Oh and the fact trying to explain that I had to use a “cassette tape” to load the game is even more amazing…You’d think I was almost from another planet.

I personally notice this more when my children interact with my mother – not that my mother is technologically ignorant, but I do notice the difference in the language my children use and the expectation they have around specific devices or situations – e.g. every phone is assumed to have a touch screen and is connected to the internet.

A  recent example of when my children made me laugh as well as taught me a new perspective was when my youngest son Finley, who is 5 years old, came home from school one day and walked up to me as said:

“You know on the computer at school, the screen you go to, to ask questions and find things, that is called google” he then did a little dance and then turned back to me with a big smile and said “google, that is a funny word isn’t it” and continued his little dance accompanied by a very infectious giggle.

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever done is actually think about the word google…listening to my son, got me thinking that actually it is a funny word, but up until then it had only ever meant “search” to me….

Another example was when my oldest son Ewan, who is 7, started telling me some very interesting and quite detailed facts about sharks, whales and other sea creatures.  When I asked him if he had found these out via google or the internet, he replied “No Daddy, I didn’t use the computer, I read it in my Ultimate Book of Knowledge”. This made me chuckle at first, I must never assume anything, also it was naive of me to think that the only place children learn is the internet – books, yes real printed books, play a very important role in the development of children (as my school colleagues and library colleagues would testify)…As a parent, I have to let my children help me understand where the balance is…

Sometimes we have to remember that not everyone see’s the world as we do and that we stand a better chance of communicating with people if we start to appreciate the world as they see it and understand how particular things could play a role in that world.

As I say to my children often, everyday is a school day.

Gaming to re-engage boys in learning – Ted Talk

As a Dad to two boys as well as a Parent Governor at my boys school and as a fan of Gaming to help change the world, this video was pretty much certain to be on my watch list.

I’ve been fascinated with the subject of gaming for a little while now and in particular around the subject of citizen participation. A previous post titled “World of Govcraft” and its follow-up “More World of Govcraft” were inspired by Joanne Jacobs and another Ted Talks video with Jane McGonigal.

It is a very interesting video and also touches on a subject which is close to my heart (male teachers as role models) if you are interested in Education and Learning then I recommend spending the 13 minutes it takes to watch it.

Ali Carr-Chellman pinpoints three reasons boys are tuning out of school in droves, and lays out her bold plan to re-engage them: bringing their culture into the classroom, with new rules that let boys be boys, and video games that teach as well as entertain.

In a Nutshell – Reflecting on Devon’s Social Media Journey

Following on from Andrew Beeken’s post about Lincoln City Council’s Social Media Journey in response to SocITM’s Helen Williams.  I include the response that myself and Russell Taylor have provided for Devon County Council.

1. Why have you chosen to use the social media channels you have, and how did you go about building a successful presence?

We chose platforms that had a high volume of users and therefore an element of penetration with local citizens. In terms of building a successful presence, we initially reposted and fed content via the councils RSS feeds in order to learn how the tools worked and to allow time for staff to grow in confidence around using the tools appropriately. We try to ensure that content is relevant and timely as well as expanding our responses and conversation due to resource constraints.

Russell Taylor:

I think the biggest increases in our presence (followers, messages, referrals) have always been linked to the promotion of topical current events and information like elections, extreme weather, budget consultations, and campaigns etc. So we try to promote these events through our social media channels when ever it’s appropriate.

2. How are you using social media?  (e.g. corporate communications tool managed by comms / service specific news from individual services themselves / campaigns / engagement tool / customer service / promotion of the local area)

We are using social media in a variety of ways – corporately we have Facebook, twitter, vimeo, blogs, flickr and some services have also developed a presence – for example libraries have used flickr to show photos of library refurbishments. It is an evolving approach and we are constantly learning how to best take advantage of particular social media tools either through opportunities such as extreme weather or by learning from other councils or other organisations we also promote via website.

Russell Taylor:

As Carl mentioned we use social media for a number of things and learning as we go. Our earliest use was for corporate communications in Twitter and Facebook. Our press releases were published into these channels. This then expanded to include announcements/promotional messages requested from other departments/partner organisations (e.g. events, alerts and campaigns).

We also try to help other organisations spread their important messages. Our YouTube channel includes many other organisations (Emergency services, DirectGov, NHS) videos in our playlists to help increase their reach. We also retweet other organisations messages were appropriate to help spread the word on important announcements (e.g. District council updates on road closures)

3. How long have you been using social media and who is involved?

we set up twitter 2.5 years ago (not sure when Facebook was created) and is has been driven primarily by the webteam with increasing contributions from other parts of the council

Russell Taylor:

At the moment the Corporate Web Team publish most of our none automated content. However as we increase awareness of social media throughout the council more of our messages are requested by other departments. We are also in the process of training users from our Customer Service Centre so they can publish their own message and provide support.

4. Who’s in charge and do you have a strategy / policy? (eg, is it comms / web / services / corporate policy or chief execs)

We have a social media policy which is documented and approved, but do not have a formal strategy. However our unwritten strategy implicitly implied by the policy is to allow and encourage access and usage, linking to business outcomes and outputs, whilst managing and mitigating risks and reputation damage. We also encourage sharing any learning across the council and wider

No one is formally in charge although the chief executive is social media and social networking champion.

We do not currently have a web manager who would be seen as a key driver in progressing and co-ordinating this activity further

5. What benefits do you see from your efforts in this area (to your organisation or customers)?

Here are some of the benefits we have seen from using social media:

  • ability to rapidly communicate messages to a vast number of people either directly or via retweets and “likes”
  • access to low cost development tools to reduce the cost of web development in some areas (blogs etc)
  • 2 way engagement and communication with people from Devon and wider.
  • the potential to reach people who may not normally visit our main website for information.
  • ability to share richer content e.g. video, photos etc (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr)
  • mobile access – social media isn’t a 9 to 5 channel so being able to update the feed from home or on the move can be extremely useful when there is a requirement to get messages out quickly (e.g. Extreme weather/events)

6. How do you manage your social media activity? (automation, monitoring tools / software?)

For our automated messages we use RSS feeds connected through Twitterfeed. We link our Twitter and Facebook accounts using Hootsuite which we also use to monitor our mentions and references to Devon County Council.

7. What tips would you pass on to others?

Don’t try and solve every problem, start with small projects and grow and scale them up. Engage with people inside and outside of the council. Learn from others and adapt quickly. Stay positive and promote the channels via your main website

Russell Taylor:

Think about who your audience is and what information they would be interested in. Is your audience different for each social network? If so consider altering the content/tone for each. It can take time to increase followers/awareness so don’t expect too much too soon.

Learning from Devon School Closure Information

During the extreme weather in early 2010 The county council’s website struggled to keep up with the demands and high volume traffic and essentially deliver timely up to date information relating to school and route closures.

This consequently led to a review of a number of things including the performance of our website, the supporting processes and the wider business continuity plans.

A few meetings occurred which I was fortunate to be involved in and we considered a range of options about how we could respond and deal with this scenario in the future.

An example of the options we considered included:

  • SMS Solution Providers
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google Docs (spreadsheets and forms)
  • WordPress

The Approach:

The approach we settled for was to focus on improving and automating the information collection and ensuring that this was in a consistent and reusable format. Once collected the information could then be republished automatically either to the DCC site, a local school site or even to the local media

The web team in our Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) currently host and maintain approx 50% of school websites in Devon and would be able to implement a solution without too many issues.

On review it was considered that the most suitable and low-cost option would be to use Google – Total cost of development came to £240.

By using google it was possible to deliver an embedded form (which fed into a google spreadsheet) into a static HTML page with an iframe which could collate all the responses – this form would be password protected. Google also allows the content once collected to be emailed, published as a webpage or even reused via an RSS feed.

By implementing a simple PHP script the CYPS web team we were able to publish the appropriate content onto the DCC website and also to the school website without the need for a member of staff to re-enter any content.

The site is live and available at www.devonschoolclosures.info.

The process now essentially allows a Head Teacher or School Admin officer to access the form via their own website and to submit the details relating to the schools status. Once submitted the information is republished to the councils website and relevant DCC officers notified via email, all without any further manual intervention.

Learning

It was essential to ensure that the focus was always on the business issues and problems and not on the technologies themselves. To allow the techno logy to drive the solution could lead to greater risks and unforeseen issues further down the line.

By ensuring we focused on data collection and automating the process we were able to understand where new technologies could add value to the process and how they were able to facilitate a greater reuse of the data.

A new view of Corporate Web Management or is it?

I’ve been currently working on the Strategic Development Plan for the County Councils Web Channel over the last 6-8 weeks and I’m amazed by how much my own thinking has changed since I started thinking about how we move forward our web channel and web presence in the context of Big Society, Channel Migration (encouraging users to use lower cost channels such as the web over face to face), engagement, participation etc – plus the likely move towards a strategic commissioning model.

I do have a tendency to over-think things sometimes and I always value people challenging, correcting and sometimes punching me to see difference viewpoints or the missing pieces of the puzzle :o) – This is one of those areas.

Most web managers  and web professional should know that Socitm are working on a project to define a professional skills framework for people who work on public sector websites that includes:

  • programmers and coders
  • web developers (with technical skills)
  • web designers
  • content managers/editors
  • social networking experts
  • measurement/monitoring specialists
  • web marketers
  • web managers
  • customer service or IT heads with web responsibilities
  • e-communications professionals

My particular concern is around the Web Manager role as my previous post was exactly that (hence the task of writing the strategic development plan).

So if the scenario is that most public sector organisations are moving towards (some are already there of course) a Strategic Commissioning model, which also in theory will contribute to the Big Society agenda, then we actually need two types of Web Manager moving forward in my opinion:

1) A “Strategic” Web Commissioner – This would in effect be the person who wrote the strategy, understood and documented the organisational needs and specified at a high level the requirements by which a commissioning exercise could take place – they would also be responsible for monitoring the value and ensuring it delivered the outputs specified. This role would also need to set and outline the standards as part of the requirements

2) An “Operational” Web Delivery Manager – This would essentially be the person(s)  responsible for the delivery of the platform. In the scenario above this could be an external organisation or a partners ICT department.

The other roles within the skills framework above don’t seem to be impacted in the same way as all in my view with the exception of the Strategic Web Manager could be “commissioned” or more bluntly put “outsourced” – yes even content authors, although less likely!

The model is, in a simplistic way, very similar to how Web Managers operate now, they are usually outside of the delivery unit (ICT) and are often located in the business (Communications or Customer Services) and essentially commission internally developments and projects which meet a set of outcomes – well we hope they do?

However the main difference is that we will see a new relationship emerging and a logical development of the role into a more strategic context, one which in my view has to understand the commissioning process and inform and influence the direction of the channel.

To put it more simply, you are either specifying what it does, where it goes and what it looks like OR you are part of the delivery of it! Some of us will need to decide what side of that fence we want to sit, some of us of course won’t get a choice…

When it comes to Social Media, I think this adds a different dimension and will inject a much-needed strategic context for social outputs which currently  Web Managers are just grappling with. In my view this shift will provide an opportunity to get “social” into the wider organisation. This simply adds layers to collaboration, knowledge sharing, learning, communication, engagement, participation as we all already know.

To come back to the present day for a minute, I don’t see an immediate transition to this model, but I do suspect that over the next year we will start to see the Strategic Web Commissioner type role emerging and starting to inform and influence the commissioning of web services at a more senior level in councils than has previously happened.

Some people may say that this isn’t really a significant change, but something tells me that this is a big step change from how we work now and we need to work out what it means before someone else does.

As I said at the start, I’d value challenge, comments and an occasional virtual punch to either get me back on track or to make some observations that I simply haven’t considered or acknowledged here.