Thoughts from UK Gov Camp 2011
Along with around 170 other folk I gave up my Saturday and went to Microsoft in London for UKGC11 – an ‘unconference’ for people in the public sector to discuss social media, tech issues, and anything else they fancied. This was my first attendance at such an event. It will definitely not be my last. For those that have not been before imagine all the best parts from normal conferences, plus the opportunity (actually the expectation) that everyone there will hijack the agenda, run a breakout session, and create discussions and presentations on things that interest them on the fly.
The day started with an organising session, where everyone who wanted to do so made a 30 second pitch to run a session, and posted up that session on a basic grid of times and available rooms. If you want to go to a session then fine…even if that means that you have to sit on the floor at popular ones.
I went to a number of sessions, which I will hopefully post more about later. Nick Keane (Twitter @nickkeane) from the NPIA pitched for a session called #police which a few of us from police circles plus lots of others attended, and this post is about that.
The #police session covered a lot of ground – from social media and crime reporting (theme: the police are not very good at dealing with reports of online crime on sites like eBay) release of data and information (theme: the police don’t seem to want to release data, so the only solution might be to crowdsource crime data) and using social media to engage with the public (theme: this is a good thing, but need to not get caught up in a fever over one particular medium such as Twitter, and consider using hyperlocal websites set up by local communities to engage). Debate was lively and challenging at times, but always good natured. Special mentions from me go to Andy Mabbett (@pigsonthewing) for his puzzlement over why forces can’t provide details of wildlife protection officers on their websites (full story on Andy’s blog here), to David Allen Green (Twitter @davidallengreen) the lawyer in the Twitter joke trial, and to all the police folk there fielding questions – Nick Keane, Sasha Taylor (Twitter @sasha_taylor) and Amanda Neylon (Twitter @amandaneylon) – some excellent police people here!
To finish the session, Nick mentioned that the national ACPO portfolio on digital engagement were looking to get a group of senior leaders (chief constable level) together to discuss issues in this area. He asked each person in the room for their comments to pass on.
The responses were interesting, and fell into three groupings. Firstly there were those that talked about the need to use social media (either use it in the first place, or use it properly), such as:
‘have a conversation and ask what the public want from you’, ‘listen more‘ and ‘be human’. Anyone who uses social media will recognise standard advise here, but also advice that is often ignored. There was an continuation of an earlier conversation in an earlier session on hyperlocal websites, which recognised that police do not have the monopoly on police information and discussions. Hugh Flouch (Twitter @HughFlouch) from Networked Neighbourhoods summed this up as ‘Just use community websites. Think about ‘connective technologies’ rather than just social media’. This covers local radio, community websites, etc as well as Twitter and Facebook. Finally in this category there was a recognition of the realities of online conversations ‘what happens online reflects what happens offine. People may not want police in their conversations, but police should still try to engage and see what works.’
Secondly there were the strategic comments, such as:
‘create an integrated social media strategy to cover releasing public data, better websites use of social media in investigations and using the technology to engage’. One point that made a few people think was that organisations can always see the public interest in an action when it suits their specific goals, but often fail to release information when it may clash with what they are trying to achieve ‘public interest matters most when it conflicts with organisational interests’.
Although the point was conceded that some of the uses data will be put to may not match organisational aims, these will be relatively few. The challenge then is to engage with other users of our data to put our side of the story, or place issues in context rather than simply try to shut things down.‘There is a lot of unrealised potential in data. Developers can build you fun things that will blow your minds and save cash.’
There was a further comment on data, but one that I think relates to wider frustrations with public sector organisations trying too hard to manage social media. ‘publish and be damned’. Many successful social media accounts have started exactly this way, with people who probably don’t have permission sneaking Twitter or Facebook accounts under the radar and doing great things with them. That time is probably past – we now need organisations to accept that the world does things differently, and we have relinquished some control. The child might have grown up and left home, but we don’t stop having an input – it is just a different sort of input.
And then finally there were some comments about the ‘How’:
‘There needs to be knowledge sharing between forces about community engagement’. Hard to disagree with this and Communities of Practice and the (police only) Police Online Knowledge Area (POLKA) both play a part here, as do events like UKGC11, and the proposals (still under discussion) to create a CopCamp.
‘There are people such as the web managers in force who are positive and understand the technology. The challenge is to persuade the blockers in forces above them’.
And then my favourite ‘get the lead people saying we want it.’ This is key for me. Without leadership from the top there will be limited uptake. Permission is good and it helps, but leadership and role models from senior leaders is essential if people are to really feel comfortable about trying new (and potentially risky) things.
So that will do for now – hopefully some more shortly about police use of Twitter and about Hyperlocal sites. If you search for the hashtag #ukgc11 I am sure you can find many more people’s thoughts and comments on the day on Twitter and elsewhere.