Conference

As I try and read on the train home, I open my eyes, close, and re-open them to different versions of what seems like the same semi-industrial town. Words about structures and governance, and funding punctuate the blurred flashes of anonymous trees and unknown fields.

I wondered how many of the people I’ve explained myself to over the last three days represent the areas that cover the stations at which we don’t stop. Between Derbyshire, Chesterfield, and Wakefield. The shires and the fields evoke visions of the towns and parishes, and the evening session I attended on Localism, and what is next for Localism as devolution doubles, and brexit troubles. 

The session consisted of a panel where each member introduced their view on what’s next for Localism. It was organised by NALC, an organisation that are new to me, like many at the conference were.

I was drawn to this session. They spoke my language, and reinforced my worldview, but most of all they invited me and told me there’d be wine. I will read the report with interest when I get back to work on my PhD, but for now I must turn my thoughts, and my heel, as London and the Cabinet Office beckons.

How can a non-designer approach design work without pretending to be a designer?

First of all, I’m not a designer. So my way of approaching design was to find something that didn’t involve Pantone mugs, Apple Macintosh computing equipment or learning to draw!

photo credit: robhawkes

So here I take a look at some approaches to design work that don’t take the designer as genius, or take a traditional participatory approach, but try and look at the design process from the experience of the people who the design is for.

My boss Pete Wright and his writing partner McCarthy’s (2010) idea of a humanist vision of design was a good guiding light for me when I started thinking about approaching design.  The Malmo Living Lab stance of, “attending to values of agency, democracy, equality, and choice” is both commendable and something I aspire to, although as I have protested on many occasions, the idea of democracy through design remains problematic for me.

So, what is experience-centred design?

Wright & McCarthy suggest:

the excitement in experience-centred design is the impulse to use these developments to give people the chance to have a richer life, to include people who might otherwise feel excluded, to ensure everyone has a chance to have their say especially those who feel voiceless.

This idea of an equality of ideas and social computing enacting the conditions of equality is an area close to my research agenda.

Design as theory

I am warming to the idea of design as theory and sympathise with the notion that “any designed technology embodies assumptions (made by designers) about how the system will be used. In this sense a technology itself is both a theory of and a hypothesis about use. It is a question put to the user by the designer.” Paul Dourish (2001) looks to phenomenology to ground his theory for HCI as embodied interaction. This type of design approach focuses on situated interaction and meaning making. The co-creation of meaning, particularly through dialogic means is a framework for understanding which I feel happily espouses both social computing and HCI, as described as experience-centred design.

‘Beautiful things work better’

Emotion is the cement that holds action together. I believe there is certainly more to design than usability, and we should focus on the experiences of people living with technology rather than just using it. Forlizzi and Batterbee (2004), in order to rationalise this, attempted to distinguish three types of experience: experience, an experience, or co-experience. Alongside this, I understand co-creation of meaning as an experience. As well as experiences that are shared between people, the co-creation of meaning can be constructed as an experience.

If technology is an experience that begins with the idea of sense-making, we reach a problematic juncture where we might try to understand how people make sense of things. How they experience the world, or a situation, or a technology.

Experience as social

Sense making is ‘irreducibly’ social. There is not room here to discuss the myriad psychologists’ and philosophers’ concepts on this, but we should understand that there are many things (other people, media, past) at play which will likely affect the way a person makes sense of the world.

Even when two people co-experience something it is impossible to say if their experiences were alike. Forlizzi and Battarbee (2004) discuss a framework for understanding human experience to inform design. This is useful as long as we understand that human experience cannot be measured. We can categorise types of experience but cannot objectively determine how that experience is felt, even conversation analysis is a process of subjective interpretations that one can only understand through their own experience. Through how they make sense of the world.

References

Dourish, P. (2001). Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing. Human–Computer Interaction, 16(2-4), 229-241.

Forlizzi, J., & Battarbee, K. (2004). Understanding experience in interactive systems. In Proceedings of the 5th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (pp. 261-268). ACM.

Wright, P., & McCarthy, J. (2010). Experience-centered design: designers, users, and communities in dialogue. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, 3(1), 1-123.

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Social computing, trust and social capital

Increasingly, people are looking to each other, rather than corporations, for news, guidance, advice and support. A lack of trust in large organisations, and a general sociological move towards bottom-up networks of support has grown in recent years.

Society and computing technologies have influenced each other, and continue to do so. Social computing: from social informatics to social intelligence by Wang et al (2007), consider a move away from information to intelligence in social computing. Large corporations like Amazon and EBay, among others have moved away from what they recommend for you, to what other people have done. Not, ‘here’s what we think you might like’, but, ‘here’s what other customers bought’.

“Netflix’s recent…competition is one indication of the significance and business value of improving recommendation quality.” (Wang at al, 2007)

Many other websites have adopted platforms ‘for the consumer community to share experiences collectively and influence their purchasing behaviour’; for example Vanish, where consumers swap tips on how which of the product range works best for specific stains.

Vanish-Tip-Exchange-900x600

Social media platforms have changed the dynamic between organisations and consumers forcing companies to adopt. Companies can no longer control the discussion about their brand (see Waddington & Earl, 2012 or this old blog post).

In the public sector ‘people are increasingly connecting with online…communities.’ Newman et al (2011)

I believe that the move to online communities is a symptom of what I describe above. Particularly in health where often people who have lived with an illness become the ‘expert’ on their disease, it really makes sense for them to seek advice and support from each other rather than the medical professional. Particularly, as Newman et al found with “emotional support when dealing with difficult health issues.”

I believe that in both the private and public sector ICT and society have influenced each other to create platforms where people’s opinions are of more value than large corporation (for different reasons). Previously my research has been around using social media to enact civil society for improving communication, participation and engagement between communities of individuals and local governments.

Social computing and innovation; creating or reinventing platforms to empower people to share their opinions, knowledge and advice, is an area where I hope to shape my future research. It was interesting to hear Newman’s perspective on the creation of social capital through online health communities.

References

Newman, M. W., Lauterbach, D., Munson, S. A., Resnick, P., & Morris, M. E. (2011, March). ‘It’s not that i don’t have problems, I’m just not putting them on Facebook: challenges and opportunities in using online social networks for health’. In Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 341-350). ACM.

Waddington, S., & Earl, S. (2012). Brand Anarchy: Managing Corporate Reputation. A&C Black.

Wang, F. Y., Carley, K. M., Zeng, D., & Mao, W. (2007). Social computing: From social informatics to social intelligence. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 22(2), 79-83.

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G-Force: Or, what goes up must come down

One from the archive…

johnsonpublic

Every social network site has a life cycle. Some last longer than others but there will always be something bigger, better, faster, stronger waiting in the wings. Have a listen to this delightful song as you read my take on it all.  My delve into the brave new world of Google+.

Everyone, at some time in their lives goes through a stage when they realise they are set in their ways; stuck in a routine (comfortable). It can happen when you’re in a relationship; you can plan out the week by what you’re having for dinner, or what television programmes you’ll sit and eat it in front of (I know, but we all do it, the table has got the ironing pile on and the laptop is charging). It happens with the places you go too.

BocaDorada “would you like your usual?”
Image courtesy of BocaDorada

When you’re young you…

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The medium is the message; or, the machines are taking over.

johnsonpublic

As figures for online news consumption soar, and newspaper circulations dwindle, I consider the idea that social media acted as the catalyst to get the masses involved with reading online news.

1960s popular culture Image by Nesster 1960s popular culture
Image by Nesster

In 1964 there was a growing fear in the western world. The atom bomb? L.S.D? JFK? Maybe; but in particular, perhaps echoed in the other suggestions, there was an anxiety about machines taking over and making humans redundant, at least in employment terms, although, a night spent watching 1960’s movies would suggest unemployment was the least of their worries.

The relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s well-worn enigmatic paradox of smart-arsery is arguably (in the sense that I will put the argument to anyone that will listen) more poignant now than it ever was in the days of free-love. The medium is the message, just like Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’…

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Rhetorical Symmetry: I tweet, therefore I am.

johnsonpublic

Twitter has helped promote a democracy of ideas Twitter has helped promote the democratisation of ideas

Twitter is the agency for the realisation of true rhetorical symmetry. It has forged a forum where the equality of ideas is nurtured and promoted, and where all participants are involved in the co-creation of shared meaning.

‘Shared meaning, a vital outcome of public relations, results when each market, audience, or public that has a stake in some matter co-creates meaning through dialogue.’ (Heath 2001)

Rhetorical symmetry is the idealistic notion that each idea contested in public has an equality of strength. It is ethical because it empowers participants to engage. It bypasses the market-like struggle for superiority, where the luxury of having the ability to speak loudest to the largest audience (the traditional media) is subverted, empowering the voices of everyone.

The outcome is favoured at the expense of the process.Photography by Matt Fowler The outcome is favoured at the expense of the process.
Photography by Matt Fowler

The traditional media, in the days…

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5 things I’ll miss about local goverment comms

As I come to the last couple of weeks at my role in local goverment I have become, some might say, uncharacteristically reflective. I know it’s the right thing to do for me; now, but there are some things I will really miss. I have many things to take away with me that make me feel as proud as a man who’s grown a giant melon!
Melon

1. It’s fantastically diverse
One can be in a serious case review on Monday, on a boat in the North Sea on Tuesday, having stakeholder relations with protest groups on Facebook on Wednesday, mediating between schools, the media, senior officers and eleceted members on results day on Thursday and running fun competitions and ordering T-shirts for our first free music festival on Friday. Yes, that was my week this week, and delightfully; it is typical.

Boating in Blyth

2. Being forced into creativity by budgets (or lack of)
Most people who come to us come with a solution. We have to get them to rethink this and come with a problem to which we will have a solution. Then you get to the real challenge: ‘so what’s the budget?’ ‘Er, nothing!’

3. Embracing technology (see 2)
I do not mean digital by default to thoughtlessly save money. I mean genuine creative solutions that truly embrace new mediums and new ways of communicating with residnets on their terms in a way that encourages two-way communication and relevant engagement.

4. The scope of personnel
As I touched on in the first point. I cant think of any other job where one deals with elected members, senior officers, managers, front line officers, ordinary people, extraordinary people, animals, royalty, business owners, artists, and more, where you are in control and the voice of authority. It’s a strange situation, speaking knowledge to power, with someone who earns quarter of a million pounds a year, or is the leader of a council, but that’s all part of the job, when it’s done well.

5. The people
Yes I know, its sadly predictable. But it’s true. I’ve had a whale of a time and learned so much from dedicated, passionate, often inspiring people who find creative solutions to problems with moral integrity and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain.

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7 ways to better do corporate social media

Forbes (@Forbes), the famous American business magazine and perennial taxonomists, recently stated: “The strength of your social media presence will directly impact your brand, products and services with respect to their position online.” Everyone can have an account, but getting it right is a different matter. Here is my take on staying clear of the pitfalls, based on my experiences.

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1. Don’t ignore people, or give the wrong information. You should be able to be trustworthy and transparent.

Your customer service team, service areas and people on the ground are the real experts. Have a system for being able to contact these people and get the information in a timely manner. If it is not quicker than a phone or post query, there is no point in doing it.

2. Have a policy on when to engage.

I’m not saying you need a social media policy! Liam Barrington-Bush has written a marvellous book (see this blog) about how social media policy is based on a mistrust of adults, and if you cannot trust the employees in your organisation, they shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. However, I will say; responding to every comment is simply not viable. Sometimes a rant is just that; a rant, and people won’t expect a reply. However, if misinformation or misleading information is given, it’s probably best to link to or refer to a source of factual information.

3. Don’t just have one or two people who know how to, or have permission and training to respond with social media.

If you can’t cover holidays, sick days and lunch breaks, you are letting your audience down, and could be undoing the good work that has been done. Anyone who is willing and able to communicate on these channels should be trained and ready to step in or take over.

4. Don’t have everyone doing it, it should be coordinated and on message.

At the same time, don’t just give everyone access without the proper training. Messages should be coordinated and on message, as temping as it seems to create a genuine democracy where all voices are heard, be careful. There haver been some great examples of this working well, such as @sweden (curatorsofsweden.com) but this is not right for all organisations, and may not be right for yours.

5. Use images, video and have a sense of personality.

The most clicked on posts contain images and videos (click here). You should be doing it too, this could be a great opportunity to raise the profile of representatives of your organisation, and give a human face to an organisation. Again, there are several pitfalls to using video but with a bit of care and a decent bit of kit (tripod is essential!), it’s an excellent and cheap form of communication.

6. Let your audience know who is tweeting or posting. Again, this is personal and your audience is more likely to engage, which, after all is the main idea, is it not?

This is simple, and not everyone will agree with me here, but I think it helps create the feeling of a human face to an otherwise faceless organisation. Also, it gives your audience a chance to have an alternative contact if they cannot get a response from the corporate account.

7. Always check that a hashtag is not already used. This could end up being embarrassing, confusing, or illegal.

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This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many times this has gone wrong. Also keep them short and snappy. Don’t need to have #Worldaidsday2014 when #WAD14 would do the same job. Look at this post from earlier this year on comms2point0 by Mike Underwood, communications officer at Charnwood Borough Council. Similarly, although with far less humour, we used a hashtag which was also being used by a big event in America, causing a little confusion for the public, but also playing havoc with our monitoring tools. Also, make sure you have someone with a slightly dirtier mind than you check it. We all know what happened to Susan Boyle’s album party (#susanalbumparty).

Teaching new dogs old tricks: my year as an intern

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This blog first appeared on adaywithoutoj.com, and was written as part of a collection of works looking into the benefits of internships in PR. As I am approaching my the one year anniversary since starting at the council, at the end of this month, I thought I would share.

After finishing my Master’s degree in June, the opportunity to do an internship at Northumberland County Council was presented to me by an attentive lecturer. He told me, based on my interest and enthusiasm for democratic PR and my desire to move into Government communications, it was just the thing for me.

The idea of embarking a new job, in the midst of writing my dissertation, needed some careful consideration. I’d worked part-time as an English teacher during the taught part of my degree, and was fully aware of the pressures of time management, but he was right – this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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I’d heard a lot about the communications work at the council, and had studied the Northumberland Alerts Twitter feed during a social media assignment. So I started in June with about seven weeks to dissertation hand in.

It turned out to be a masterstroke (even if I do say so myself). While my classmates were amassing hours of time researching, interviewing and collating data, I had it all at my fingertips! As I stated earlier, my passions and interests centre on government communications and the relationship between democracy and social media. Being at the council gave me access to case studies and all the information I could ever want from the website team, who are way ahead of the game when it comes to analytics.

With the help of  the web manager and the rest of the team, my dissertation became a willing bed fellow to my practice. They complimented each other and generally just flirted outrageously.

So, I bid farewell to my dissertation at the end of the summer, by which time I felt settled and at home in the communications office. This was no accident either. The team made sure that I could be myself from day one, and the bespoke nature of the internship ensured that I understood exactly what was expected from me, and what I could get from the experience.

I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been an intern before, but the amount of responsibility and workload depends completely on the individual. In my case, and to my surprise, I found myself loving the press side of things – I’d always fancied myself more on the web and social media side of things.
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I got to lead on a few campaigns, including the successful ‘Don’t Stand for It’ campaign, where we created a genuine dialogue with residents, and got them on our side to tackle a community problem that blights the county. The key aims of the campaign was to change residents’ perceptions of the authority, and get people to use our online reporting system, rather than phone the council, or indeed, simply complain to their friends, or even worse, on our social media channels. The campaign increased online reporting by over 200% putting it in the top five things people do on the website, and a survey showed a change in opinion towards the way the authority dealt with the problem.

The experience overall has been invaluable. Friedrich Nietzsche, a really clever German man, once wrote: the doer alone learneth; and my internship has put that theory to the test. As much as I picked up from my time in academia, being in a supportive, friendly, hard-working (and let’s not forget; award-winning) press office has been worth so much more, and I would encourage any organisation, great or small, to seriously consider it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and both parties can really learn a lot from one another.

It’s certainly helped me as I take the next step in my career. Onwards.

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Do chairmen dream of eccentric sheep?

Hard Times

The Government is proposing to sell off English Heritage due to concerns about its financial viability. A consultation paper into the future of the organisation proposes that from 2015 English Heritage will become a charity organisation charged with running the national heritage collection.

Jimi Hendrix

 

Heritage can’t be bought, but can be sold

As you can imagine, this has signalled a wave of disapproval, with claims it is ‘privatisation by the back door’ and a chorus of promulgations about the preservation of our heritage – because once it has gone, we lose our history for future generations , and that would be a tragedy, especially in the name of profit. Culture should prevail, exceeding capitalist pursuits, should it not?

A Tale of Two Cities

Meanwhile, in Humberside a rich North African man is befuddled by news he has failed in his attempts to change the name of the local football team from boring old Hull City to the awe inspiring, exciting, linguistic roar of; Hull Tigers.

Elsewhere, in a bustling Welsh industrial city, a rich Asian man has successfully changed the uniform of the local football team from blue to red. The team had formally played in blue for many years and they were, until the time of this enforced colour change, affectionately known as the Bluebirds.

Great Expectations

Is it too much to expect that we protect our heritage?  It’s not just historians who battle to keep listed buildings or horticulturists who seek to maintain our scenic landscapes; so it should not just be Hull City or Cardiff City fans who fight to preserve their club’s heritage, nor should it be the burden of football fans alone.

Athletic Bilbao

Cardiff football club is 115 years old and Hull City has been proud of its name for 110 years. Sunderland (est. 1879) – my team – play in red and white, and the story goes that two men from Sunderland while working in Spain started a football team, insisting they played in red and white vertical stripes. That team was Athletic Bilbao, and yes, they still proudly don red and white stripes. Notts County (1862) are the reason Juventus wear black and white stripes, and Exeter City introduced association football to the Brazilians!

Association football clubs; their stadiums, names and jerseys are as much English heritage as castles, ship yards, mines and trains. Football clubs are part of a community’s historical identity; they have brought communities together through bad times and good, been the cause and means for towns and cities to come together and rejoice – often overcoming cultural and social differences.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

Any talk of messing with this heritage is an atrocity, and the PR disasters which have beset the football club owners who try and destroy this integral part of our culture, in the name of profiteering, should be lambasted at every opportunity.

Hull_City_promotion_celebration

A football club is owned by the fans and the community, who will still be there long after the owners, millionaire players, managers and new found fans on some overseas market. The FA should be doing all they can to preserve this great heritage and protect it from those who want to carry out a vanity project or line their pockets at the hands of centuries of tradition.

Don’t let anyone take away our heritage. Football is ours. We are football.

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