Voting; not lobbying – how to achieve policy changes

I’ve had a number of conversations recently, both on Twitter and face-to-face, about the frustrations of people in social housing about the sector’s inability to influence public policy. There’s an awful lot of lobbying going on, but it doesn’t seem to be having anything like the desired effect.

Well, here’s an idea. How many people are there who work in social housing in the UK? I don’t know the figures, but I can guarantee you that it’s a fraction of the numbers who actually live in accommodation provided by the sector. And, it is also a fact that voter turnout at elections is lower in areas where incomes are low.

It therefore seems to me that, if the social housing sector wants to achieve policy changes sympathetic to its agenda, the most effective means might just be by putting more effort into ensuring that its tenants vote at elections, rather than by lobbying. And this strategy has the added bonus of being about enhancing democracy as well.

I am not suggesting social landlords should be influencing how their tenants vote; that would probably be counter-productive in any case. But I do think they should play a role in ensuring that their tenants are registered to vote and that they are enabled to vote when elections come around.

OK, so they might not all vote for the policies which the professionals want. That’s the risk you take with democratic processes. But I firmly believe the social housing sector would benefit greatly from a more politically engaged customer-base. They might not vote for social housing-sympathetic policies every time, but then again, they just might…

Tackling loneliness

There are so many lonely people in our world, and yet the modern world has given us the tools to banish loneliness for ever. Older people, in particular, are not taking advantage of these tools, so how can we address this.

This is my idea for a project, can we make this happen?

1. First step is to identify lonely, older people, and recruit those willing to take part in the project.

2. Video interviews with lonely, older people, describing their life stories.

3. Post the videos on the internet.

4. Encourage online discussion about the stories

5. Discuss the online interaction with the people who have been videoed

6. Provide equipment and training so the older people can take part in the online discussions

7. Encourage and facilitate future interactions and contact between all project participants

Can we do this?

To aid your thinking, here is the lovely Ron, from Our Digital Planet in Bristol

Podcast – Talking to Phil Jewitt about the Sociable Organisation

This is the first in what may be a series of podcasts in which I talk to people whose work I particularly admire about some aspect of what they are doing.

In this podcast, I met up with Phil Jewitt, Senior Communications Manager, with Leeds City Council, to get some insights into the Sociable Organisation project which he is leading. This is a project which is using social media to drive collaboration and co-creation, both within the city council, and across the city involving partners.

There are some lovely stories in here which illustrate the point I make continually that telling stories usually has more impact that quoting statistics and writing reports.

Please let me have any comments below.

The HUGO Bus has arrived!

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It’s taken some time, but, last night, I was at Leeds Federated Housing Association‘s AGM, and the fully-equipped HUGO bus arrived!

Here it is in all its glory.

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The bus will be delivering digital inclusion support to Leeds Fed’s tenants and to those of its partner organisations. The intention is that it will be available to hire for other organisations at a later date.

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Here is Sue Jennings giving a tour of the bus

Join us for live cricket online on Wednesday #LouthTWicket

Devon Malcolm

Devon Malcolm

It’s been more than 3 years since #Twicket, the world’s first live streamed village cricket match, but this Wednesday (3rd September), I am stepping back into the fray to live stream cricket again. This time I am working with Lincolnshire County Council’s Onlincolnshire broadband project to broadcast the PCA Masters v. the RAF game from Louth Cricket Club, which is one of a number of events that have been enhanced with technology to highlight the potential uses of better broadband.

This time there will be no Brenda and no Vicar’s Son, but there will be a number of big-name former international cricketers, including Graham Thorpe, Devon Malcolm, Steve Harmison and Dominic Cork. And we are gathering a cast of local characters to add to the online fun of the day.

The weather forecast is good, and my old friends at Rural Broadband are coming along to make sure we have a good connection. So, if you are anywhere near Louth on Wednesday, please join us, you might get on camera, or get the chance to do a bit of commentary. If you can’t make it, then please add to the fun on Twitter and other social media. We’re using the hashtag #LouthTWicket. And, of course, you’ll be able to watch the action live online at http://www.johnpophamlive.co.uk

 

The Hyperlocal Jeremy Paxmans are out there; we just need to find them

I wrote this article for the Journalism Foundation in March 2012. Searching for it this morning, so I could reference it, I discovered that the Journalism Foundation, and thus its website, is now defunct. So, to make sure it stays out there, I am reproducing it here:

Browsing Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I came across a tweet which, I think, was from one of the many sessions at the South by South West technology conference in Austin, Texas. I’ve lost track of it now, but the gist of it was that politics is an activity which appeals to an ever decreasing proportion of the population, and that its participants seem to have little interest in changing their approaches to appeal to more people.

We can all point to the many ways in which life has changed in recent years which make the traditional ways of doing things less relevant. And it is a story familiar in other walks of life, that the people at the top cling to the old methods, while everyone else finds something else to do which is more interesting and relevant to their lifestyles. Thus, small bands of politics junkies continue their debates in panelled rooms, while the rest of the world gets on with using ever simpler and more effective means of sharing and communicating with each other. It is tempting to see politics as yet another “industry” gradually being killed off by new technology and changing demographics.

But politics is too important for that. It is, after all, however imperfect the systems, the way we do things. It’s the expression of our collective will. Looking over the broad span of history, politicians, or whatever those who hold the reins of power, have been called, have generally been drawn from a small elite. Social progress in the 20th Century went a long way towards changing this. Is it now going too far to suggest that this progress might be reversed as the rest of the population distances itself from the way politicians do things?

One of the big ironies of modern politics is that the politicians who bother to go out on their tried and trusted mission to knock on the nation’s doors are probably dragging people away from their screens and mobile devices. And those people have at their fingertips the means of keeping in touch with political issues in a far more informed way than a rushed doorstep conversation. Whether they choose to use them for that purpose is another issue entirely.

Of course, there are lots of initiatives attempting to address this divide. I’ve been involved with some myself. And there are some politicians who are great at using social media, although all too many see it as just another channel to broadcast their messages to a wider audience. Effective use of social media by politicians is still too much of a minority activity.

Just the other day, I was watching a live video stream of a council meeting, during which some councillors berated their colleagues for tweeting during the meeting, claiming this meant they weren’t paying attention to the debate. Now, those of us who are regular social media users know that it is possible to become quite adept at multi-tasking; listening to debates and translating their key points into tweets, but this can be a difficult skill to master, and it can seem an impossibility to those not versed in it. But this incident is a very good indication of the tension between the old and the new way of doing things; and it further shows how politicians are developing their own channels to communicate with the public, without the mediation of journalists and traditional media.

Live-streaming of council meetings is an interesting case in point. A number of local authorities are now video streaming meetings, thus making their content available on a much wider basis than to those prepared and able to attend in the public gallery or read the minutes. A few councils have tried using free streaming platforms, with mixed results, largely because they haven’t taken account of the in-stream advertising that some free platforms deploy, and these can attract negative reactions. More common, amongst the minority of councils streaming meetings, is a managed system deploying a number of fixed, remotely controlled, cameras in the Council Chamber, which produces a TV-like experience for the viewer.

It is undeniable that using live-streaming to open up democratic processes is a good thing. But I would argue there are some fundamental difficulties with the way it is being approached by most local authorities.

The first issue is the cost. There is a natural element of risk-aversity in a lot of the public sector, for very good reasons. At the recent LocalGovCamp North West event, I ran a session on live-streaming council meetings. One of the key messages which came out of this session was that many councillors are worried about experimental systems which they think might fail to present them in a favourable light. But the reliance on expensive systems is acting as a block on other authorities moving into providing their own live streams. In my opinion, people form their own opinions about their elected representatives based on many other factors than the quality of the internet stream they might view them on. And I have witnessed councillors misbehaving on good quality webstreams. I think risk-aversity, coupled with lack of in-house skills required to make different systems work, is holding back councils which don’t have the budget to buy in expensive systems. And, in the current fiscal climate, that is most of them.

The second issue about live-streaming meetings is the focus on the Council Chamber. This is particularly inevitable when costly video equipment has been installed in the Chamber. But, not every decision is taken there, nor does every debate happen in the Chamber. So, the question is: what exactly is it that we are opening up? Yes, we get to see the Full Council meetings, which, after all, are the ultimate governing body, responsible for signing off the decisions of all sub-committees and other groups. And some councils stream other meetings which take place in the Council Chamber too, including Cabinet meetings. But, a lot of the most lively, and best informed, debates take place away from the main Chamber, and, again, the investment in Council Chamber equipment and lack of preparedness to experiment, mean that other debates don’t get a wider audience. In fact, as many of these meetings take place in venues with minimal facilities for public attendance, a lot of these discussions are unwitnessed by anyone not directly involved. I think this is a democratic deficit, as many of the real issues get proper scrutiny in small rooms.

But I think the most dangerous assumption in all this is the idea that simply “putting it out there” is sufficient. I’ve no idea what the average viewing figures are for live streams of council meetings, but I suspect they are not high, and the numbers of people sticking with them all the way through must be significantly lower still. I’m very interested in this stuff, but I don’t find much of it gripping viewing. People are interested in the issues that directly and tangibly affect them. And they are also, whether we like it or not, interested in personalities. Most people don’t know much about the personalities in local government. They probably don’t even know who their local councillor is.

So, what I don’t see happening, which I think it pretty vital, is any move to popularise local political content. The live streams from council meetings are the local equivalent of the BBC Parliament Channel. They’re put out there through some sense of obligation, but not many people really watch them. What we really need are the local equivalents of Question Time, News Night, the Daily Politics, and Election Night Special. These are the programmes that package politics, make it more entertaining, and bring it to a wider audience. But no one is producing local versions at the moment, or ever has. It could be that a solution is riding over the horizon in the shape of the Local TV stations being promoted by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. But, the jury is out as to whether Local TV in the form envisaged by Government can be made to work. It feels like a very old model, requiring expensive kit, staff and studio spaces. And its catchment areas are based on TV transmitter footprints, rather than any communities or geographies that make sense to people. On the other hand, there are lots of hyperlocal bloggers, news gatherers, and citizen journalists out there who are only too willing to act as bridges between politicians, institutions, and the public. The internet is where large numbers of people get their information these days, and it offers cost-effective channels for communication between all parties involved in the local political process.

Pits ‘n’ Pots in Stoke-on-Trent has been holding its local elected representatives to account for a number of years now, as is well documented elsewhere on this site. Other hyperlocal websites have been doing the same. There are lots of examples where politicians and officials have felt threatened by these processes. Indeed, a number of local sites and initiatives have emerged as a response to a perceived lack of openness on the part of their local authority. But this relationship need not be antagonistic. In many localities it should be possible for local authorities, politicians, and citizen journalists to find new ways of engaging the public in democratic processes. The hyperlocal Jeremy Paxmans and David Dimblebys are out there. They just need encouragement and a small amount of resource to make local politics sexy.

Can we Stop Programmes like “Benefits Street”?

Regular readers will be aware that I have for some time been urging social housing providers to help their residents fight back against the wave of negative publicity generated by TV programmes such as “Benefits Street” and “How to Get a Council House”. I’ve been running #HousingStories Workshops, to help staff and tenants develop the skills to use digital media to tell their own, positive, stories; and on this year’s #HousingDay, I’ll be doing a roadtrip to highlight the good work done by many providers.

This morning I saw this story which suggests that Stockon-on-Tees Council is objecting to the second series of “Benefits Street” being filmed in their area. I know from some of my own contacts in the north-east that the producers had been scouting around for locations for some time, and that they had been “warned off” from some areas. So, what can be done about this? If the Council and others don’t want this sort of thing in their area, can they stop it?

Well, the short answer is obviously “no” they can’t. But, short of picketing the street, what might be done to disrupt attempts to paint such areas in bad lights?

One of the key things about programmes like “Benefits Street” is that they capture a whole lot of footage, and then take it away and edit it into something which tells the story the TV producers want to tell. So, how about we give the people who live in the areas where such programmes are being shot the skills to tell the other side? We can enable them to capture, keep, and disseminate footage of the kinds of events and stories that the TV producers would rather didn’t see the light of day. All it needs is a few smartphones and some opportunities to ensure people can get the skills.

Can we do this? Is it too late for Stockton?

Wifi in Hospitals – Resources Needed

Although we have made significant progress with influencing hospitals to introduce free wifi for patients (I estimate that around 25% of NHS hospitals now have wifi – some of it charged for), there is still a very long way to go; that 75% remaining represents a lot of hospitals, and even where wifi is in place, people still struggle to get online and use it effectively.

The number of visits to this blog which come from people searching for ways to get online in their hospital has convinced me that there is a pressing need for a lot of support in this area. I maintain that there is no argument that having access to the outside world via free wifi is an essential element in patient recovery. That message has failed to get through to many who run NHS hospitals, and it is also clear that the installation of wifi is not enough to solve the problem as many patients still can’t use it due to lack of knowledge on the part of the staff.

The campaign therefore needs resources. We need resources to:

  • get the message through to the remaining 75%;
  • support patients struggling to get online; and
  • run demonstrator projects which prove the benefits to patient recovery.

Anyone got any ideas of where we can get some money?

 

Statistics versus Stories

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Sometimes when I walk the dog in the mornings I just take in the scenery and listen to the birds singing. I am very fortunate to live in an urban area, but to have some great bits of raw nature close to where I live where the dog can be let off the lead to get his exercise.

And, then, sometimes I put the headphones in and listen to Radio 4’s Today Programme to keep up to date with what people are saying about the world.

This morning I did the latter, and caught Anne Atkins speaking on “Thought for the Day”. She posed the question as to why the death of Robin Williams had dominated the news agenda, while the deaths of thousands in genocide in Iraq and from Ebola in West Africa, are dismissed in a few lines. The latter are statistics, she opined, the former is a story that Western people can empathise with.

It reinforces a point I keep making. People who think that reports full of statistics are going to change the world are deluding themselves. If you really want to affect people’s behaviour, and change things, then tell stories about how what you do impacts on people’s lives. People just like you and me. Stories affect people’s emotions and generate empathy. Statistics are just numbers.

Sun, Sea and Social Media, the Intinerary

Excitement is building for the beach-based social media event of the year.  And now, we can announce……

Sun, Sea and Social Media, The Itinerary 

Subject to change (if we find something more fun to do)

Sun, Sea, Social, Media

Saturday 16th August 2014

The Beach, Filey, North Yorkshire

11am   Meet, share notes, and agree roles for the day.

[Meeting point will be announced Friday afternoon]

11:30am Opening of the Social Media Surgery [Surgery will be open all day]

12 noon Video Workshop

1pm Sandcastle Competition

2pm Beach cricket tournament

3:30pm Knobbly Knees contest

4pm Vine Superstar Competition

5pm Close

Tell us if you are coming http://smbeach.eventbrite.co.uk

Are you really, excited, you should be!  Here’s a taster

This event is sponsored by Coast and Country Housing

Click Start logo FINAL-01