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.

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

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Linkedin – Emperor’s New Clothes

I’ve never liked Linkedin. There I said it. It’s a heresy among some of the social media glitterati. But I’ve never liked it. I’ve never seen it as being social. And, therefore, I’ve never understood why it’s called a “social network”.

Today, a specific reason why it makes me uncomfortable finally crystallised in my head. I don’t like corporate environments where people are frightened to show their real personalities and hide behind professional personas. I’ve spent a large part of my working life in those kinds of places, and I’m glad to be out of them. I think it’s an outdated way of working, it makes people unhappy, and unhappy people are not productive people.

And now I realise, that’s exactly what Linkedin tries to do in the online world. It’s getting worse, with meaningless endorsements for skills people don’t necessarily have, and congratulations for vapid anniversaries. I’ve even been invited to congratulate someone on their new role at “unemployed”!

So, if you are tempted to spend your time hiding behind your Linkedin profile, don’t. Why not take some time to join us on the really social platforms where people can be themselves?

[In keeping with the spirit of Linkedin, I have not adorned this post with anything so frivolous as a picture]

Would you ban your employees from talking to anyone? At any time?

According to this post which was drawn to my attention by Paul Taylor on Twitter, the number of employers blocking their employees’ access to social media at work has INCREASED over the past year from 29% to 36%. I find this flabbergasting, I thought we were winning this battle.

Social media is a modern form of communication. Ask yourself how you would feel if your employer banned you from TALKING to anyone. Not just in your working hours, but at all times, because, after all, anything you say could be seen as reflecting on your employer, because; even though it might be a private conversation, it is easy to find out who you work for and attribute your views to the organisation you work for.

Banning social media at work is effectively closing off a modern communication method to employees. It is virtually the same as banning them from talking to anyone….  at any time. That is a recipe for dissatisfied, frustrated employees, and an organisation that is secretive and whose motives will be open to question.

Please don’t do it….

Sun, Sea and Social Media

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Saturday 16th August 2014

11am to 5pm

Filey Beach, North Yorkshire

and

the internet

Join us on Filey Beach, or online on Saturday 16th August for an extravaganza of social media, digital inclusion, and general internet capers by the sea.

This is event is sponsored by Coast and Country Housing Limited.

Register here

Sun, Sea and Social Media is:

  • a social media adventure, featuring a number of experienced social media users who will document their journeys to Filey and their activities on the day;
  • a social media surgery, offering real-time, practical advice to people on the beach on how to get the best out of using social media to enhance their holiday and beach experience;
  • a digital inclusion event, helping people new to the internet get online by demonstrating what enormous fun can be had on the internet;
  • a demonstrator, showcasing the power of new technologies in a beach setting, including a LIVE linkup with the Costa del Sol in Spain; and
  • a lot of fun! featuring live streamed beach cricket, knobbly knees contests, sandcastle championships, and other beach-based shenanigans

Join in the fun on Filey Beach any time between 11 and 5. Or follow the action online using the hashtag #smbeach with occasional live video at http://www.johnpophamlive.co.uk

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any queries

tweet @johnpopham

Register here

photo credit Paul Stephenson on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_stephenson/

Sustaining the energy generated by great events

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More years ago than I care to remember, I went to see a showing of the film of “West Side Story”. I had thought that it would not really be my thing, but I went because it was at a new venue and I was curious to have a nose around the place. As it turned out, I was very glad that I did go, as I found it a joyous experience, and really surprised myself with my reaction.

As I came out into the street, I looked around and I thought there was something major missing. After a while, it dawned on me that, having been immersed in the musical for 2 hours or more, I was now expecting everyone to be singing and dancing around the streets. It took me quite a while to accept that this wasn’t going to happen.

I’ve had a comparable experience a couple of times recently. And both times it was because of innovative events. The first was Resource‘s Comms Hero; the second was HouseParty, organised by Matt Leach of HACT and Esther Foreman of The Social Change Agency. At both of these happenings, I was swept along by a tide of enthusiasm, energy, and vitality, and began to believe that the world was now like this; that we had won the fight to convince everyone in the Social Housing Sector and beyond, that the principles of openness, sharing, innovation, and the embracing of new technologies, are the way forward.

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Now, it’s somewhat easier for me than many others at those events. I don’t have to go back to an office or workplace where I am in a minority of one in holding the views I do. And, believe me, I had a number of conversations at HouseParty which confirmed to me that there are plenty who are in that unenviable position. But, the truth is, that we don’t leave events like Comms Hero and HouseParty and find the rest of the world dancing in the streets to the tunes we have been singing in the venue (singing literally in the case of Comms Hero). There is still much work to be done to convince the doubters and the blockers. But, the strength of events such as these is that they create and strengthen networks that can support the lone advocates and give them the confidence to take on workplace inertia. Let’s make sure they do.

If you block social media your PR-friendly “human resources” slogans are a lie

Trainee Social Reporters

One of the things that makes me really frustrated is when people treat social media and digital technologies as if they were separate from what they call “the real world”. It is my firm belief that what we now know as social media is a transitional set of technologies towards what will become, in time, ubiquitous, seamless, and integrated communications and sharing tools, which, eventually, will come naturally to most people as the devices become more intuitive and less intrusive.

Thus, on the issue of digital inclusion, some people think there is something special about digital technologies which excludes those who haven’t come on board yet. I argue it is about people’s attitudes rather than aptitudes. I have written before about the case of two 84 year-old men who I worked with on the same day; one who was brimming with enthusiasm about new possibilities and desperate to find out what the internet could do for him; and the other who said he was too old to learn and none of this had any relevance to him. It’s nothing to do with age; it is to do with attitude.

I am exercised about how we unlock the potential of new technologies to help people realise their own personal potential. I am thinking here about the kind of people (gross generalisations coming up), who are of the opinion that they stopped learning when they left school. They sit in an office all day doing mundane tasks, very often on a computer with no speakers or soundcard, and on which access to social media is blocked. The office may be totally quiet, or some “inoffensive” muzak is playing, or, worse still, Radio 2. They then go home, either in silence, or listening to music on their headphones, or Radio 2 (again) in their car. They get home, switch the TV on and spend the evening watching “unchallenging” programming, such as soap operas, cooking programmes, and reality game shows. Once in a while, they reluctantly go on a training course, mandated by their employer, where they sit on uncomfortable chairs, their bum going numb while they listen to someone droning on about the latest health and safety legislation, or whatever.

That may possibly be an extreme stereotype. But contrast it with the person who has access to social media during the day. They are constantly bombarded with new ideas and new angles on things. They have access to Youtube for inspiring talks and “how-to” videos”. They can connect with like-minded people on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Yammer or Google+  to test out and pursue new approaches. And, instead of Radio 2, they can get podcasts full of challenging viewpoints and interesting arguments. And, when they go home, instead of watching TV, they might just watch some TED talks, listen to another podcast, or join in with a Twitter chat.

This is what I mean about the dangers of treating social media like its a separate universe. It means that people can get away with never being challenged to step out of their comfort zone. And this is as negative for their organisations as it is for themselves. Surely an organisation full of engaged, inquisitive people is much more likely to succeed than one where the majority of the workforce are resentful and bored?

So, if you ever see an organisation which says it prides itself on developing its people, but it doesn’t give them access to social media, challenge them on that. Their PR-friendly “human resources” slogans are a lie.

And I am really keen to work out how we can chip away at people’s reluctance to learn new things and give them access to the vast potential which the internet and social media opens up for many of us. How do we get people listening to challenging podcasts in their offices instead of Radio 2? How do we persuade them to turn off the TV every now and again and do something that involves them being creative  and active rather than a passive recipient of received cultural wisdom?

The challenge is to show everyone that none of us ever stops learning. And that learning new things can be fun.