Tuesday 9 November 2010

90 minutes (and the rest)

Social media, I am told, is for telling stories. So here's a story about what led to a 90 minute meeting played out through many media and communication channels, but which ultimately was about something as simple as asking a question, and receiving an answer.

It started with curiosity. Someone at work mentioned there would be a public consultation meeting on Monday evening (8th November). I asked our Director on Twitter if it might be okay if I went, because as someone who shall rename nameless correctly identified, us digital geeky types tend to understand the most complicated technology easily, but boggle when it comes to the vagaries of local government and democracy actually in action.

In the process of discussing this, @marcschmid popped up and asked me if I'd like to tweet from the event. I agreed, it's something I've wanted to get done from our official account, @blackburdarwen for ages.

In the midst of this #gab10 happened and I didn't really think about the mechanics of what we'd be doing, simply that we were doing it. I finally got around to mentioning we would be doing it on Sunday evening.

Monday came, and in the absence of @sturgey I attended the final planning meeting. The meeting might have been shouted about by the Communications half of our Policy & Communications Department but the planning, intricacies, paperwork, research, challenges, agendas and minutae were the responsibility entirely of the Policy half. It's the first time I've had the pleasure of working with them on something and it was a pleasure. Well organised, everything dotted and crossed - I left the meeting a little in awe, but also a little sad to find that tweeting was perceived to be a frippery, an irrelevance.

Time passed. Policies noise levels (we share an open plan office) rose throughout the afternoon to a crescendo and then fell away as the organisers drifted across to King Georges Hall to ensure everything was in place and look after the details.

5pm suddenly crept up. Wielding nothing but an iPhone (mine) and a mifi (using 3G) off I went. Arrived. Plugged in the iPhone. Plugged in the mifi. Watched the yellow flashing light. Watched the red flashing light. Experienced that sinking feeling which comes from tying to get a 3G signal in the basement of a Victorian building. Went outside, sat on the bottom step. Watched the lights, watched the Apple spinning circle. Time passed. Mild panic reared its head. Someone nabbed a technician working for the theatre. He couldn't help, radio'd someone who could. Time passed. I paced. Time passed. Got introduced to Tom Moseley from the Lancashire Telegraph. Stress levels slightly too high to be attempt anything other than briefly charming. Wondered off muttering about relays and network cables. Later discovered Tom had managed to find the only corner of the Windsor Suite I'd not tried for signal and set himself up comfortably. Time passed. Technician arrived. Found a network cable. Plugged it into the back of the mifi box in a vain hope. Hope dashed.

Sit. Think.

Call the other half of the web team. He delivers a laptop, summoned from someone somewhere. @tomstannard appears while I'm waiting in the foyer for team member to turn up. Try not to babble. Try to convey everything under control while quietly fretting. Team member turns up, saving me from acting as a temporary theatre usher. Set up laptop, plug in network cable. Start talking to the laptop, practically begging it to work. Tap in wrong password. CLONK goes the laptop. Cringe. Am sitting in the sound booth at the back of the room. Hunch down in my chair so no one sees me. Tap in right password. Watch it load. Watch it load. Time passes.....

Try and log into Tweetdeck. Nope. No joy. Finally concede that twitter.com in old mode is my best friend. Finally start tweeting, hot, bothered and slightly hyper, 3 minutes after the meeting starts.

25 tweets and 30 minutes, possibly 40 minutes later - I lost track - I'm exhausted but it's working. A new found respect for the media team who sit behind us in the office, as I realise how hard it is to hear words said, pick out salient points, ensure no skew or bias, distill to 140 characters, add the hashtag and hit the tweet button. On a track pad. Later find the mouse in the bag. Smile quietly to myself. Sit back. Watch. A room full of people engaged and discussing. Yes, discussing hard, deeply depressing, difficult cruel subjects. But here. Talking. Engaging. Discussing. Involved. Democracy.

The point of this post is that perhaps it is not the post you expected to see. It is the post of one tiny little cog in a massive machinery. Many people contributed to one girls ability to sit at the back of a room and watch, observe and listen and then pass it on to the big wide world. It is the mechanics of a process. It is teamwork (I saw some of our team members in Communcations actually doing their jobs in the wild yesterday for the first time), it is thinking differently, it is management at senior level having faith, it is Leaders saying yes and having patiemce, it is persistence and relentlessness, it is planning and foresight, it is acknowledging that people who cannot attend physically might want to attend nevertheless. But most of all, very most of all, it is simplicity itself. Document what you see, what you hear - and pass it on.

With thanks to The Guardian Society daily for quietly and unobtrusively making my day.

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