Sunday 13 March 2011

1 week: 7 days - a lifetime in local government

Maybe those are the best kind? I am struggling to find the space to fit the words in. Or rather, the space to let the words out into. So we shall have a go here and see what comes.

Local government is a strange place, I've decided. Nothing happens at all for months. Or at least, from the bottom grades, it looks like nothing is happening at all. And then all of a sudden, or so it seems, everything happens all at once.

Thanks to a Communications Director who gets it, I managed to nab an hour with the Leader a few weeks ago. Rather ironically, the entire Councils external communication ability dropped at the same time, rendering a Twitter lesson somewhat pointless.

A week later we reconvened and, do you know, it wasn't scary at all. Instead it was a really important lesson in listening, understanding, translating, being gentle the same way I am with everyone else, because she is ultimately just like everyone else when learning a new piece of technology, and finally, pointing out that knowing stuff before other people can occasionally be useful.

She's still using it and can be found on @cllrkate though I see she's not tweeted since Monday.

Something has clicked somewhere though, as I was sure she was otherwise engaged this Friday for the Local by Social conference we're hosting - it transpires she is not and will instead be speaking about social media. I suspect a webchat penny drop moment will be mentioned. Nothing to do with me - we each come to our understanding in our own time and our own ways and perhaps this is the most important lesson I can teach here - wait. Be patient. Social media is becoming ingrained so deeply into every day life that our local Mall advertises its Facebook page opposite me as I exit Tescos after acquiring lunch each day. Other people within the Council, other people of all levels, also walk past that poster.  Just be ready to be patient, calm, quiet and reassuring when the upper echelons come calling - because I am starting to believe they will all come calling eventually - but that's for another post.

In the same week, an article was published in the MJ from our Chief Executive Graham Burgess on using social media to engage. We all come to our understandings differently, and in the process of researching and discussing that article, new realisations hit home.

Also in the same week, Yammer took on a life of its own as I watched notification after notification flash up on my screen - a result of a quiet word in a few ears that inviting those outside of the Comms team was fine. I had a mild panic on Wednesday - what if all these people signed in and saw no discussions ready and waiting for them, and simply never came back? Was I supposed to create things, was I supposed to build it before they came?

Then I realised I was doing that control thing. And I just left them to it. And sure enough, 24 hours later people I never thought would be interested were asking me to explain Yammer and if it was okay to join, then requesting to join my discussion group on KPI's for social media, then starting other conversations which were absolutely nothing to do with me and I logged off on Friday knowing that this too, would come to into its own in its own time and in its own space.

Mapping reared its head too. A week ago last Friday I made epic train journeys to get to Hope in Derbyshire to see the fab CDR lot. Things percolated for a few days, before I had a discussion with the GIS team which enlightened me to the fact that this was no longer in either theirs or our remit and that ICT had realised we needed a solution.

A slightly panicked discussion on licences later (we haven't broken any t & c's, thank goodness, just relinquished IPR on our grit bin locations) and we're collaborating with an ease I didn't think possible - a collaboration and a stepping out of a silo which might result in a 23k saving. It might not. But the important thing is not that I picked up the phone. The important thing is that the man who answered listened.

He listened, I suspect, as a direct result of a meeting where he was in attendance, as was my Head of Service and his Director as well as our web team in which I think it became quite clear that in our tiny little three person web team there is more cross discipline knowledge than there should actually ever be possible, that we all know what we're talking about and that we all care a lot. The presentation was on Sharepoint - but it was almost irrelevant because the value was not there though of course it might also be. But the true value was somewhere else. Oddly, being able to speak up so confidently in that meeting allowed me to approach something hitherto heart wrenchingly terrifying with confidence.

I gave my first proper real life work presentation on the positives of social media to a Communications and Participation Panel. All of whom were utterly lovely, frankly, but quite rightly, also a little hesitant. Suggestions of revisions were made and an invite extended to present with a little more seriousness to the Trust in a few weeks. But the carebear slide stays, I'm afraid.

From there, in the same day, I swallowed further fears on public speaking and did a quick stand up and explain for a local childrens charity called the John Bury Trust. Chaos ensued in the impromptu workshop and I was so epically glad for the assistance of a lovely lady called Pam, who aside from broadsiding me by showing my own blog on a rather large screen proceeded to be a godsend in rallying all the questions.  The chaos, by the way, was the good kind. There is a good kind. People can learn in chaos and some people are actually more comfortable learning in that environment, skittering and exploring, firing questions and wheels spinning fast, while still others will quietly sit and peg away at something until not only do they get it but they've leapfrogged everyone else as well. I hope I get to taste carrot cake one day, I suspect it will indeed be quite epic.

I think it was the most fun bit of the week. I also think I should like to help more people find the power of social media and digital technologies and that perhaps I've got a few more people riding the same bus as me who are infinitely better placed than I to spread the word of the opportunities. Frankly, the day after International Womans Day was the appropriate day to be giving them a bit of a hand - I left afraid I'd got more out of the evening than they had as I left really rather inspired.

So, dear readers, that was a week in local government. I've not mentioned tweeting from the Finance Council, proper internal Department collaboration, minor meltdowns, the sadness of realisation of impending departures but also the relief in seeing someone finally happy, the fab conversations, inspirations, and the indulgent cookie and girl geek session on Friday afternoon, nor finally meeting someone from Twitter who I got on with so stupidly well it was really rather awesome.

But I do know that it must be clear from these words that last week was utterly exhausting but contained small victories on any number of fronts, personal and professional. Next week promises no let up - to the point where I spent a few hours working today to prevent a car crash on Monday. But seeing things changing, watching things evolve and take shape, and stepping back and feeling that perhaps now we can let others lead - a feeling I'd like to bottle and take with me.

Today's lesson is about patience. But it's a patience tempered with absolute steel. By any means necessary.

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