Sunday 23 October 2011

Kicks for free

This is going to look like an attack on one person no matter how I pen it. I apologise for this, it is not meant to be. It is simply the culmination and articulation of months of frustration and annoyance.

When I first joined social media, it was much discussed that it was all about sharing. It was about talking and discussing and sharing best practice. As a result, and believing the hype, I set up #lgovsm, a weekly chat to talk about things and share knowledge. Contributing to the chat were a lovely balance of people working inside local government and those who wished to sell services to them. As long as no one blatantly pedalled their own services or products in lieu of contributing anything useful, I felt this was acceptable and I'm not a great one for over moderation anyway.

I got some stick, when after resurrecting the chat last week, albeit jokingly (?), for stating that I'd like assistance with running it and asking that the volunteers worked within local government.

I'm going to tell you why I made that request. It's possibly going to sound arrogant and it very probably will get a lot of peoples backs up, but here it is:

We don't have any money.

I sometimes wonder if some people think we're lying about this. That the 33 million quid we found was a magical number plucked out of the air, or that I am somehow lying about the colleagues who aren't any more. That I imagine the slight showings of strain on the faces f friends working within VCS locally, or that we have no training budget and I pay my way as much as I possibly can while still being able to have the opportunity to learn something - anything. 

We don't have any money.

We know you've got bills to pay. We know you've got children to feed and mortgages to sustain. Thousands upon thousands of people relied on local government for their pay cheques. I know this because I am getting war dialled on a daily basis by companies I made the mistake of expressing a vague interest once upon a time. Just a quick tip - phoning me every day is going to make me hate you, not want to do business with you. The bare faced aggression I have encountered has been unpleasant at best, and bordering on harassment at worst. There is no excuse for this, I'm not trying to lie to you when I say:

We don't have any money.

We just don't. 

But my real irritation is reserved for the people looking for new and innovative ways to resell something  back to people, underneath the whole ethos of which was 'free'. 

Like the recent discussion on Twitter about the localgovcamp which someone is charging to attend. No. Localgovcamp's, as an ethos, are free. Camps are free. Unconferences are free. They're based on a cultural evolution and not a money making scheme. They should be free. I do not understand exactly which bit of this is difficult except it seems to someone it is.

But it is, sadly, just one example of an increasingly common theme - taking advantage of local government. Want to be innovative? Pay a consultant to tell you how! Want to learn how to map things? Pay a consultant to tell you how! Want to work out who has the ideas in your organisation? Pay a consultant! Want to win an award through doing something really cool and different? Pay a consultant!

Never mind that the ideas and innovators are already sat inside your organisation getting bored and, frankly, pissed off. Never mind that they are like helium balloons, constantly bumping their head on the ceiling of  bureaucracy and hierarchies. Never mind that they'll suck up all the learning they can get for free, self teach themselves everything and take charge themselves of keeping up with industry advancements. 

These people are left to fester and quietly die. Or quit.

Because for some reason, paying a consultant with a badge on their fleece is listened to. Believed. Respected. 

We do not have any money.

Time to ask some questions internally, now, don't you think?

NB: BWDBC has asked this question. It's finding some rather fabulous answers and fixing some things along the way. If you want to know more, shout, I'll tell you.

For free.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about the value of things being free. From a different angle I'm coming across well-meaning trustees and staff of voluntary orgs who think they need to pay if they want to make helpful videos for their service users. Arrrrghhhh. It's so frustrating now that I know they can make the video on their phone or borrow our cheap little camera and get it on YouTube and their website FOR NOTHING. Of course the people they talk to about making videos won't tell them they don't need high definition and they can do it for free. When voluntary orgs and the public sector are so strapped for cash we need to hold on to and promote what is free, as much as we possibly can.