New Ideas Fund – successful applications announced

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Back in July we launched the IEWM New Ideas Fund to support the development of new and innovative solutions to respond to tightening public sector budgets and demand from increasingly tech savvy communities. We have tried not to be overly prescriptive about what it should or should not be. There wasn’t a form or a questionnaire to fill in and we’ve only asked interested parties to use our suggestions as guidelines:

  • provide specialist support to overcome a technical or workability issue;
  • enable more detailed research into an idea to prove the concept (or not) and provide evidence for a business case to support implementation;
  • implement small service changes and improvements or efficiencies;
  • assist with the roll out of solutions to other authorities;
  • help boost capacity and support engagement in activity on behalf of the West Midlands

We are pleased to report that 18 expressions of interest and 14 proposals have been received to date and 11 have been approved. This is brilliant! Even more so, because it has  confirmed what we have already found through #bestbywm: there are some amazing people out there, often working under the radar, who need only a little support and encouragement to get their clever ideas off the ground. There is also a significant enthusiasm and appetite among public sector colleagues to make improvements – for people they serve and for themselves and the way they work.

We have tried our best to allocate the resources available against the submissions for the ‘New Ideas fund’ with an emphasis on creativity, engagement and new territory.

We have really loved and are proud to be able to support the following:

  • Programme of County-wide Social Media campaigns (Worcestershire County Council);
  • Alcohol campaign aimed at 11-14 year olds (Staffordshire County Council);
  • Development of the Yammer network to enhance internal communications and efficiency (Sandwell MBC);
  • Establishment of #BestbyWM for voluntary sector (RAWM);
  • Production of the adoption training videos to assist those considering adoption (Shropshire Council);
  • Effective engagement of seldom heard voices in relation to adult social care services (Dudley MBC and  CVS);
  • Creating virtual access to the police museum (West Midlands Police);
  • Tourism app for mobile phones which will allow people to download vouchers to visit tourist attractions in Dudley (Dudley MBC);
  • Support the development of “Digital Neighbourhoods” across the city (Birmingham City Council);
  • Voter registration app (Sandwell MBC);
  • The ‘Do you feel safe?’ project aiming to reduce fear of crime ) Staffordshire County Council).

Well done to all successful applicants!

We look forward to sharing all their amazing ideas so watch this space.

Photo Credit: Oh Geez! Design via Compfight cc

Launch event presentations & media coverage

The launch event, opened by Jan Britton, Chief Executive of Sandwell Council and IEWM Board Lead for Transformation, was very well attended by communications professionals and social media experts from across the region and beyond. The paper has featured in various regional and national media and so far, the microsite has been accessed over 5,800 times. Below you will be able to find some videos and presentations from the day and read feedback notes from the afternoon unconference discussions around Tactics, Training and Trust.

Welcome from Jan Brittion, Chief Executive of Sandwell Council and IEWM Board Lead for Transformation

Why a White Paper? by Pete Jackson, IEWM

Introduction to the case studies by Dan Slee, comms2point0

Why is the West Midlands ace when it comes to Social Media? 

Example best practice case studies from Best by WM

Social media: A broad approach from a communications team by Jon King, former Shropshire Council employee

The benefits of an open access social media policy by Fran Collingham & Alison Hook, Coventry City Council

Improving resident contact through social media by Emma Rodgers, Staffordshire County Council View Emma’s prezi here.

Telford & Wrekin Council and bloggers from Lightmoor Live and Telford Live by Russell Griffin, Telford & Wrekin Council

Using social media on the frontline as a countryside officer by Walsall Council countryside officer, Morgan Bowers

Headline survey results by Darren Caveney, comms2point0

Feedback from discussions

Best by West Midlands launch: A discussion on Trust

During a break-out session at the launch of the BestByWM white paper, I led an open-space style discussion on the theme of of trust. Participants included local government communications officers, a council chief executive, and consultants who, like me, work with the public sector to assist their social media use. I started by quoting the Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Simon Cole, (@CCLeicsPolice) who famously once said:

“I trust my officers with an ASP baton, CS Spray, handcuff and firearms. I should be able to trust them with a smartphone.”

It was similarly felt important that local government and other related organisations show trust in their staff’s use of social media. After all, they are trusted to use the telephone, and often to speak at public meetings, without prior approval of each utterance. They are of course expected to avoid bringing their employer into disrepute, but if a council doesn’t need a stand-alone telephone call policy, then it probably doesn’t need a social media policy either. It’s also important that staff who are new to social media – or who are in organisations new to social media – are offered training and support. They should know who they can ask for advice if they’re not sure how to respond to a query, or, in the worst case, if they’re subject to abuse or harassment. After all staff should not only be trusted, but be able to trust their employer! Most important of all, it’s vital that managers realise that social media won’t fix deeper organisational problems. If staff aren’t trusted in their other roles, or aren’t empowered to act with a degree of autonomy, then the use of social media probably won’t be successful. Trust needs to permeate the workplace, not just its social media.

We also discussed how council can earn the trust of their social media audiences – including their partner organisations, but chiefly their citizens and visitors. Avoiding spin is key; whether the account is corporate or used in the voice of an individual front line worker, the approach should be conversational, and on a human scale. If the employee doesn’t know the answer to a question, a prompt and honest holding response (“I don’t know; but I’ll find out and get back to you in a few days”) is far more reassuring to the enquirer than no response, a bluff, or an invitation to fill in a web form or deflection to some other medium. And of course staff should only speak of what they know and not repeat rumour or hearsay. This is especially
important in times of crisis.

by Andy Mabbett


You can also watch summary feedback given by facilitators, Andy Mabbett, Simon Whitehouse & Dan Slee below.


Dan and Darren about the Paper and working with IEWM

Some examples of how the White Paper and the Best by WM microsite have featured in the media:

Launch of the “Best by West Midlands 2013″ on Friday 26th July.

On Friday 26th July we’ll be celebrating the launch of “Best by West Midlands 2013: A White Paper on Social Media in Local Government”

Comms2Point0 and IEWM have teamed up to take a snapshot of what social media looks line in local government across the West Midlands region.

As part of the findings, we surveyed people in the sector. 100 per cent had Facebook and Twitter and 97 per cent said this would improve. Trust and training emerged as clear issues.

The paper also addresses some of the challenges individuals and organisations are facing and provides over 30 case studies to help you understand your own digital and media landscape.

We only have days left until the launch and we can’t wait to share with you some of the fantastic ideas, enthusiasm and hard work of people and organisations in the West Midlands.

The event will be hosted at the Public in West Bromwich on Friday 26th July between 10am and 1pm.

To register to attend the launch event on 26th July please register here: and stay tuned by following#bestbywm on Twitter.

Birmingham City Council on Google+

Back in 2011 I attended an LG Communications conference in Coventry where the subject of Google+ came up. It was suggested councils start a Google+ page so we at least had the name registered. So I returned to Brum and that’s what I did. And then, well not a lot really. I added content pretty much as and when I posted content on the corporate BCC facebook page. And the number of people adding us to circles increased to 145. In twelve months. Wow.

But I persevered. And then something happened which I didn’t expect. In March 2013 Google emailed me and asked if I really was Birmingham City Council on Google+. After I got up of the floor (this also happened when Facebook rang me up) I said yes and we arranged a conference call.

Birmingham Pylon, Birmingham

It turned out Google were very interested in seeing if they could help us promote our page a little bit better and make us a good case study for local government. They started the process by verifying the account and giving me some tips on posting content. Then things started getting interesting.  A verified account is much easier to find on Google, it appears at the top right of the page when you Google search for BCC. This is great because not only is it very visible, it makes a great campaign box to promote key messages. And the number of people following us increased (a lot). 20,000 people had us in their circles by July and we have over 26,000 active users.

Unlike our Twitter and Facebook accounts which have a predominantly local audience, our Google+ page attracts worldwide followers. It’s an ideal tool for exporting the brand of Birmingham globally. I tend to post the same key messages as our other social media channels interspersed with more ‘touristy’ content of events and activities that promote Birmingham as a great 21st Century city.

Content that works really well tends to be images (no surprise there) and also webcasts of BCC Council meetings, which give an insight into mechanics of local government and promote democracy. Also issues that affect everybody, like public health and environmental issues get a lot of interest. It’ll be really interesting to see how the account develops over the next twelve months.

by Guy Evans

Social Media officer at Birmingham City Council

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Telford & Wrekin Council and bloggers from Lightmoor Live and Telford Live

Live cloud, Telford

Bingo cards, bloggers and basic web technology have helped hundreds of residents see what happens at Telford & Wrekin Council meetings.

Hundreds of people have been following proceedings at Full Council by following live streaming feeds they can log onto. Scores more catch-up with the recordings too.

The initiative has seen a massive surge in people following what is going on.

But the scheme itself was dreamt up by residents themselves and works with the help of the council.

How did it start? When resident Jake was watching the Parliament TV channel and posted on Twitter about how this may work online for the council where he lives.

Mark from the Lightmoor Live blog which serves the village and Jake were then approached by Nigel Newman in the Telford & Wrekin comms team, who had picked up on the tweet, to see how the council could help to make the idea happen. The Council had recently revised its policies to allow public filming recording at its meetings.

Once this was approved Jake helped by Mark used an iPhone on a tripod and the bambuser app to stream proceedings.

An online viewer of that meeting Jon contacted Jake and Mark via twitter wishing to help and brought in the idea of using a Google hangout to broadcast the second meeting. Sound quality was improved at a third meeting by plugging into the in-house audio with a Google hangout used linked to YouTube to allow people to follow better quality images.

The Council’s team was on hand to help guide the bloggers through the meeting, explaining who’s who to support captions when councillors spoke and other intricacies of council meetings.

 by Russell Griffin,


Telford and Wrekin Borough Council

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How a social care scheme can benefit from social media?

Making it Real in Dudley is a partnership involving a range of statutory, voluntary commercial and community organisations. At the heart of making it real are the I statements that we’re written by people who use care and support services and carers to describe their aspirations for social care. The thinking behind out communications strategy is simple,

A. Transparency is king, all plans, board papers, highlight reports and performance data should be available to any interested party.

B. In order to ensure Making it Real reflects the needs of local people their should be clear means for people to engage express an opinion, shape activity and find out what’s going on.

Both of the above points were the inspiration for

The website includes a bespoke twitter feed @mirdudley. All the documentation above and a series of blogs and presentations are available to anyone through these channels.

Given the communication needs of our audience are as diverse as the 312000 people of the borough we also use more traditional methods such as paper newsletters, phone surveys, workshops, road shows and surgeries. Most of which are accessible via the events tab on site.

In a short space of time 177 people have followed @mirdudley, several hundreds of people have attended recent road shows and surgeries.

These conversations whether virtual or in person are all contributing to our understanding of what works and inspiring a culture of you said, we did.

by Stuart Lackenby

Programme Lead for Quality and Commissioning at Dudley Council.

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Why hyperlocal blogs are important for local government?

Here’s an understatement if ever there was one: the media landscape in Britain has been undergoing a bit of a seismic shift this last few years.

Web 2.0 and the explosion in smartphone and mobile technology means people are accessing news and information in a myriad of new ways. And this technological revolution has seen more and more people creating their own content too.

Tools like Twitter, Audioboo, Facebook and YouTube, and blogging platforms such as WordPress, mean it’s never been easier for citizens to publish their own information – and to reach sizeable audiences.

Market stall, Stone, Staffordshire

The growth of ‘hyperlocal blogs’ – local websites that focus on a particular city, town, village or other defined geographical area – has gone hand in hand with this technological revolution – and the decline of the traditional print media.

There are hundreds of hyperlocal sites of all shapes, sizes and motivations all over the country – take a look at Dave Harte from Birmingham City University calculated in April 2012 that UK hyperlocal sites were publishing content once every two minutes (

Like many things digital, the West Midlands has a thriving hyperlocal scene. Sites like B31 Voices, Digbeth Is Good, WV11, Lichfield Live, Connect Cannock and many more are providing news and information to their readers and building large communities of interest. In fact, Birmingham has 28 hyperlocal sites, more than any other council area in the UK.

There are many ways in which local government should be engaging with hyperlocal media and tapping into its growing and engaged audience.

Here’s just one reason why it could be well worth its while.

Nesta’s Destination Local report this year into the demand for hyperlocal media in the UK found that 56% of people who use hyperlocal sites feel more informed about their local area.

However, 44% don’t feel that hyperlocal media allows them to have an influence over decisions that are made there.

I’m sure that local councils have a much higher figure for failing to actively involve citizens in decision making.

Is this an area where hyperlocal and local councils can work together?

by Jamie Summerfield,

Founder of a Little Bit of Stone hyperlocal website in Stone , Staffordshire. He is also a former local government press officer and is Staffordshire University journalism school’s hyperlocal website project manager.

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What is an unconference?

So what is an unconference? Well it is an unstructured event that has been created by a handful of people who are interested in a specific area of business and inviting others to join them, often at weekends. There is no agenda before the event itself and the only planning is the date, time, venue and wifi/food. This compares to the well structured, heavily agenda driven conference which are held in work time and have a costs associated to attend.

So why should you attend? I started with my first unconference in 2010 – HyperWM, with trepidation as there was no agenda, just an idea of the topics that might be discussed, and I did not know anyone else that attended these events. It was a shock. The atmosphere was laid back, people were welcoming, your opinions were welcome – even if you were challenging a view. WOW.

Stickies, CityCamp Coventry

So I started finding out more about unconferences, they are growing in number and in variety of business areas. I attended some more of various types – each type of unconference brings its own experiences, issues and learning : Talk about Local, HyperWM, CityCamps, Barcamps; Brewcamps, hackathons, LocalGovCamps, GovCamps, CommsCamp, LibraryCamp, MuseumCamp etc etc

I find myself now going on average to one event per month, since I started in 2010. So, you may ask, what do I get out of them? Before my first event, I, like so many others would sit in my own world of work and home thinking that the issues that I faced were mine alone and that no one else was in the same boat or even had got themselves out of the issues. At work to increase your knowledge you could attend official conferences or training but these cost (a lot in many cases) and in the public sector this is not really something you can easily suggest with tight budgets.

I built my knowledge up from unconferences, at every event including the most recent, so that I am now able to provide guidance and advice on many topics. As well as the knowledge gained at the events, I also started building a network of people, most of whom like to share so if there is a topic that I am not familiar with I can but a shout out across the network and get a reply very quickly with helpful advice – this is invaluable. These events are often welcoming so that everyone feels that they can contribute equally to the conversation if they want – if they don’t and just want to observe/learn then this is also great.

I have personally found that I have been able to attend many events that normally would not be considered within my day job – but these have not only broadened by knowledge of these areas – Library and Museum Camp being just two, but also the way people within different business areas resolve similar problems can often be brought into my work sphere.

As you can see I am now rather an advocate for unconference type events, so much so that I run a number of these now – all in my spare time. The main one in the West Midlands region is CityCamp Coventry which was started last year (2012) with the support of Coventry City Council and Coventry University. While many of the unconferences out there are open for many to attend they do aim to attracked people working within that business area either from public sector or public and private sector. CityCamps are about bringing the community into the mix and allowing them the open space to suggest ideas to other community members and some of the key organisations covering that area. How else would you get an idea about sharing orchard fruit from those gardens that their owners can no long pick, and give the fruit free to those that need it or to make jams to sell and plough the money back into charities? This was taken up as one of the ideas by Coventry City Council with the promise that if open city space was identified they would look at planting community fruit trees there.

So should there be more? As with everything there will be a saturation point, but I think we are far from that. What I am finding is that there are many more events now being created – these generally spawn from someone attending a few and then thinking there is a niche within their business area/location to run one – this is GREAT. I am still expanding the number that I want to run with colleagues in different fields because this is the essence of unconferences, helping other people to realise their potential.

Are these events for everyone? From the point of view of organising them, that depends on the topic for the event but in general yes as the wider the audience the more diverse the point of view and the richer the conversation. However, those attending must give something back to the event. It is not a problem for someone to attend and prefer to sit back and listen, take stock and contemplate what they hear – this may be all that they are comfortable doing. Then there are those that actively take part and help run sessions or prompt questions. However, if you do not listen or take part within sessions then you will not get much out of it and these are the people who IMO should not attend, as they will be negative about the event.

So the goal? Well this is to get organisations to understand that even without an agenda or that you have paid lots of money to send someone to attend, your people will build networks, share good practice and above all have fun doing it. So please, if one of your staff approaches you about an unconference, listen to them, let them attend and then bring that enthusiasm and knowledge back into your team/organisation – you will be surprised.

by Sasha Taylor,

Founder of CityCamp Coventry and BlueLightCamp

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How brewcamps stir up innovation in local government

Pop-up cinema at Brewcamp

A few years ago a group of us put together HyperWM. It’s an afternoon unconference (no charge, no agenda) for people working in Local Government in the West Midlands to get together for a few hours and talk about stuff that matters to them.

It was a lot of fun to do and afterwards we were keen to maintain the enthusiasm and momentum that we felt had been initiated. We were also a bit knackered afterwards and quickly reviewed our initial thoughts of making it a three or four times yearly affair.

So instead we alighted upon the idea of running a regular event that was a little bit smaller; something that only needed us to find a coffee shop or similar venue who were willing to accommodate us and a few interesting people to talk or lead a discussion.

From this rather vague specification we came up with the idea of Brewcamps, an idea we adapted from the Teacamps that were started by Jeremy Gould in 2008.

The evenings can be quite loosely structured. They are very informal but are consistent in their themes of coffee, cake and conversation. Each camp will have three people who agree to lead a session each. This may involve talking about an interesting piece of work someone is doing; asking for help with something or leading a discussion on a topic of interest.

We don’t have many rules

NO POWERPOINTS (this is pretty much our only rule)

You don’t have to be an expert to lead a session at Brewcamp and we often encourage people who don’t think of themselves as being experts to talk. We’re very keen for Brewcamps to be listening and supporting environments where people have the chance to explore new ideas.

We’ve always arranged things online and as of writing this we’ve put on three unconferences and a dozen brewcamps without being constituted or having a bank account (although we do have a Google group, an Eventbrite account and a website or two)

One of the ways we try to keep fresh is by moving the venue around and we’ve held Brewcamps all across the West Midlands. If you haven’t had the chance to come to one yet then do get in touch and who knows, we might pitch up in your town for the night.


Si Whitehouse,

a freelance web developer and former implementation manager at Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Council.

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Unconferences and how they generate innovation in the West Midlands

Localgovcamp, Birmingham

There has been an explosion of bright ideas in local government in the West Midlands.

It’s been powered by the social web and sees people freely give up their time to talk about how they can do a better job.

The driver of this revolution in thinking has been the unconference.

People are not waiting for permission. They’re scraping together enough money to stage an event and they’re using the internet to plan it and then distribute free tickets.

There is no agenda. There is no death by powerpoint. Job titles are left at the door and anyone can put up their hand at the start of a session and pitch to run one.

Why? You put bright people in a room and bounce ideas and the chances are you will come up with better ideas.

What’s best about those with a  public sector spirit is a willingness to share and collaborate. That just wouldn’t happen in the private sector.

But it would be wrong to think that this was powered solely by people in local government.

At an unconference chances are you will find a blogger, a librarian and a police web manager kick around an idea.

Ideas throughout Best by West Midlands have their origins directly or indirectly through an unconference.

There is a direct link between the West Midlands’ ability to stage an unconference and its position on the cutting edge of innovation of social media in local government.

When did all this start? For many it was when Dave Briggs stood up at Fazeley Studios in Birmingham with 120 attendees at localgovcamp one Saturday in 2009.

From that the first of three annual Hyper WM in 2010 which has been staged in Oldbury, Walsall and Warwick.

Librarians have staged a camp. So have museums people. There has been a CityCamp in Coventry which looked at real solutions to on-the-ground problems. There was commscamp too for communications people. The NHS had one too to look at health and digital.

The regular brewcamp meet-ups also come from this shared approach. The events are held in cafes who are willing to accommodate an extra 20 customers or so, start at 6pm and are ticketed by using eventbrite which people can sign-up to online. Three topics are decided upon in advance at the discussions are led around those subjects with the opportunity for people to chip in and debate.

The unconference approach has been the driver for the social media innovation in the West Midlands. Not only are ideas shared and shaped but a broad network is built of people who are passionate about the places they live and the job they do.

by Dan Slee,

Senior Press & PR Officer for Walsall Council,

Co-founder of Brewcamp and HyperWM

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