Oatcakes and time for change at Oatcake Camp

Oatcake Camp logo

Oatcake Camp logo

At the end of November, the second ever Oatcake Camp took place. This time in Stoke-on-Trent. The venue was the newly refurbished YMCA and even better Oatcake Camp itself took place in the amazing Skyroom which has superb panoramic views of the city.
Oatcake Camp is a chance for people to come together, mainly from the public sector, to discuss ideas, debate and share learning, often focussed on social media or different ways to do things. It’s in its early days and the second session had a very different feel to the first, which was held in Stafford.
Carl Plant was first of our three speakers. Carl’s from a company called BitJam Ltd which specialises in digital innovation, research and training. His session looked at measuring community engagement on-line. Carl recapped on some of the techniques that can be used to measure whether you’re reaching the right people on-line and took us through the project he’d done looking at Stoke City Council’s twitter feed. While Carl designed his own technical solution for this, there were three top learning points I took from what he said and the debate that followed:

  1. You can do amazing things using people’s biogs and common words as useful search filters. This can help you find the social capital or glue that forms between friends, workmates, neighbours and others. One really good example of this was the common bond around the area’s local premiership team – Stoke City – which is bringing people together on-line regardless of their job or class.
  2. There is, and continues to be, pressure for people to prove the value of their social media channels. As we know this often results in a demand for high stats increases like more followers or likes, but these aren’t always the right things to measure. This is especially true if your followers are Californian weight loss companies and not the people from your local area that you actually want to talk to.
  3. It is clear that a lot of organisations – public sector & others – are revisiting what they want to achieve through social media. They’re realising that just getting on social media isn’t enough and they do need a strategy. So they’re going back to the drawing board and re-thinking their approach.
Staffs Oatcake

Staffordshire Oatcake

Clare White was next. Clare is a Health Education Project Manager with the Workers’ Educational Association, a national learning charity, as well as a writer and Stoke-on-Trent enthusiast. Clare used her passion for all things community to talk through Liam Barrington-Bush’s crowdfunded book Anarchists in the Boardroom as a starting point for how we can look at connecting excluded communities and give everyone access to power.
The top three gems that came from Clare’s session were:

  1. The people in Stoke are truly unique. If you live or work there, you’re naturally drawn to fix it and because the people in Stoke-on-Trent will quite happily talk to strangers, they have a natural tendency to be good at social media.
  2. Stoke’s got 6 towns and 58 villages. Parallels were drawn between Stoke and Dudley, Manhattan and New York in the 70’s. With the loss of its traditional industrial base, there’s a real opportunity to look afresh at how to do things. This is not dissimilar to experiences in other cities up and down the country.
  3. Anarchists in the Boardroom talks about social change, technology and how lessons from our personal relationships can change how we relate to the world. In essence it’s about how organisations can be ‘more like people’. (If you haven’t yet got a copy, it’s well worth a read – pick one up from www.morelikepeople.com)

Last up was Comms2point0 joint founder Dan Slee. Dan’s session was on whether the public sector can truly innovate in 2013 when budgets are being cut and jobs are being lost. Top things shared were:

  • Communities in Stoke and Staffordshire are highly motivated. Rather than waiting for people to do things for them, they’re getting on and doing themselves. Top examples include Leek’s Shop Local initiative which they’ve shared in Burslem and as far afield as Australia and a tweet up with the local paper where good connections were made. Other areas could learn a lot from this approach.
  • People who were at Oatcake camp are getting on and doing even if their organisations ‘aren’t’
  • If you can do one thing to think differently within organisations, make it that people are given creative space to think and innovate
  • A cracking suggestion made was to get an independent matchmaker or facilitator to pick some of the best ideas the community comes up and broker them.

For me, all the above reflects exactly the type of conversations that are happening in the public sector up and down the UK including the LGA’s Rewiring Public Services campaign which was recently hosted in the West Midlands by IEWM (more information can be found on IEWM’s blog).
With rising demand, decreasing funding and the opportunities being provided by technology, it’s a unique chance for communities and public sector organisations to completely reframe public services. The time has never been better to do this than now. So go on, see what you can do differently.
Both Oatcake events were sponsored by IEWM, without whom – and the time given by the speakers – they wouldn’t have happened. They have helped people to connect, been a solid source of new ideas and brought communities closer together. In my view it is by supporting and growing opportunities like this, that we have a real opportunity to rethink how we can do things in the public sector.

by Emma Rodgers

Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council

Photo Credit: deadmanjones via Compfight cc