From the box bedroom to the boardroom: how social media is coming of age with care act

mobile browsing

While good web pages are paramount social media must form a key part in how local government communicates the care act, a survey has revealed.

While 95 per cent will use a search engine, 60 per cent of people think that platforms like Facebook and Twitter will be used by people to find out how the change will affect their family.

The care act came into force on April 1 and has been hailed as the most significant change to social care for decades.

The poll for IEWM / West Midlands ADASS was carried out by comms2point0 in March and April and targeted people who work in a social care role in councils and the third sector as well as residents with a loved one who receives care and those who don’t.

The study, which will be presented to the ADASS Spring Seminar, maps out the challenges that local government faces when they are communicating the changes.

While search engines and the web remain the most important channel, the survey shows that social media is vital.  Overall, those believing that social media would be used by people to research or ask a question about the care act reached 59 per cent with 28 per cent thinking it would not. People in the third sector were most likely to think the social web would play a role.

The survey shows that social media has evolved from something once dismissed as something used by teenagers in a box bedroom to something that is used day-to-day and needs to be taken account by decision makers.

Will social media be used by people to find out how the social care act may affect them?

It is clear that all sectors see the importance of web tools like Twitter, Facebook and others with those who work in the third sector most valuing the role they can play. The figures remain broadly constant.

Will social media be used to find out how the care act affects them?

  • People who work in social care:  59 per cent YES and 29 per cent NO with 12 per cent don’t know.
  • People who work in the third sector: 68 per cent YES and 26 per cent NO with 6 per cent don’t know.
  • People with a relative or friend who receives care: 59 per cent YES and 21 per cent NO with 19 per cent don’t know.
  • People whop don’t know anyone who receives care: 60 per cent YES and 24 per cent NO with 16 per cent don’t know.

RECOMMENDATION: Accept as a council that social media needs to be part of the communications strategy.

Which will be the most popular social media channel used?

There were no surprises in the survey with 88 per cent of people naming Facebook and 72 per cent Twitter. YouTube was third with 46 per cent with other channels registering less than 10 per cent.

RECOMMENDATION: A better and evaluated use of Facebook is vital with targeted advertisements an option.

What social media response do you think councils should have to help people understand the care act?

It is clear that the expectation is for all people who are responsible for a council social media account should be briefed on where to signpost people be they social care or not. Six out of ten people thought this level of action is needed.

There was also a surprisingly large number looking for a dedicated social care account.

  • Brief everyone responsible for a council social media account 61 per cent
  • Brief people responsible for the corporate account 50 per cent
  • A dedicated social care social media profile operated by social care staff 43 per cent

RECOMMENDATION: The organisation needs to compile a list of individual members of staff who have access and brief them of where to direct people.

RECOMMENDATION: Consider a dedicated social care account.

How else will people find out about the care act?

Search engines dominate as the first port of call with 95 per cent of those surveyed saying they would use a tool like Google or Bing to look for help. The second highest was the council website with 81 per cent followed by a charity or voluntary sector website on 42 per cent. Just over a third would call the council or rely on the local Press to keep them informed. Less than 30 per cent would rely on a face-to-face chat with a council officer in person. Just 1 per cent wouldn’t try to find out, pointing to a thirst for information that needs to be filled.

  • Search engine 95 per cent
  • Council website 81 per cent
  • Charity website 42 per cent
  • Call the council 35 per cent
  • Read the Press 35 per cent
  • A face-to-face chat with a council officer 27 per cent
  • A face-to-face chat with a GP 23 per cent
  • A face-to-face chat with a charity 19 per cent
  • Call a third sector group 16 per cent
  • A face-to-face chat with a voluntary group 11 per cent
  • Call a GP 11 per cent
  • Wouldn’t try to find out 1 per cent

RECOMMENDATION: It is vital that councils have a good webpage that is in plain English and can be found easily. Many people won’t go through the council website so the right search terms and search engine optimisation need to be done.

Overall, 247 took part in the survey with 46 per cent declaring them to be social care staff, 16 per cent working for a voluntary group or charity, 18 per cent knowing someone who receives care and 30 per cent not knowing anyone who receives care or working in the sector.

by Dan Slee, Director at comms2point0, for IEWM and West Midlands ADASS

Photo credit: afagen / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

2014 IEWM #bestbywm local government social media survey


Social Media


In 2013 IEWM’s Best by West Midlands whitepaper and website raised the bar for local government social media by celebrating and sharing best practice.

The region continues to be at the cutting edge of using digital channels to communicate and listen better to the people they serve.

As in 2013, a survey to captrure where the region is has been conducted by comms2point0 of people working with social media in local government and the findings are striking.

Here are key conclusions from the numbers:

  • Social media use in West Midlands is getting mainstream. Senior officers  who use channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and others have almost doubled to just over 60 per cent compared to last year.
  • West Midlands local government are concentrating on the platforms with Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube the leading five.
  • West Midlands local government are missing out on the chance to communicate effectively with young people through the rise of new platforms such as Whats App and Snapchat. Both have almost zero take-up. This is worrying when they are so popular with young people.
  • Social media is getting gradually more effective on 36 per cent (up from 25 per cent) but the low rate of effectiveness may be a worry.
  • Who is using social media in West Midlands is also changing. Communications remains a bastion with 100 per cent use but frontline use creeping up to 65 per cent from just over half that  12-months ago.
  • But use amongst practitioners is dropping with respondents rating themselves as ‘high’ users dropping from 47 per cent to just 15 per cent.
  • There needs to be more resources given to using social media. Trust, training, tactics and risk are no longer the main barriers but resources with 54 per cent is now the number one factor.
  • West Midlands local government maintain their recognition of the importance of social media with almost 100 per cent thinking it is important or very important.
  • West Midlands authorities are not shifting more emphasis on social media. Unchanged too is the volume of use of social media with 40 per cent on ‘high’ use and 56 per cent ‘medium’ – figures almost unchanged year-on-year.
  • 18 channels are now being used – up three on previous years.
  • Fewer people are using internal social channel Yammer – a drop of just over 10 per cent to 31 per cent – the only major drop in 2014 when compared to last year.
  • Fewer organisations have a strategy falling from more than 60 per cent last year to 42 per cent in 2014.
  • More authorities are relaxing restrictions about sharing platforms such as dropbox which allows people to access documents stored in the cloud.


There are growing examples of good social media use being nominated including leaders regularly blogging to communicate with staff and residents including Birmingham City Council’s Mark Rodgers blog and Sandwell Council Leader Cllr Darren Cooper’s blog as well as Twitter from key officers such as head of environmental health and planning Marc Wilmott who uses Twitter.


Survey findings

There were 26 responses from 20 councils from the IEWM area including Birmingham City Council, Bromsgrove District Council, Coventry City Council, Dudley Borough Council, East Staffordshire District Council, Herefordshire County Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Nuneaton & Bedworth Borough Council, Redditch Borough Council, Sandwell Council, Solihull Borough Council, Shropshire Council, Stafford Borough Council, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council Telford & Wrekin Borough Council, Warwickshire County Council, Walsall Council and Worcestershire County Council.


Question 1: In your opinion, how important is it for councils to use social media?

2013: Very important or important: 100 per cent

2014: Very important or important: 96 per cent, don’t know 4 per cent.


Question 2: How important is it for you to use social media in your role?

2013: Very important or important: 100 per cent

2014: Very important or important: 96 per cent, 4 per cent neutral


Question 3: How would you describe your council’s use of social media?

2013: High 37.5 per cent, medium 55 per cent, low 7.5 per cent.

2014: High 40 per cent, medium 56 per cent, low 4 per cent


Question 4: How would you rate your council’s effectiveness of social media usage

2013: High 25 per cent, Medium 65 per cent and Low 10 per cent

2014: High 36 per cent, Medium 56 per cent and Low 8 per cent


Question 5: How would you rate your personal usage?

2013: High 47.5 per cent, Medium 32.5 per cent and Low 20 per cent.

2014: High 15 per cent, Medium 58 per cent, Low 23 per cent


What are the barriers stopping your council from using social media more effectively?

Cost 8 per cent (down from 22.5 per cent)

Technology 0 per cent (down from 10 per cent)

Training 0 per cent (down from 37.5 per cent)

Trust 4 per cent (down from 35 per cent)

Risk 0 per cent (down from 32 per cent)

Lack of guidelines & governance 0 per cent (down from 22.5 per cent)

Resources 54 per cent (up from 12.5 per cent)

Time 33 per cent (up from 20 per cent)


Who uses it?

Elected members 81 per cent (down from 85 per cent)

senior officers 61.5 per cent (up from 32.5 per cent)

Frontline teams 65 per cent (up from 47.5 per cent)

Communications 100 per cent (no change)


Do you have an up-to-date social media strategy/action plan?

Yes  42  (down from 62.5 per cent)    No    58  ( up from 37.5%)


Has staff training or guidelines published ?

Yes 77 ( up from 75 per cent)


Which platforms are your council OK with you using?

Position, platform, percentage in the 2014 survey (percentage in the 2013 survey)

1 (1) Twitter 100 per cent (100 per cent)

2 (2) Facebook 96 (100)

3 (3) YouTube 81 (82.5)

4 (4) Flickr 65 (75)

5 (5) LinkedIn 46 (40)

6 (7) Google Plus 38 (22.5)

7 (6) Yammer 31 (42.5)

7 (-) WordPress 31 (n/a)

9 (9) Pinterest 19 (10)

10 (15) Dropbox 19 (2.5)

11 (15) Instagram 11 (2.5)

11 (15) Soundcloud 11 (2.5)

11 (8) Audioboo 11 (15)

11 (-) Vine 11 (-)

11 (12) Cover-i-Live 11 (5)

15 (-) Tumblr 8 (n/a)

16 (-) Whats App 4 (-)

17 (15) n0tice 4 (2.5)

18 (12) Foursquare 4 (5)

19 (-) Snapchat 0 (-)
Question 6: Please list top three examples of good social media use in your council.


Walsall Council

Walsall Council countryside ranger Morgan Bowers @walsallwildlife

Walsall Council area of outstanding natural beauty Barr Beacon @BarrBeacon

Walsall Council park ranger @ArboRangerMark


Staffordshire Moorlands District Council

Engagement with residents, highlighting issues with service delivery and promoting key Council messages.


Worcestershire County Council

Crisis communications – e.g. getting quick information out to the public about road closures, weather, school closures etc, Chief Exec twitter account – to share top council news and personalise the Council as a whole and  Smaller service areas Facebook pages – e.g. Children’s Centres, Library services etc. Allows services to link up with service users to share information and build relationships with those members of the public who are harder to reach ()


Dudley Council

Facebook community forums – engagement directly with deputy leader of the council supported by comms, Flickr – over 500,000 views and huge engagement tool for the authority and Twitter customer services (comms worked with colleagues in customer service centre to create bespoke twitter handle for service requests…potholes etc – works v well and lets comms continue to do day job)


East Staffordshire Borough Council

Notification of suspended services due to weather.
Promotion of events and activities at leisure centres and arts centre
Using facebook during the redevelopment of a leisure centre. (

Bromsgrove District and Redditch Borough Councils (shared service)

Social media incentives
Retweets to and from other partners.


Stoke-on-Trent City Council

Pinterest board created to support city literary festival,

Redirecting traffic queries via Twitter to online roadworks site,

Developing LinkedIn jobs and careers presence


South Staffordshire District Council

Twitter – customer services encouraging more people to contact them via twitter to save on phone calls
Baggeridge Country Park – continually engages with customers and enthusiasts, sets exactly the right tone
Recent site allocations consultation – first time we have included Twitter in a consultation and people seemed to like it!


Stafford Borough Council

Dog fouling – social media built upon the successful work of this ongoing campaign by encouraging people to stop offenders
Fly tipping – similar to the above in which dumped rubbish is pictured with details such as time date and location and encouraging people to give information
Torch relay 2012 Facebook – dedicated site set up to encourage people to turn out and interacted with are partners on the day to connect residents who were posting their pics to it


Sandwell Council

– Our Facebook page continues to grow in Likes and is a really effective way of communicating with residents – despite some users claiming it’s no longer flavour of the month. On a weekly basis we can reach 15-20,000 people and Likes continue to grow at about 100 a week.

– We’re quickly expanding how teams around the council use social media themselves, rather than relying on Comms. Public Health, Libraries and HR are the latest to be joining the party!

The CEO and Council Leader are regular bloggers – we’ve recently revamped the council leader’s blog to give it a responsive design and a cleaner look. Check out


Herefordshire County Council

Hereford Library
Herefordshire head of planning
Hereford libraries Facebook page


Cannock Chase District Council

A Facebook campaign to get victims of domestic abuse to contact help organisations
Live tweeting from Council meetings


Shropshire Council

Corporate twitter account

North Warwickshire Borough Council

Twitter and Facebook used by our Leisure Centres.
Facebook used by the team that managed our skate park.
The past major used twitter during his term.


Coventry City Council

Tweeting live from planning committee
Posting pics of election night count on flickr
Tweeting infographic of election stats


Warwickshire County Council

Monitoring lobby groups (Siblings at same school)
engaging with campaign target audiences (ex smoker factor)
alerting people to incidents (WFRS)


Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council

Facebook page for new £10 million leisure centre to alert customers to class changes, new courses etc.
Elections – we tweeted all results as they happened and linked to live results page on our website. We won praise locally for that.
Working with Town Centre Partnership to encourage greater sharing of news and issues among local businesses.


Telford & Wrekin Council

monitoring and updating during periods of bad weather has helped us increase our followers significantly.
Our policy is always to respond quickly to comments/reports/questions so that confidence in our brand grows all the time.
Effective use of Facebook advertising to help grow our audience and raise awareness of specific campaigns such as fostering and free school meals.

Web casting of meetings working local voluntary group
Seeking residents views or particular issues – eg. asking them to vote in favour of one thing or another


Birmingham City Council

Local Elections coverage 2014
The corporate Google+ account 55,000 followers
Promoting live webcasts on social media. Opening up democracy to the public 400,000 views for meetings since Feb 2013


Stratford-upon-Avon District Council

1. Answering concerns – answering queries about empty buildings and potential enforcement action – Graffiti removal action.
2. 24 Tweets for Christmas – recycling reminders
3. Posting of elections results


Solihull Borough Council

Facebook posts have a high reach and usually garner a lot of feedback/comments. 2. Everyone involved with social media in SMBC meets every month at the Social Media Cafe to discuss ideas and get advice/help etc. 3.  We have a lot of enthusiasm from across the board for social media, a lot of new start ups and people willing to get involved.

Will have to think about that one!


Good use of social media in the West Midlands across the public sector

  • Police/environment agency during the floods – really great to share information quickly and link up with LAs
  • Coventry – Facebook – snow = high number of likes
  • #WMGRIT – partnership we were involved in around gritting roads in the region
  • Staffordshire County Council – Ironman promotion Comms 2.0 always continues to impress me with the breadth of knowledge about digital communications
  • Staffordshire County Council – Treated Badly domestic abuse campaign
  • I am only impressed if I know the evaluation. So although it may get lots of publicity, it may be funny or people like it (ie police comments around major football matches on twitter) I would need to know if there has been a reduction in drink driving for example to make me ‘impressed.’
  • Really impressed by WMP neighbourhood policing teams’ use of Twitter – good to see the “sweets” being shared right at the frontline. They give a really good insight of what’s going on on the ground.
  • Gritters. Birmingham City’s recent Hidden City campaign.
  • West Midlands Police’s use of Twitter.
  • Birmingham CEX blog and twitter
  • BCC Barbara Nice campaign – integrated mix of channels;
  • @HealthyBrum – excellent public health messages.



by Dan Slee, comms2point0

Comms2Point0 logo







Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

New Ideas Fund – successful applications announced

Thumbs up

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

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.

Picture credit

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

Picture credit

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.

Picutre credit

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

Picture credit

Using social media on the frontline by a countryside officer

I started tweeting at work on March 21, 2011.  That’s 2 years, 1 month, 2 weeks and 4 days.  To be honest, I never thought that the @WalsallWildlife twitter feed would meet with the success that it has, and to this day I’m still convinced it’s more of a testament to just how much the people of the West Midlands love wildlife rather than anything that I’m doing in particular.

My aim was to emulate @HotelAlpha9 – a tweeting police officer providing a glimpse into life on the beat.  I wanted to give people a window into a day in the life of a Countryside Ranger, and to find a way to network with people at events, and to generally use social media as a way to engage people.

Wildlife in Walsall

Generally speaking, through twitter and facebook, I can schedule and book events, surveys, projects and more, without ever needing to advertise, put up flyers or write press releases.   For example, I did a bat survey at Merrions Wood last week and had 15 volunteers show up to help!  On average, 50+ people attend each astronomy event we hold on Barr Beacon, and large-scale events like our annual Peregrine Watch day is attended by hundreds of people.

It also works as a direct-line for people wanting to report findings to our team, ask questions about upcoming events, and even just send in photos of their garden wildlife for identification.  Of course, the immediate access and response can sometimes blur the line between ‘work’ and ‘life’, so I still use my personal twitter account for general chit-chat that isn’t work related.  I have to enforce a few loose ‘rules’ on myself – one of which is to treat enquiries that come in via social media with as much weight as any letter, email or phone call from a member of the public.  As a council, we need to accept the fact that this is simply how an increasing number of people communicate now.

So does this mean the death of the press release?  Has video killed the radio star? Not yet at least.  I need to remain mindful that not everyone is social media savvy, and so for larger events I do go a bit ‘old school’, and especially for positive stories and achievements, which it’s great to share with the online AND offline wildlife fans out there.


by Morgan Bowers,

Countryside Officer for Walsall Council


Picture credit

Agumented Reality and Local Government – Talk About Local

People have often said that Local Government has a reality all of its own, now the technology is available for you to create new (augmented) realities using the data that you are the keepers of.

Augmented reality allows local governments to provide more information about objects such as buildings, visitor attractions,even street furniture than could ever be conveyed by a physical noticeboard.  The citizen or your staff can simply hold up their phone and, through the camera view see bubbles floating over objects that, when tapped on screen pull up web pages of info about the object.  Thanks to Talk About Local’s software developed with NESTA and The Nominet Trust this is quick, easy and relatively cheap to do.

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent

With the advent of ever more powerful smart devices and a lower cost of entry to own them, Local Government can now start to look at using these technologies for the benefit their communities.

Augmented Reality still sounds very sci-fi and people may say it is a gimmick, but it is simply, being able to enhance a user’s environment digitally, providing them with an extra layer of information based on their physical location.

The extra layer of information that a user gets could be anything of a number of things, for example

Planning applications – how good would it be for a resident, visitor, council officer or other interested party, to be able to use their smart device to look down a road and see which properties currently have planning applications on them? Maybe someone looking to move in to a particular area, they could have a quick scan around with their smart device and see that there is an application to pull the old shops down and replace it with a new modern precinct. What if licensing applications were available? Your new resident could see that the bistro across the road wants to extend its opening hours, or the local pub wants a late license for entertainment on Friday Saturday & Sunday the list is endless but it puts the information into the hands of the person who needs it and allows them to make a more informed decision.

These are boring and possibly mundane examples but they are examples of information that you hold that is publically available, that with a little work you can present to people in a new, innovative and useful way.

Tourism – Budgets being cut, tourist information officer’s roles being slashed, offices being closed? Why not put your, listed buildings, places of interest and public art into augmented reality, give your visitors the tools to self navigate around your town or city. For a visitor to see where the ancestral home of Sir Joseph Fosdyke, Tripe Magnate, is in relation to their current location and then get directions to get them there empowers the visitor and allows you to control their visitor experience to some degree.

Those are just a few very simple examples of what you could do to augment the reality of people in your towns & cities; it certainly isn’t the cure all but it also isn’t a gimmick. Google Glass (and others) is coming, get your data out there and make sure your place doesn’t become the Starbucks Street.

If you have a smart device, phone or tablet, got this link to see examples of geolocated data from the West Midlands being used in Augmented Reality, we have used data from Rate My Place, Planning Alerts & Fix My Street as examples. If you are not able to see any points in the app from your location drop us a line at with your location and we will add some data in for you, better still if you have a data set that is geolocated we would be delighted to add a sample of your data for you to experiment with.

If you have geolocated data or even if you wanted to create bespoke data for a project, adding this into Augmented Reality platforms isn’t as difficult or as costly as you may think.  Get in touch with the team at Talk About Local for more

by Mike Rawlins

Founder of the Pits n Pots hyperlocal website in Stoke-on-Trent and  commercial and technical manager at Talk About Local.

Picture credit

WM grit

Walsall gritter


When temperatures plunge and the snow and ice comes, we don’t just grit the roads in the West Midlands, we #wmgrit them! And I’d like to think our regional ‘Twitter-Gritter’ initiative has provided a useful public service over the last two winters.

The #wmgrit initiative brings together gritting alerts and other winter information tweeted by local authorities across the West Midlands.

We all use the same hashtag (#wmgrit) and people can access the combined information in a variety of ways.

The idea is that wherever you’re planning to travel within the region you can quickly check to see whose roads have been gritted – making it easier to plan your journey.

#wmgrit launched on December 1 2011 with seven councils: Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Solihull.

We were quickly joined by others, including Wolverhampton, Telford and Wrekin, Coventry, Worcestershire and Warwickshire

All we asked was that participating authorities added the #wmgrit hashtag to their gritting tweets.

The campaign uses CoverItLive, a live blogging platform that pulls in #wmgrit tweets from all participating organisations.

The feed can then be embedded on local authority websites, hyperlocal sites and has also been used by local newspapers on their websites.

We can’t guarantee the roads will be free of snow and ice – as colleagues in Walsall often remind the public, ‘Grit is not a magic substance’ But we can reassure people across the region that we’re on the case, doing everything we can to keep the roads safe and passable.

#wmgrit also recognises the great work done by our gritting crews. Throughout winter, often in the wee small hours when we’re all tucked up safe and sound in bed, these crews are out treating the roads. Most people don’t see them, so refuse to believe they’ve been out.

At least this way, even if the crews are out at 2am, we can alert people to the fact and it was nice to see a number of tweets last winter from members of the public simply saying thanks to the crews.

The other reason I’m particularly proud of the #wmgrit initiative is that it shows what can be achieved when councils work together.

In local government, we’re often accused – sometimes justifiably – of working in silos. But there are plenty of people who love to collaborate, share ideas and work together to improve services.

#wmgrit was born out of that collaborative spirit.

At a time when we’re all skint and all feeling a bit battered and bruised by cuts, cuts and more cuts, it brings together like-minded officers from across the region and shows local government at its best.

by Geoff Coleman from Birmingham City Council

and Birmingham City Council, Walsall Council, Dudley Council, Sandwell Council, Shropshire Council, Staffordshire County Council, Solihull Council, Wolverhampton Council, Telford and Wrekin, Coventry, Worcestershire and Warwickshire 

Picture credit