Stuff what I has been reading: 17/02/10 – 24/02/10

'Reading the TV novels summary' by pedrosimoes7

Over the last seven days, I have become a richer and more-engaging person for having read:

1. ‘Evaluating our blogs‘ from Stephen Hale’s FCO blog

“Foreign Office bloggers should focus on making sure that their blogs are integrated, personal, real-time, and 2-way. These are the headline findings of our detailed evaluation of the impact and reach of our blog”

The latest in a strong series of evaluations by the FCO’s Digital Diplomacy Group of their digital media activities. A very useful, well set out contribution to the growing body of research on governments’ use of digital engagement.

2. ‘British Social Attitudes 25th Report‘ from the National Centre for Social Research

“Every year the British Social Attitudes survey asks around 3000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run. The survey tracks people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes and informs the development of public policy.”

Published back in January, this report and the short summary of findings provided online, are essential reading on the British social attitudes ahead of the General Election.

3. ‘How to handle and encourage trailblazers‘ by Laurence Jackson for Guardian Public

“The public sector is hardly renowned for taking risks, but leaders should be able to identify trailblazers in their organisation – employees with a creative spark or energy or vision – and encourage them to realise their potential”

An overview of a study – conducted by Manchester Business School and Wickland Westcott – of the characteristics, career history and ambitions of 30 public sector leaders, selected for their ability to drive transformation in public services.

On my desktop this week… ‘Morsels’* by Raymond Biesinger

'Morsels'* by Raymond Biesinger

Raymond Biesinger is a self-taught illustrator based in Edmonton, Canada.

His portfolio is at Thre’s some great stuff on there, including an illustration of the UK Houses of Parliament.

* ‘Morsels’ is the name I gave it. The site doesn’t provide the artist’s title.

What did you do during the Flu, daddy?

The ‘Swine Flu’ pandemic is far from the threat it was. We must remember it as a genuine threat – 14,711 died worldwide, with 390 of those in the UK – but now the government response is being scaled back.

COI was proud to play its part in spearheading efforts to educate the public about the pandemic and keep the information flowing as the situation unfolded. The virus was unpredictable and as this was the first pandemic of the digital age there was limited scope for communications planning and our efforts had to be flexible and fleet of foot.

From April 2009, I led a small COI Interactive team tasked with coordinating the ‘owned’ and earned’ digital media response; but with the general scaling back, I have now been ‘stood down’ and assigned to other campaigns and projects.

There will be formal evaluation efforts to properly assess the contribution made by government communications in limiting the impact of the virus. The aim will be to capture lessons learned. From my vantage, the integrated communications worked well – alongside a healthy dose of responsible coverage by the media – and those contributing to the digital efforts should be pleased with the results.

Still, having had opportunity to reflect, I’d recommend 10 additions to our response:

  1. Place at least as much importance on mobile and web as any other media
  2. Create one UK site for the public to access official information, advice, services and updates
  3. Establish a centralised and automated repository to gather stats from all relevant public sector websites, and make these available as ‘raw’ reports and dashboards
  4. Intervene in the social web to correct misformation, answer questions and build up engagement with the general public through regular webchats and podcasts
  5. Provide ‘toolkits’ of content and apps for bloggers and community site managers, including – for example – symptom checkers
  6. Use mobile to distribute updates and access codes to key at-risk groups
  7. Encourage peer-to-peer exchange of official information and messaging through social network apps – for example ‘I’ve taken the following measures, so should you’
  8. Release as many raw data sets and visualisations as possible to demonstrate spread and status
  9. Collate local situation updates and make available through a centralised application
  10. Use social media monitoring to optimise editorial content and tactical paid-for-search activity

In summary, future pandemic communications ought to benefit from a single destination site for all citizens, use of the social web and mobile to encourage engagement with official sources, more automated collection and sharing of data, and a greater frequency of content updates using all available rich media.

Tool-up NGO-style – 20 web-based tools for daily working

My fiancee, Gemma, is a very adventurous woman. She works in countries like Afghanistan, Chad and Nepal for a development communications NGO called Equal Access.

In 2009, Equal Access opened up a new office to run radio projects in Yemen, and in November Gemma went over train the Yemeni team. Unfortunately, Gem got sick and I had to go to Yemen to bring her home. Always looking for the positives, I at least got to visit an amazing country and had a chance to see Gemma’s organisation at work.

Amidst all the excitement in setting up the new office, there were also problems, not least in the areas of IT and communications. Although there was a decent web connection, the team was very dependent on desktop software for basic office functions, organising themselves, keeping in touch with Equal Access HQ in San Francisco and with partners and funders around the world. Problem was that this software cost a lot, needed expertise to install and sync, and that is if it ever gets through customs with visitors.

It got me thinking about the web and how the tools it holds could help. Might these support everyday tasks? Could they save money? Improve communications? Perhaps encourage innovation? It seems that in some sectors knowledge of these tools is well-established, whereas in others their use is unfamiliar and the choice can be bewildering.

Out of that thinking came the list below. The inclusions do basic things, at a low cost or for free, are easy to set up and manage, and work well on low bandwidth. I’ve written it up with Equal Access in mind, but it may also be useful for other small to medium-sized NGOs thinking about how to take advantage of the web. Continue reading “Tool-up NGO-style – 20 web-based tools for daily working”