Thoughts from an unconference
Last weekend, I found myself in Manchester to attend Blue Light Camp. I went to my first ‘unconference’ GovCamp 2012 earlier this year and was both thrilled and compelled to attend another and booked myself up to go to BlueLight Camp at that point.
The purpose of Blue Light Camp was focused particularly on the use of social media/technology solutions and problems faced by first response services – particularly police, fire, ambulance but including social care and auxiliary services which have attached involvement.
The power of the ‘unconference’ is to (as was said yesterday) to capture more of the networking that happens around more traditional conferences and growing some of the more interesting conversations that develop and pushing them to the centre rather than keeping them at the periphery.
After large scale introductions, the pitches for the sessions started and I could see some of the difficulties in making decisions about where to go.
I started at a session based around ideas in the ‘Art of Deception’ and took part in a fascinating and wide ranging series of conversations about some of the darker forces and concerns about the use of social media as well as drawing and sharing experiences of the benefits.
It’s easy to be swayed and entranced by the power of the digital and new waves of communication but there are still rules and patterns of behaviour to be learnt. Some ‘mistakes’ are made through the spread of misinformation unintentionally but there can also be mischief-makers and worse who can see different ways of spreading and using the power of the tool in malicious ways.
We can (and often do) make mistakes in our uses of social media. Sometimes the best thing to do is to apologise and move on. We should treat our ‘users’, ‘customers’, ‘the general public’ as adults (if they are!) and we will gain more respect through honesty and reliability as a result – but there’s a lot of latent fear of ‘bad use’.
It was a conversation that I continued over lunch with some of the other attendees and one that made me realise how near we are to the beginning of our learning cycles about both potential perils and opportunities afforded to us by our use of networks of communication and that today’s Twitter will be tomorrow’s MySpace. Platforms change, but ways of communicating change more slowly.
Immediately after lunch, I attended a session on co-production. This is an area possibly where social care are slightly ahead of the game with the push for more user involvement/engagement. What followed was an interesting discussion on how to use the ‘general public’ to have a stake in the services we need and use – even if we are not aware of it – like the fire service. There was a lot we can learn in social care as a whole though from the suggestions shared – such as encouraging engagement and responses through the use of Bubblino. How do we encourage ‘micro feedback’ and use it in our services as some of the traditional feedback mechanisms (long PDF documents and filling in ‘response’ forms) can be dry and encourage the same people who are time-rich to have the louder voices. It is an area that definitely needs more creative thought and it was useful to share information across different services rather than – to put it bluntly – to reinvent the wheel in an infinite amount of ways.
I then attended a session of brainstorming about a new potential platform/web site/forum/online space for First Responders to collate and share information outside the silos that are currently in place. It’s an area that interests me particularly as I think we naturally allay into our ‘work based’ personae in order to build protective silos and can easily forget the sometime crucial element of who we are ‘working for’ ultimately.
It’s often seen between and within health and social care. My simplistic solution to some of these problems in the past where they have existed locally is to co-locate training or even visits so that we can meet and understand the ‘people behind the telephone’. Grumbling about ‘district nurses’ is easy but when you know Amy who was very friendly and made you a cup of tea, it’s more difficult to grumble and then, when you have an immediate issue, you make a point of calling Amy because she’s ‘easier to talk to’ than ‘some of the others’ then you can see the differences breaking down.
When Joe from the local police station visited and you had a laugh with him, you’ll feel less intimidated or concerned about calling him over what you might think is a minor issue or question. It doesn’t always work like that of course, but knowing people makes it easier to speak to them about the little things that come up. So that’s how it is face-to-face – can these relationships grow in parallel ways online? I have no doubt. There are some people who I have built up relationships with online and would seek to enter conversations with them to ask questions/support in a more private forum (email/DM) and I can see that happening more frequently. Again, it’s all about trust.
The final session I attended was a fascinating breakdown of information about how twitter in particular was used during the riots last summer. Farida Vis, a communications academic who has been researching the use of social media as a part of the Reading the Riots research gave a presentation/initiated a conversation about the way the social media was used in a civil emergency situation. She has written a blog post here which I highly recommend as she explains the premise and results of her research directly. The slides she spoke from were also shared here. Particularly interesting is the visualisation which she represents about the spread of rumours and the ways the rumours were quelled.
I may well return to a more extensive post about the use of social media during the riots so I won’t feedback more extensively now except to recommend you read the links I shared above.
So after some initial anxiety about attending, I found Blue Light Camp both invigorating and compelling. I have more ideas, more contacts and more incentive to return to work and ‘make a difference’ – what I am struck by is how many motivated, interested and exciting people there are in this sector and how much we can do when we ignore some of the barriers which are often used to divide us into different sectors.
And I got a blue pig.
So thanks to the incredible organisation team and sponsors. Thanks to all the attendees and thanks for the kindness, friendliness and openness. It was a compelling and thought-provoking Sunday in Manchester. I hope to be back.
Top photo from Metropolitan Police/Flickr