Work’s pleasure / difficulty balance

I gave a talk at Moseley Exchange tonight (27 Nov 2012). It was billed as being about the Creative Industries but actually I had begun to prep something that was more about me. In the end I gave a lengthy talk (circa 70 mins) entitled ‘The Creative Economy and Me’.

It was partly an excuse to talk about the research I am working on at the moment that is dealing with ideas of ‘Creative Citizenship’ but I also wanted to talk about my own history and the ways in which my work-life had connected to aspects of creativity and the creative economy.

So to show this I created some graphs to show my work history as set against:

difficulty and pleasure:work life slide 3

+ creativity (points at which I had created stuff; usually photographs, short films or journalism):

work life slide 2

+ earnings:

work life slide 1

I thought this an interesting way to plot my work history.

I didn’t record the talk and am reluctant to post up the rest of the slides because I was quite chuffed with it and may re-deliver it to other audiences at some point.

Mr Grumpy

I actually have some pyjamas with Mr Grumpy on them. So it comes as some surprise to discover that former local councillor Martin Mullaney (Lib Dem, Moseley & Kings Heath) seems to know something about my nightwear of choice:

Obviously he’s right, the evidence is there on my pyjamas and in my occasional grumpy posts on this blog (entries on Created in Birmingham and on Social Media use by local councils are examples I guess). In general though I do try to produce evidence to legitimise my grumpiness. I’d like to apologise for those occasions when I have failed to do that and just released my grumpiness into the ether, to hang there like a bad smell.

Mullaney had reason to make his accusation because I’d been grumpy about his response to an article on the city council press office website about smoking on TV. It wasn’t so much Mullaney’s protest at the bandwagon-jumping nature of the article that made me grumpy, more his ‘nanny state’ remark in response to it. It’s one of those expressions, like ‘political correctness gone mad’, that’s usually the recourse of someone who has run out of ideas about how to engage in public debate.

I must resist engaging with political types on twitter as it never ends with the non-politician winning. But to a degree I enjoy it; it makes me think a little about what it would be like to enter politics myself…

Anyway, the whole exchange is here:

Parkrun – a model for innovation in the public sector

Here are some thoughts about unconferences/barcamps and their role in supporting innovation in the public sector. Apologies if they’re half-formed (my thoughts that is – if I had more time I would throw in more ‘theory’) but I write them on the back of a point I made at work today where ‘cross-innovation’ was being discussed (in the context of this project).

Crossing the start line
I mentioned how there was a time where local government just did conferences and now it does a lot of unconferences. So many in fact that it’s easy to forget what the pre-unconference era felt like. Unconference participants seem to really value them and feel, in general terms, that these are genuine spaces for innovation.

And yet some are questioning how valid the format is. Where’s the Return On Investment wonders Paul Coxon? They’re part of a wider ‘learning mix’ says Dave Briggs in response. Dave warns his readers off “ascrib[ing] overly high expectations for what they might achieve.” I think Dave might be undervaluing this movement and Paul hasn’t thought through how we can solve the ROI bit.

I reckon the unconference/barcamp movement within the public sector could be an amazing transformational tool that could foster the latent innovation in a wider, more diverse range of public sector staff.

In order to do that it should look to Parkrun as a model for participation.

I love Parkrun. In simple terms this is a weekly 5 kilometre, timed, running race, held in a local park. It began in North London in Bushy Park in 2004 and now takes place in 152 locations every week with nearly 225,000 people in the UK having participated. Runners register online and their times are recorded, enabling them to can compare themselves against others from across the UK. The tech bit boils down to each runner having a barcode (printed out from the site after registration), they take it to the run and have it scanned at the end of the race. At some point mid-morning the data is uploaded and you can see how you did.

Now each Parkrun is totally volunteer run (it takes maybe 10 people to make each race happen – marshalling, timekeeping etc.). There’s a light-touch organisation called Parkrun that pulls in some sponsorship money which is then ploughed into growing the movement.

Now in large part running is a totally selfish activity so how does Parkrun connect to the sharing ethos of the unconference/barcamp movement and in what ways does it offer a route to the scaling up of innovation? Here’s how:

  • There are lots of places for it to happen – the UK has plenty of parks waiting to be filled with eager runners. In the same way that there are lots of spaces for discussion and unconferences to happen. See Brewcamp for an example of a micro-level ‘un’ event that makes use of local coffee shops and pubs.
  • Your participation is measured and can be compared with others – you know that there will always be someone quicker/better than you. However, measurement against others doesn’t necessarily create jealousy – most runners don’t want to be the fastest. For example, my current battle is to be as good as I used to be – the data gives me a welcome push.
  • It recognises that different forms of participation should be rewarded more than others – volunteering to organise a race scores more points. Turning up to 50 or 100 events gets you some goodies. If you’re a junior then you only need 10 runs to get some goodies. In some ways the points system here is a kind of Klout for running – it’s a light touch measurement of your social capital. But point-scoring really matters. It’s evidence you did something, that you participated and that the participation made a difference to you and to others (presuming you give back a little by volunteering). It challenges hierarchies rather than creates them, it enables us all all to see a route to the top.
  • The technology behind the measurement system is low-cost and works at scale – each race takes £5k to start-up. I suspect it could be less as Parkrun seem to want to supply you with their barcode scanner + laptop. The point however is that it works. And the same tech works at races with 50 runners as well as 500 runners.
  • It recognises that it can’t make people better runners, it can only create the conditions – Number 5 of Parkrun’s ‘General Principles‘ says that you should have a post-run meeting place. The reality is that as soon as you cross the line you’re chatting; to regulars, or to the person who kept up with you, or who beat you on the sprint finish, or who also wears bright pink socks. Whatever the reason, the adrenalin gives you a little push to be less shy, to smile at other people, to want to share the moment. Parkrun, the organisation, makes none of this happen; but it facilitates the running together at the same time, on a regular basis. That makes it happen.
  • There’s a return on investment that is measurable to which Parkrun makes a small but useful contribution – the reason that some local authorities put money into Parkruns (50% of the £5k is from Parkrun, 50% from local sources) is that it’s easy to write a business case for. Everyone has health and well-being targets to meet and if there’s a low-cost, measurable way to contribute to that target then £2.5k isn’t a lot of money.

So, taking my cue from above, what should the Public Sector unconference/barcamp movement do to be more like Parkrun? It should:

  1. Have many, many more, smaller events. Be more like Brewcamp.
  2. It should measure participation and recognise different levels of participation (reward panel pitching, reward cake-making, reward tidying up afterwards, reward being an event organiser).
  3. People should score actual points, that are trackable online, for their participation.
  4. It should find a simple, low-cost, technology solution to all this.
  5. It should use the data generated from wide-spread participation to demonstrate its value to the public, to politicians, to senior public officials, to whoever asks for it.
  6. It should recognise that it can only create the conditions, not control the outcomes. This blog post is arguing that although the current conditions facilitate discussion that can support innovation, the scale is not there and it is not measurable. This movement has to recognise that I think.

In short, I can’t understand why someone hasn’t seen the potential in this the same way Podnosh has in the Social Media Surgery movement.

Whatever happens, enjoy your running.

#hyperwm2012 – a podcast

#hyperwm 2012Instead of my usual class today I took the students to an unconference (a first for almost all of them). This was the third outing of Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands which is “for people working or interested in Local Government in the West Midlands to get together for a few hours and talk about their work.”

Given previous events featured discussions about how to make better use of Social Media it seemed a safe bet, and it was, that it would be on-topic for my students (all studying my Social Media as Culture module).

After the event we sat together and recorded some reflections about the sessions we’d attended and the ways in which social media was discussed by delegates. The cast of characters here is very international (three from China, one from Lithuania, one from Brazil and two from here in the West Midlands). Enjoy.

Second city, second class – the data

So folk in my network keep tweeting this article from The Economist which is about Birmingham’s economic woes. Us Brummies love to agonise about our city’s failings so it’s had wide retweetage with one person (I won’t link) even laboriously tweeting sections from it.

I immediately took a dislike to the article due to the way the journalist starts by gazing of the train window and using the dereliction they witness to shape the reader’s view of the city. Of course one can’t blame the journalist for that; the fault is journalism itself. But that’s for another post.

Anyway, I love an excuse to go find the evidence on which claims about our great city are made so I went hunting for the documents and spreadsheets that are the basis for the article’s claims.

As you might expect from The Economist, almost every claim made in the article can be backed up (though I’m pleased that I could pull them up on the nerdy train facts). I’ve tried to confine myself to instances where statistics are cited.

So here’s the evidence for The Economist article in case you ever need it (as embedded google doc below or on a separate page).

I hope you find this useful. When I start on these things I can’t help but carry on digging for the facts. I guess now the question is, given the City is in a relatively poor state, what are we going to do about it?


MA Social Media – big tick

The MA Social Media course I run at Birmingham City University has been accredited. It has a big tick from an organisation called Creative Skillset, a body that speaks on behalf of the media and creative industries in relation to skills issues.

Big TickI’m most pleased about this. The course had its fair share of criticism before it even began with my colleague Jon Hickman taking most of the flack (the course documents were even the subject of an FOI request). So many thanks to Jon for designing a course that has now had the recognition it deserves. He thought a balance of theory and practice would work and it does; what’s more the students value it, as Skillset found out when they talked to them.

The student voice played a key part here and credit to Skillset for spending quite a bit of time with them (and with some industry reps) on the day of the accreditation visit. I had both home and distance leaners on hand to feed back and all did me proud. In fact all 25 students who have gone through the course have done me proud.

I suspect the ‘tick’ may help a little with recruitment even if one doesn’t know or care who Skillset are; the concept of ‘accreditation’ travels internationally and offers some kind of assurance that the course is of value. Well here’s hoping anyway.