People increasingly expect apps to be location-aware.

Much of our lives, and the lives of people we create services for, revolve around the unique context of our places. Our communities and neighbourhoods, perhaps now more than we ever realised before, are more than where we live but also where people work, socialise and learn. A common need we find when working with local authorities is a need to connect residents with services, organisations or events beyond the council and in their local area. We see user stories like:

  • I need to find services in my local area
  • I need to know what’s going on around me
  • I need to see the closest events to me

Increasingly, we expect the apps and platforms we use to be location-aware, highlighting services within a specific geographic area. Be that regionally, city-wide or at a neighbourhood level. Driven by apps like Airbnb, Uber or Google Maps, this raised expectation is a dataset we can build into council platforms, supporting residents with the kind of connectivity they expect.

In this post, we’ll look at a few ways to add location-aware search, comparing two main approaches: one with Ruby on Rails with PostgreSQL, and one with Node.js and MongoDB.

First, let’s consider the kind of data we’ll need.

Preparing our data

Let’s say that our users are parents, and we want to show them nearby childminders. We might have data like this:

  • childminder name
  • contact phone number
  • street address
  • town
  • postcode

The first step is geocoding the data: turning those address fields into coordinates we can use.

Google has a geocoding API we’ll use. Because it has the power of Google Maps behind it, it’s fairly resilient to slight misspellings and misformatting that will probably be common to any real-world dataset.

There are plenty of alternatives, but they all have idiosyncrasies. It’s worth playing around and seeing which one gives the most valuable results for your data.

Some of these APIs can get expensive if we have thousands of data points to geocode, but it’s possible to use Google Sheets to do the hard work for us.

Once we have a fully geocoded dataset, it’s time to think about querying it.

The Rails/Postgres approach

Let’s look at how to work with our data in a fresh Rails app.

We’ll start by making a new model called Service, which we’ll add extra columns onto to represent our coordinates:

rails g model Service name:string phone:string address:string town:string postcode:string latitude:float longitude:float

There’s a great Rails gem called geocoder which is easy to set up and adds all sorts of useful geospatial methods to our models.

Getting the straight-line distance to each result is normally enough to meet the user’s need, and it substantially simplifies the computations we need to make.

We can plug our latitude/longitude pairs into the haversine formula, which accounts for the curvature of the earth (which becomes an important source of error on distances greater than about 20 kilometres).

The alternative would be to call an external directions API, like Google’s, and calculate real-world distances, but that’s not practical for large datasets if there’s no way of knowing where the user wants to search from.

Luckily Rails abstracts all that into the background, so once we’ve got our prepared data imported, getting results by distance from a location is simple:

Service.near("SE1 9RG")

That method will both geocode your search query into a latitude/longitude and do the maths to sort the results.

For simple use cases this will be enough, but on a recent project we bumped up against some limitations that had us looking for a more customisable approach.

Let’s extend our childminders example from earlier to consider larger organisations that might offer the same service from lots of locations.

It’s still the service that we’re interested in, but now the coordinates we need to search on are in a seperate database table, and there can be many coordinate pairs per service. The geocoder gem doesn’t support this use case out of the box, and it’s quite a slow, complex database query if we code it manually.

The Node.js/MongoDB approach

MongoDB is a document store database — rather than traditional rows and columns, it stores blobs of JSON in a format that can be easily manipulated in Node.js.

MongoDB stores data as blobs of JSON that can be easily manipulated in JavaScript

Mongo also has excellent support for geospatial queries, with operators like $nearSphere.

Because of the document model it follows, it’s also great at querying nested data, like our one-service-to-many-locations structure.

1. Start using geoJSON

Although we can also use simple coordinate pairs, MongoDB encourages geoJSON for formatting geospatial data. Here’s a simple geoJSON object which we could nest inside our data for querying:

{
type: "Point",
coordinates: [-0.0909866, 51.5046914]
}

GeoJSON coordinates are always ordered longitude-first, which sometimes trips newbies up.

2. Create an index

The other extra step needed to activate geospatial querying is to create the right index. This can be done programmatically, or with a GUI app like MongoDB Compass.

Making an index using the Node.js driver could look like this:

db.collection("services").createIndex({
"locations.geometry": "2dsphere"
})

We’re using dot notation to query nested data, in this case an array of locations on each service document, where each one has a geoJSON object stored on the geometry key.

3. Query the data

Once we’ve got our data prepared and indexed, we can query it using the MongoDB Node.js driver:

db.collection("services").find({
"locations.geometry": {
$nearSphere: {
$geometry: {
type: "Point",
coordinates: [-0.0909866, 51.5046914]
}
}
}
})

In this example we’re using dot notation, geoJSON and the $nearSphere operator together.

This is much more verbose than the Rails example, and doesn’t automatically handle geocoding the user’s location, but it’s a lot more flexible, and (if we plan it the right way) potentially speedier too.

Improving it further

GeoJSON is a powerful format that’s not limited to representing points. It can represent complicated polygons and shapes, like the coverage area of a service.

This opens the door to things like showing a user all the organisations that serve their address. This is an increasingly compelling use case in a world where fewer people are leaving home and physical locations are shut.

If you need to combine geospatial queries with intelligent keyword searching, you might want to consider Elasticsearch or Algolia instead of the solutions covered here.

Lastly, this kind of location-based search often works well paired with geolocation: fetching the user’s latitude and longitude based on their device’s sensors — wireless connections and GPS — rather than making them enter it manually.


Connecting residents with their communities through location-based search platforms was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

As part of being more accountable to myself and keeping focused on the goals I’ve set for the year I’m aiming to check in monthly. This post is mainly for my own benefit…

My professional goals and progress toward them:

  • Letting Go – no update from last month really but actively noticing what I’m saying no to and checking in with myself on why. Progress: GREEN
  • financial – this has been good over the last month and I’m staying focused on what is put in planted now will be come to fruition toward the end of the year. Some good things on the horizon so maintaining focus the key here for me. Progress: AMBER
  • learning – the kids are into school holidays so our learning is even less structured and informal than it has been in lockdown! I’ve started to put markers on things I want to learn more about and have kept up with my self-eduction on other things. Progress: AMBER
  • writing – my writing has exploded over the last month – perhaps it is seasonal and like the bounty of summer my pages are heaving with harvest at the moment. I’ve been writing everyday for Popoptica and it’s amazing to see the site grow, and receive such lovely messages from artists as well as feel as if I’m doing something to support grassroots music. I’ve also been writing everyday in my current contract and I’ve got first drafts of another couple of short stories. So much writing across everything I do right now! Progress: GREEN
  • health – I’ve restarted my couch 2 5k journey and one week in am already loving the changes it has bough to my body and mind. It’s so easy to forget what a benefit a little bit of exercise, and a regular commitment can bring. Cooking is also continuing to be a salve and I’m loving Baking Sundays with my youngest as well as keeping up the veg box delivery and putting stuff away in jams and preserves for the winter months. Progress: GREEN
  • reading – still not reading well. Even things I think will take my fancy can’t hold my attention. Progress: RED
  • travel and adventures – I’ve been out for the first time since February and that felt like a big adventure. I’m keeping things local and lowkey as it doesn’t feel like the time yet to be stretching further. Progress: AMBER
  • volunteer and pro-bono work – writing for Popoptica counts on this roughly but my ability to donate financially to other causes has been greater than my ability to share time or skills. Progress: AMBER

SUMMARY

A good start to the second half of the year and really good feeling to see consistent work and focus paying off across so many of my goals for the year.

Original source – Sarah Lay

Jude Robinson, Lesley Thompson and Joanne Huggins from the third cohort of Digital Voices

Digital Voices advocates Jude Robinson, Lesley Thompson and Joanne Huggins

Now in its third year, Digital Voices is a programme for women in DWP Digital to learn new digital skills and build confidence. It won a Civil Service gender inclusion award in 2019, a Women in IT award in January 2020 and is nominated in the Digital Skills and Inclusion category at this year’s Digital Leaders 100 Awards – you can vote for it here. The learning sessions for our third cohort of Digital Voices have been temporarily paused due to COVID-19. But the ladies taking part have been as busy as ever during the pandemic. We found out from three of the group – Joanne, Lesley and Jude – what they’ve been up to during the last few months. 

Joanne Huggins – taking on a new challenge

Digital Voices member Joanne Huggins working from home

Joanne Huggins from the Digital Voices programme working from home

I usually work as a tester in our user support service, improving IT services for colleagues. But during COVID-19 I’ve been deployed to our Universal Credit virtual service centre team, helping to process payments for the 3 million people who have made a Universal Credit claim since the pandemic hit.

I’m helping resolve problems with claims that could delay payments as well as answering customer questions, so it’s completely different to my usual day job. I’d normally be speaking to colleagues so working directly with DWP customers is a lot different. The team has all come together from all walks of life, but we’ve had good team spirit, regular learning and upskilling sessions and there’s a real focus on our wellbeing.

There have been times when I’ve had a few wobbles, but I feel privileged to be part of a team helping people when they need it most.

I joined Digital Voices to help me build my confidence and the things I’ve learnt so far have helped me step out of my comfort zone and adapt.

I was quite nervous at first but having a buddy in the team helped, as did speaking to my Digital Voices friends and my mentor who gave me some good advice.

I hope I’ll go back to my normal job as a more confident person. If I can survive unexpectedly taking on a completely new role with a virtual team, I can survive anything!

The experiences I’ve had in this role will help me too, and it’s made me realise that I’m capable of taking on any new challenge I’m faced with.

Lesley Thompson – home schooling while home working

Lesley Thompson, senior business analyst at DWP Digital, presenting at Product People North

Lesley Thompson presenting at Product People North

I’m a Senior Business Analyst and during the past few months I’ve been juggling full-time work priorities whilst home schooling my two sons, aged five and nine.

After a tricky start, we settled into a routine which is really important for the boys. So Joe Wicks for PE was followed by Maths and English work set by school. The afternoons were less structured and more flexible, to allow me time to focus on my work.

But that didn’t stop me feeling guilty when I was unable to help them with their school work because of meetings. I often had to gesture I was busy and I’d help them later, to be met with a sad face, so it’s been challenging from that perspective, particularly as I wasn’t able to call on my usual family network to help. It’s been good to have activity in our Digital Voices Whatsapp group to cheer me up if I was having a low day.

One of the highs was teaching my eldest about fractions and decimals. His school work has gradually built up to the harder stuff and I sat patiently with him going through it over and over until the penny dropped. It was a lightbulb moment and he hugged me so tight and said ‘thanks mum!’. It was a real parenting win!

I sometimes worried about being as productive as normal with everything that was going on, so it felt good to get emails telling me thanks for good work I’d been part of. At DWP, leaders have been stressing that we’re not simply ‘working from home’, we are ‘at home, during a crisis, trying to work’ and I’ve been very mindful of that.

Jude Robinson – finding a balance

Jude Robinson, lead product owner at DWP Digital

Jude Robinson, lead product owner at DWP Digital

I’d only been at DWP 5 months before joining Digital Voices, but this period has been an induction into what the department does best – supporting people at their time of need. The work I’ve been doing as a Lead Product Owner in our integration team has contributed directly to that aim, so it’s made me feel really proud to be part of it.

I’ve actually adapted really well to working at home and I’ve enjoyed it. Normally the team is based all over the country so switching to us all working remotely has helped me feel more part of the wider team, and we’re really close-knit. We’ve had to make an effort to make the best of our new way of working.

But the work we’ve been doing has been right at the heart of DWP’s response to the crisis, building and deploying our API library to support services and payments to citizens.

We’ve been busier than ever, and despite not being in the same location, we’ve all pulled together. But I’ve also remembered to take time out and not having to commute has made my work/life balance much better. I’ve been using that time to walk the dog, ride my horse more and do lots of reading.

It’s also been a good opportunity to put to use some of the skills I’ve learnt during our Digital Voices sessions, such as social media, writing blogposts and presenting virtually in meetings. Those things have definitely helped me in the last few months. I’ve also had regular conversations with my mentor which has been great to keep up momentum and to help me continuously improve.

Catch up on all the stories from our Digital Voices on the blog or sign up for email updates whenever new content is posted!

Original source – DWP Digital

forget you - discrimination in pr and communications in the uk.png

Weeks on from the CIPR’s sobering ‘State of the Profession’ report that found huge disparities between the PR profession and the dynamic of the UK, and as the PRCA announces its new Race and Ethnicity Equity Board, this new guest post reveals what it feels like to apply for jobs in PR.

by Teela Clayton

In my formative years, I was a bit of a rebel. A little bit unpredictable and guaranteed to misbehave if my mum ever let me go to a friend’s house. It didn’t happen often. I remember on one occasion being barred from everyone’s parties for fear of my casual vandalism. Awkward in a school of only 11 pupils, two of whom were my sisters.

If it seems like I’m being nonchalant about my anti-social tendencies, it’s because that’s the last time I remember being remotely cool. My subsequent schooling consisted of me being the kid the geeks made fun of; such was my attention to the rules.

By the uni years, I had discovered boys and alcohol and the rules were less important. Maybe that’s why I went full throttle this year – some *cough* years later – as I studied for a master’s in public relations and strategic communication. Every little piece of advice went into my notebook.

“Write a blog,” they said. “It’s a chance to showcase your writing.”

And blog I did. Some people enjoyed reading them. Some people enjoyed taking the piss out of them. I liked the feeling of freedom. The catharsis as you near the end and circle back to the beginning. Nailing it.

“Get a first in your master’s,” they said. “It’ll make you stand out and give you some good theoretical grounding.”

And so I did. Such a monster I became with this, that I cried when I was given a 70%, my lowest mark. “I didn’t come here to scrape a first!” I stamped as I demanded a recount.

“Get work experience,” they said. “It’ll help to enhance your applications and get your foot in the door.”

And so I did. As well as working part-time, doing my masters and looking after two kids, I took on an internship. Stick a broom up…

“Build your brand,” they said. “Employers look at Twitter and LinkedIn; they’re your shop window.”

And build I did. It started as a hobby. It grew into an obsession.

“That isn’t on brand for me,” I’ll yell as a barista mistakenly hands over a mocha.

But slowly I started to take part in conversations and join the PR community.

I did everything they told me to get ahead in this biz.

“But not you,” they should have said.

“PR is not for girls like you,” they should have said. “Girls like you don’t get to be in C-suite.”

“Girls like you don’t get to live your dreams without people expecting more or thinking you’re there to check a tick box.”

“Girls like you will never be enough.”

And by girls like me, I mean black girls and brown girls. Girls of colour. Because that’s what we’re uncomfortable saying isn’t it? The statistics are there, in black and white. Well not so much black. The PR industry is failing us. We’ve got lots of terms that float on the veneer of respectability: “You don’t have enough experience.” But. It’s. An. Entry. Level. Job.

“You’re not the right fit.” I’m a person, not a component for a flatpack wardrobe.

Or even worse. The silence.

I don’t know how to not be angry about one of my first experiences of job hunting in the PR industry in April/ May time. Of the time – and money – I invested in my application. Of the feeling of abject worthlessness when the agency owner’s attention was grabbed long enough for her to look at my LinkedIn, only to decide I wasn’t deserving of a phone call. Of the times I re-read the job advert to see if I had missed the subtext. Of the mental torture I put myself through over the next couple of weeks.

Of the tweets she posted detailing my tactics implying she had given me an interview, never mind a job.

I’m sick of watching as another brown-haired white girl with no demonstrable experience gets added to the line-up. I’m sick of watching PR agencies celebrate how progressive they are because they accept TikToks over CVs. I’m sick of being told to do something different to stand out; the generic feedback from The Lazy Employers’ Playbook. I’m sick of being given false expectations. I’m sick of watching my friends go through the same unwieldy process knowing the odds are stacked against them because of the colour of their skin. I’m sick of the ridiculous steps you have to go through in order to win your right to minimum wage. I’m sick of hearing that you just need to be a grafter in order to get somewhere in this life; that I ain’t hustling enough.

I am sick of not complaining about microaggressions and inequality because I think it’ll damage my chances at an industry that’s not designed for me.

I’m sick of thinking I wasn’t good enough.

This isn’t a post to mine pity. It’s for every PR department, whether agency or in-house, who thinks that their recruitment policy is beyond reproach. It’s for every recruiter who looked on as black people aired their traumas and experiences of a hostile workplace and then made no changes. It’s to every person who’s read another damning report on racism and failed to take apart the oppressive systems. It’s to every team who has posted a self-congratulatory picture of their homogenous whiteness.

It isn’t good enough.

As Tatamkhulu Afrika said: Nothing’s Changed.

Teela Clayton is account executive at SLBPR. You can say hello on Twitter at @TeeClayts

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Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

How a crisis helped The Union to change and emerge with a clear sense of what they’re capable of achieving when working collaboratively.

Over the past 10 months, we’ve been working with North East Lincolnshire Council and the North East Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group on their journey to build a 21st-century approach to seamless health and social care. Coming together to create The Union, we’ve been supporting them to design a Future Operating Model to help set the standard for the future of decision-making, culture, technology and organisational design.

Pre-COVID, we’d prototyped opportunity areas which included small scale, localised testing of parts of the Future Operating Model. By February, Beta testing plans were approved to test the model at scale and closer to a ‘live’ environment. With two services due to be recommissioned in the following months, we would have an opportunity to deliberately and iteratively test our approach, applying the model’s strategic principles, setting up multidisciplinary teams, using tools for collaboration and establishing agile ways of working across corporate services.

Mere weeks after outlining plans to move into Beta testing, the world changed as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the country. Our work was temporarily put on hold while crisis response and emergency support were rolled out by the two, now joined-up organisations working together to solve challenges across the region.

Redefining our focus in COVID-19

While the organisations pivoted to manage the immediate crisis, interesting lessons emerged. As The Union began to transition from emergency response and into recovery, we undertook a stocktake with a broad cross-section of staff from across the Council and CCG to understand their experiences in providing emergency support within the new operating model.

Seemingly overnight, perceived obstacles were removed. Facing a pandemic that touches the lives of every resident, and new working expectations and arrangements for staff, The Union leadership team came together around one strategic priority. With clear, well-communicated direction from leadership, multidisciplinary teams coordinated to resource and deliver effective and collaborative work, quickly adopting new tools to work together remotely, and new models of partnership and ways of working emerged. In the words of one senior leader, it was “place-based, multi-agency working at it’s best”.

In their response, the organisation seamlessly scaled many of the principles and prototypes we’d been testing. The immediacy of changes accelerated our work, changing hearts and minds even quicker than we hoped. We now find ourselves in a changing world and recognise the need to review our approach to testing and scaling the Future Operating Model to be more fit for purpose.

Collaboration is THE priority

The Union’s COVID crisis response confirmed that the organisation’s legitimacy lies in its vision, insight and relationships. Where previously, the two biggest challenges faced by The Union was unguided employee autonomy and a vision lacking active, directive qualities, they responded to the crisis with clear strategic principles and 21st-century ways of working, giving decision-makers the tools, support or permissions to make the most appropriate decisions.

Organising quickly in this way, everyone understood the vision and knew how to implement it autonomously. For the first time, working in partnership to self-organise and make decisions to achieve shared goals felt like a real, tangible approach. Cementing new relationships with the voluntary and community sector, and thinking about how to organise teams and work in a way to do this going forward, is essential. This clear focus on relationships, decision making and data are vital to new ways of working, it’s not simply about technology.

It’s also made clear the importance of having access to high-quality data and insights and the subsequent impact that can have on the quality of leadership decision-making and service-level commissioning. By ensuring that there is the right blend of qualitative insights and quantitative data, teams have seen the difference it can make to their understanding about the problems they are solving. It can help teams to change their delivery model by understanding more about what is working ‘on the ground’, and help leadership teams make better decisions about future strategy.

What’s next?

The last few months have taught us a lot about what’s possible when barriers, both real and perceived, are removed. But also, the incredible things that can be achieved when working collaboratively. Systems and structures that previously seemed immovable were changed and shifted overnight, with focus and clarity given in a time of extreme uncertainty.

The Union is emerging with a clear sense of what they’re capable of achieving when working collaboratively. Ultimately, this change in mindset is an opportunity to really make our work ‘stick’ and support the Lincolnshire ambition to deliver place-based change.

Over the next few months, we’ll progress Beta testing within this new context, working with colleagues from across Digital, HR, Finance, Procurement and Legal to design the future of corporate support and a replicable template that could be used across both organisations as they seek to meet post-COVID financial challenges whilst also delivering modern, 21st-century public services.


Rapidly scaling new approaches in The Union was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

During July I ran 162 kilometres. This brought my total for 2020 to 1138 kilometres. That’s an average of 162 kilometres every month so far, which is weird synchronicity with the distance I ran in July.

I have a spreadsheet I keep track of this stuff which you can view online. I also use Strava to gather my data.

After 257 kilometres in June I felt positive about July. I planned for another good month! I didn’t plan to feel so drained in the first week through. Just devoid of energy, my legs so stiff and tired. I had three days of rest — no running and also making sure I was eating well — and felt better for it. Longer working days and fam needs also penned in the time I could run some days, which also hit my overall distance. I took what I could and enjoyed it while I did.

Highlights

Socks

In May the pins and needles in my feet later in my runs were starting to get extremely painful. There were points when I was running and couldn’t feel my feet, wondered if my feet might give way. I loosened the laces on my runnings shoes more and more, before the runs and during the runs. But I started to spot a pattern: When I wore thinner running socks very rarely did I suffer from pins and needles.My theory: My thicker, even slightly thicker, running socks were the cause. I tested this theory throughout July, relying completely on thinner running sock. I bought more thinner runnings socks, Rockay and Soar ones to help with this. I didn’t suffer from pins and needles once.

Retiring running shoes

My Hoka One One Clifton 6s reached the end of the line. Retiring shoes is harder than it should be. A shoe that helps you along on an enjoyable run plays a part in that. The more difficult runs you endure and get through, the shoes helped. (As long as they weren’t the reason for the difficulties!) I weirdly develop an attachment to the shoes.

I am loathe to just sling any sports shoes straight into the bin, but also loathe to pass them onto a charity shop. As a running shoe their performance has dropped. If I am retiring them because they could play a part in injuring me if I did pass them they’d need some warning. “My stompy running style has battered the soles! Don’t use these for running!” In theory I could retire three pairs of running shoes in 2020, and I don’t want them to be contributing to waste tips, I’d like them to be recycled. This is proving way harder than I thought. I must be missing something obvious but I can’t find anything. I’ll keep my blue Hokas to one side until I do.

Looking onwards

I have 862 kilometres still to run before the end of 2020. That is an average of 172 kilometres for the remaining five months of the year.

I want to average at least 6 kilometres a day in August, totalling 186 kilometres for the month. My hope is with some time away from work, assuming It being August there will be some decent weather, and lots of good run options from my front door, 186 kilometres will be at least.

Make sure I have four rest days and some slower runs in there though.

Original source – Simon Wilson

It’s July and there’s the threat of a local lockdown in parts of the Black Country borough of Sandwell.

Urgent action has been taken with Sandwell Council leading the charge for people to take extra precautions.

There’s a range of channels to get the message out but how is this playing out on Facebook?

One Saturday morning I mapped the first 10 pieces of content in 10 different Facebook groups across the borough.

It starts on Sandwell Council’s Facebook

As the decision gets made by the public health the council posts to their page with 39,000 likes – that’s notionally 11.9 per cent of the borough population.

The visuals are eyecatching, chime with the national pandemic campaign but crucially are different. They stand out as being Sandwell.

Text heavy they carry the Sandwell Council logo and have four key bullet point calls to action.

There’s 1,600 shares of this update and another 800 of the change to the header image with identical information.

Okay, so sit back and wait?

But what was the penetration across Facebook?

The role of Facebook groups

I’ve blogged before on the important role of Facebook groups. Almost 70 per cent of the population are using Facebook and 50 per cent of the population are using closed groups whether they be groups, Messenger or Whatsapp groups.

In short, groups are where people are in the community.

For this post, I chose 10 groups at random with a combined membership of more than 65,000 – that’s twice the council’s corporate page. It’s an area I know well. I live nearby and for 10 years worked as a reporter in the borough.

Fig 1 Sandwell Council Facebook page followers v population

Like every public sector organisation they’re faced with a gap between their page and the rest of the Facebook-consuming public. One way they can fill this gap is by creating shareable content that then can connect with people in groups.

Did that happen here? Let’s see.

The role of Facebook groups spreading pandemic information

So, how was the news landing with people in Facebook groups?

I went and counted.

And yes, there was the council content being shared.

But also push back in some quarters. The council-critical I Live in West Bromwich group admin surprisingly criticised the posting of the public health message.

And of course, there was comments claiming people were asleep and just blindly following the media.

So, should the public sector be scared off by criticism and misinformation? Absolutely not. The fact its there makes the need to be in those spaces even more important. It’s clear that for important matters people are willing to share the messages.

But local news media

What really caught my eye is news media’s very deliberate use of Facebook groups to share their content. The Facebook group is now the newspaper street corner seller and media companies know this. So, BBC local democracy reporters are often in groups and sharing their news.

Here’s one shared by a resident

Overall, what were the figures?

Logging the first 10 posts served across 10 Sandwell Facebook groups 35 per cent of them was COVID-19 related. Unsurprising as the borough was in the news. But what surprised me was that most of the discussion wasn’t instigated by members themselves at all. Just 4 per cent was started by residents.

Instead, the posts and the discussion that followed were prompted by sharing public sector content (8 per cent of all posts) and above all local media (15 per cent). Alternative media and national media were neck-and-neck at 4 per cent each.

So, having sharable content means that people will start a conversation on the topic you’ve posted about.

Fig 2 COVID-19 Posts in Sandwell Facebook groups

The remarkable role of news media in community groups

It surprised me, but in this pandemic snapshot local media is playing the most important role in the debate. Almost half of all content on the topic comes from news media. The Express & Star and Birmingham Mail – latterly Birmingham Live – are big in the region.

But thinking about it, this chimes with national data that says people are more trusting of news brands in the unfolding emergency.

But the single most important take away is that content is a conversation generator. Without the content your message is unlikely to be shared. By all means make your own but in the pandemic this data shows a revival in the fortunes of the local journalist.

Ironically, this media revival is taking place against a backdrop of job cuts in journalism,.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

In an emergency the real danger doesn’t always come from the fire that threatens the house but instead from tiredness.

Tiredness leads to stress and that leads to the poor decision-making that led to the whole town burning down.

Four months into COVID-19 the first burst of adrenaline is long gone replaced by the slog of long days.

A quick straw poll in the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group showed 71 per cent of public sector communicators acknowledging a poor work versus life balance as opposed to 25 per cent having it sorted. That’s a big number of people making stressed decisions.

In many comms teams, tackling COVID-19 has been replaced by tackling COVID-19 plus everyday and very soon things are starting to give.

It was a pleasure to welcome Jim Whittington as a guest speaker in the Headspace Zoom session. Jim has worked in fire comms in the North West of the United States and is now a consultant. 

His area of specialism is known as wildland fire. In short, thats dealing with huge areas of land on fire. His largest incident was helping tackle a blaze three times the size of London.

The good thing about wildland fire is that they’ve hard won experience of staffing long running incidents. 

When the Twin Towers collapsed it was wildland fire experts who went to New York to train the city’s fire department on how to pace themselves in their response in the months that followed.

While the heart says run at the incident, wildland fire thinking knows the need to think, plan and be calm. 

Here are some pointers from Jim’s session.

1. For every two hours worked take an hour off. You can work 14 days like this then you need a day off. Then you can work another seven. Then you need two off.

2. Those in charge of the team need to stop and plan even if people are shouting because if you don’t you’ll just react and things will get worse.

3. Planning helps manage stress.

4. If you manage stress you make better decisions and are less likely to burn out.

5. You have to take breaks and be honest with yourself when you need those breaks.

6. If you now think you need help you’re probably too late just as if you’re thirsty you’ve been too slow to grab water.

7. When youre planning build in slack so people can have that unexpected day off they didn’t know they were going to need.

8. When you’re planning you need those around you to be totally honest and share the information to help you build the picture.

9. Pay attention to the elected members and media as they’re going to be stressed too. Help them manage their stress.

10. When you’re talking to senior people make a conscious effort to talk slower and deeper. Quieter, too. It’ll generate a response thats likely to be more calm and more relaxed.

11. When you’re talking to senior people, be clear at the start that everyone is on the same side and wants the best for everyone.

12. When you’re having awkward conversations with senior people, don’t make it about their glaring flaws but instead how we can do things better.

13. When youre having awkward conversations with senior people involve them with the decision making, too. So, explain calmly that you can do X but not X and Y. So, help me out. Should we do X or Y? 

14. When you’re talking with senior people about the X you can do manage expectations.

15. When you’re talking to the reporter educate them in how tricky the decision making is rather than give simple soundbites. People aren’t stupid. Experience says they’ll see through you and they’ll know matters are more complicated than they seem.

16. Ambiguity is what you’ll have to work with. Things are uncertain. That’s your truth.

17. Faced with misinformation stay true to yourself. Even when some of that misinformation may come from a source in another part of the public sector.

18. When your working remotely, you may need to be more explicit than if they were in the room with you and you were reading their body language.

19. Be true to yourself.

20. Keep training your team.

You can follow Jim on Twitter @jimwhittington and read his blog here.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

Over the last few months, mySociety and SpendNetwork have been working on a project for the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) Global Digital Marketplace Programme and the Prosperity Fund Global Anti-Corruption programme, led by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), around beneficial ownership in public procurement.

We’ve gathered some of the things we learned in a series of blog posts:

The entire series can be viewed here.

Header image: Photo by Olga O on Unsplash

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Original source – mySociety

Header image: Photo by Ricardo Rocha on Unsplash

mySociety and SpendNetwork have been working on a project for the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) Global Digital Marketplace Programme and the Prosperity Fund Global Anti-Corruption programme, led by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), around beneficial ownership in public procurement. This is one of a series of posts about that work

While the main purpose of collecting beneficial ownership information is as part of an anti-corruption agenda, ownership information can also be used in public procurement as part of preferential procurement programmes. These are meant to increase the distribution of government contracts among different groups in a country. 

South Africa is an example of a country with a system of preferential procurement through the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) programme. This programme gives preference to companies that (amongst other criteria) have more Black people and/or women in ownership and management.

This works through a certification process where auditors convert evidence of ownership and management into a certification for the company, which is then used in the procurement process. While conceptually similar to beneficial ownership in many ways, this methodology differs from the requirement of disclosure of ownership that tends to be used in beneficial ownership. 

Public disclosure of ownership could be made a component of preferential procurement or similar schemes, but this would also require understanding of ownership at lower thresholds than is currently common. Understanding the demographics of ownership requires a full picture of shareholders, and that may include adding up many with small shares. The Beneficial Ownership Data Standard (BODS), does allow for anonymous persons where a reason is given, and so information could be captured and released for demographic analysis while not disclosing the identities of owners below a threshold.

BODS does not currently cover demographic information for individuals or certification for companies. Doing so could increase its applicability to broader procurement objectives such as B-BBEE. There is discussion on OpenOwnership’s BODS repository of what the inclusion of additional personal data fields would involve. In general BODS approaches field inclusion using the principle of data minimisation, where the data collected should be the smallest amount of personal information required to fulfil a valid purpose. There is an intentional decision to exclude gender information from the global standard/data store, with the argument that personal information included in the overall standard should be demonstrably useful for the purposes of disambiguation. This is seen as the main purpose of ownership information on a global scale, rather than demographic analysis. 

Rather than inclusion in the global standard, localised extensions are seen as more appropriate for demographic information, as what is of interest will vary from place to place. While a gender field could be relatively universal, understandings of ethnicity are often culturally specific and a universal standard would be inappropriate. For instance, Australia’s Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) recommends the use of an Indigenous business register that in turn uses a ‘Proof of Aboriginality’ process that is more involved than self-certification. 

The data standard would benefit from some abstract thinking about how country-specific demographic needs should best be reflected within BODS-formatted data. The specific questions are:

  • What should the general pattern be for extending BODS data with demographics? Remembering that demographics may be for individuals or organisations. 
  • Should self-certified data be logged differently from certified data? How should certification be acknowledged (often ‘certifying agency’ is available, but sometimes the certification certificate may have an ID number). 
  • Should there be a flag on demographic information that is stored in BODS, but shouldn’t be released publicly? Or does this logic belong outside the standard? If so, is there a generalised need for a ‘privacy schema’ and tool that can be applied to BODS to remove/anonymise particular fields?

Demographic certification is a system of ownership collection and verification, and a general understanding of the ways in which BODS should and shouldn’t be a part of that would be useful for the future of the standard.

See all posts in this series.

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Original source – mySociety