Cheltenham Borough Council have been driven (or perhaps a creative employee has taken the opportunity presented) by floods to innovate with their communication strategy using some key web technologies.

Due to the fear that Council servers and workers would be flooding and stop working the council decided to launch a Flood Updates blog to keep a line of online communication going.  Peter Riley the Council Web Development Manager started Flickr (photo sharing) and YouTube (video sharing) accounts to help embed pictures and video into the site.

The rate of blog posts is impressive.  Pictures, videos, contact numbers, updates and general information have all found their way onto the site.  The council has requested people to let them know about flooded properties and have used it to spread good news stories.  Naturally some enterprising types have used the comments section to spread sales pitches.  Err thanks Ernie as they say in Cheltenham.

The site continues to be live with 2 posts today.  Wouldn’t it be nice if perhaps this excellent innovation was continued by some of the senior staff at the council to keep people up-to-date with some of the more mundane but still important things that councils do.

(Hat tip to Kable)


paul canning · 9th August 2007 at 5:54 pm

Hi Shane
glad to see this getting picked up elsewhere!
It’s like flood-driven innovation ;] My reading is that it’s the tipping point for them. Now the worth is obvious and unarguable it is several degrees more likely that they will run with it and use it elsewhere.
Something similar has happened with us in Cambridge in that we’ve a couple now, both of which demonstrate the worth and have been picked up independently.
Plus it’s amazing how much has changed in even the past few months – the reality outside eGov definitely has an effect.
The *other thing is cost and control – that’s a killer argument in my experience

Tim Davies · 9th August 2007 at 9:16 pm

Hello Shane
Many thanks for the pointer to this.
Really positive to see such effective social media communication from a local authority. From the look of the header, they’re already committing to keep it as more than a flood updates blog…
This should be really interesting in helping make the case for more council blogging.
It will be interesting to see whether, with this example of effective social media use, that in non-crisis situations the sorts of policies and fears (PR fears etc.) that often block effective public service social media will be easily overcome…
I’m also interesting in looking at the different sorts of tools we need to make local authorities more transparent. Exploring the idea of a local democracy ‘issue tracker’ over here:
Really enjoy the blog btw – many thanks 🙂

ShaneMcC · 9th August 2007 at 10:48 pm

Hi Paul & Tim,
The blog is too good not to make a song and dance about. Mind you, as with MPs like Steve Webb, if everyone was as good as Cheltenham, there’d be no work for us to do!
I hope too that the Cheltenham example serves as beacon to others, helps them understand that you can let go of the tight leash and produce more effective communication. I expect many will say “Ah yes in an emergency blogs have their place…” so I hope Cheltenham can take it further and that more and more members and officers see it as part of their day-to-day communication practice.
We’re working on a project that we can hopefully announce in the next week or two that might just help a bit too. Ultimately though the communication culture needs to change and that won’t be easy. The senior officers need to lead from the front to set examples, to lay out boundaries for others to follow.
Tim, your bug tracker sounds a little like an old-fashioned thing called accountability. It never caught on 😉

Andrew North · 17th August 2007 at 2:08 pm

Hi Shane,
Thanks for the comments on our flood blog. You highlight an interesting and important challenge for all of us in the public sector – how can we let go of our obsession with managing information in a way that suits us and (we think) makes us look good? All too often we just end up alienating ourselves from the people who pay our salaries. We know for example that residents rate individual local government services highly but not the councils that deliver them. If we can see our communications role as that of a convenor of information and comment rather than the controller (some might even say manipulator) of it, then we may – more often – achieve what I think we surely want, which is to be a source of first choice for people who want to know what is going on, the reasons and to comment and influence.
Tom Steinberg (founder of MySociety, the group that brought us WriteToThem and FixMyStreet) said: “We are now at the start of a new era, where Government starts to learn how to support citizens’ own ways of making, finding and re–using information online.” We want to banish the ‘faceless bureaucrat’ and have a conversation with the people we serve. The immediacy and informality of weblogs and social networking can give our work a ‘face’ that will be welcomed by our customers.
As Cheltenham Borough Council chief executive I do a (roughly) weekly intranet blog with my comment on things I think are important, what I have have been doing with my time and what sort of council I think we should be. It is accessible to 1000 or so staff from the council and key partner organisations who can then post their comments. In the light of your challenge I now ask myself “why not put that blog on the internet?”. There are probably pros and cons but the question is important.
The lesson I hope we have learnt is that we need to build an open, participative approach to communication for our routine services and our local leadership/place shaping role; not just for emergencies.

alex · 7th September 2007 at 9:01 am

The Cheltenham open communication has been picked up north of the border as well. It may be that a crisis has to serve to promote use of the internet. Most public servants seem to have an automatic aversion to accountability, so Mr North’s remarks about going on-line sound great.
Please let us know when it happens

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: