After three years of living in Birmingham, on Thursday I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend CommsCamp 15 unconference.
The event, which was organised by the respected Comm2Point0 team and held at the Bond Company in Digbeth, Birmingham , brought together people to talk, listen and think about how communications is changing across the public sector.
To learn more about what went on at this year’s event, check out the #commscamp15 hashtag on Twitter. You can also follow the CommsCamp team @CommsCamp for the latest news, including plans for next year’s unconference.
Share and share alike
In keeping with other unconferences, CommsCamp only works if attendees play an active role sharing their knowledge and experiences before, during and after the event the event. I’d like to use the rest of this blog post to share the key points I picked up on from a couple of sessions I took an active role in.
Communicating effectively with our an ageing population
- Too often, public sector communications treats older people as ‘one size fits all’ and fails to recognise the significant differences which exist within the group.
- The charity Age UK produces a regular fact sheet, breaking down the characteristics of Britain’s population of older people.
- Pressure to reduce costs is accelerating a move away from print to online services and this is creating concerns over how older people can stay informed and access public services. Exacerbated by decline of local newspapers.
- Signs of good practice around digital transition, e.g. Croydon Council working with Age UK to support ‘Techy Teach Party’, where older people can pick up tech skills in a relaxed and informal setting. Efforts also being made to provide older people with low cost computer equipment.
- With less money for print, there is more need than ever for partnership working, e.g. councils teaming up with housing associations to get key messages to older people.
- Discussion around the importance of plain English and avoiding patronising language. Public sector needs to gain support of local newspapers, who often persist in using outdated/offensive terms for older people.
- Spending cuts can mean there is little or no money for auditing the quality of communications, e.g. Crystal Mark accreditation.
- Since Thursday, I have remembered Alive With Ideas recently wrote a blog post about free online tools for improving the quality of your written communications, which can help improve readability.
- StreetLife, the local social network, is believed to be popular with people 55+.
Innovative uses of WhatsApp
- This session was led by Geoff Coleman from Birmingham City Council, who had experimented with WhatsApp as part of the #BrumVotes15 project at election time earlier this year.
- Residents opted-in to receive messages. Birmingham City Council was then able to broadcast messages to everyone on their list. Members were also able to send messages back to Birmingham City Council (but not other list members, as far as I know).
- Geoff had used the WhatsApp web client to manage communication with up to 600 people who had opted-in to receive updates. The software is still in its infancy and there were a few hitches along the way, mainly due to needing an ‘always on’ internet connection, but the service is expected to keep on getting better.
- The #BrumVotes15 project was very well received. Geoff noticed the quality of engagement was better than on Twitter, with more focus on asking and answering thoughtful questions. Geoff believes that unlike Twitter, people were not as interested at having their ‘clever’ comments seen by others, and this produced less self-conscious communication.
- Despite the technology still being unpolished , Geoff sees potential in using WhatsApp in other areas. One option could include setting up a WhatsApp group for new foster carers, where they could get support/ask for help from a more experienced foster carer. Another option might be around public health, with teenagers/young adults opting in to receive health information at key stages of life, such as Freshers’ Week.
- A number of participants, myself included, noted the importance of thinking about safeguarding, privacy and regulatory issues when using WhatsApp to deliver services. Thought will be required before setting up WhatsApp groups for sensitive issues and/or vulnerable people to balance supervision and privacy. Organisations also need to be aware of real or perceived issues over collection of personal data and how they would respond to a Freedom of Information request to see the contents of a WhatsApp group discussion.