Sociable city anyone?


This time last year I’d just been asked to lead on developing and implementing social media strategy at Leeds City Council. I’d run some social media cafes. Of the relatively few people that came, the majority were a bit despondent it didn’t appear to matter what they tried; they didn’t feel particularly supported, they had little guidance, no real plan of action. People were generally too busy to try new things or do things differently. They were being asked to do more; there seemed less time to try new stuff. It appeared a downward spiral. It was possible this was more than just about understanding social media.

It would be a big ask to shift the current thinking but a few years’ experience had taught me you match a big ask with a bigger solution. So I opened my big mouth and suggested something that I’d little idea whether it would work; whether it would even get off the ground, whether people would even understand it, or be prepared to help me. I’m talking the Sociable Organisation idea; exploring what makes a truly social place to be and humanising the council and making it easier to do business with, to find out about things and to talk to people.

So it’s not all about social media, it’s been about creating time and places and spaces to think and work differently. People are increasingly sharing social spaces (online and face to face) to discuss issues and plan things; discussing shared wishes, agreeing to work together on them, opening up a bit more and giving a little of themselves; agreeing about things, agreeing to disagree even. Importantly…people are going where the conversations are and not always creating new ones.

To be completely honest, I’ve blagged it a fair bit this last year. I’ve persuaded people to do stuff I didn’t know was possible. So far most of it has come off and the best bit; people are now doing stuff on their own. The big blag is slowly becoming small deliverables and people are increasingly feeling empowered to make more progress. Trojan mice that have worked.

The idea that an organisation can become a more sociable place to be and to do business with, appears to be gaining traction and the #trulysocial principles are being used and adopted further afield. The idea that social networks and new media can help to bring people together and provide increased opportunity for involvement, access to services and joint working is really being tested and is now helping to make a real difference. Examples of good use are increasing and so are the benefits of that use.  Much has been learnt and will continue to be and people are also recognising that social media isn’t always useful and can waste time and resources if not thought through.

There’s been mistakes and upset too when things appear not to be moving forward as fast as is expected or when it’s not used as well as it might be, when people don’t feel included, informed, when they don’t understand and when time isn’t made to try and understand or to appreciate the views of others.

The first anniversary of Sociable Organisation came in the week the council held its annual event for senior managers to come together and consider how they can deliver the calls to action for the next year. It was an event where, amongst other things, they were asked to challenge behaviours that are not helpful; an event where they were encouraged to allow their staff to be enterprising, creative and achieve things by being innovative, to do things that will include and involve others across the city in creating and delivering solutions that make a difference.

A year on from the social media cafes, where there was despondency, I found myself running a session at the above senior managers event on social networking. It’s good to know that whilst there was still some scepticism and concern that this new stuff takes time away from doing the daily job that increasingly people are willing to give it a go and support those who want to do the same. And it is actually the day job.

What’s also good to know is that we are now creating what is needed to help and support staff at all levels to better understand, appreciate and use new ways of working.

That’s the difference a year has made.

And whilst these senior managers were meeting, there was a challenge being put via social media that the council isn’t, and shouldn’t attempt to be, the only player in leading the city of Leeds forward. It wasn’t trying to be by the way, that’s just how things were interpreted, but it was a timely reminder from people who care about the city too.

So a year on from kicking off this sociable organisation idea as a way to connect and do things and having just re read the posts, comments and challenge on this blog and in sensing how the land appears to lie, in listening to feedback summarised nicely by the first ever comment on the blog:

“it should be about working with a diverse, open and inclusive group to explore the concepts of civic enterprise and sociability together”

maybe it’s time to consider….’sociable city’ as an approach? And let’s not get hung up on the name; city, place, where we work, play or live. It’s more about what it means, kindness, sharing, support, people making an effort to get on and create things together.

Be it Child Friendly, One Ambition, Cleaner Greener, Disrupting Poverty, Best City, Playful, Sociable, TdF, Light Night, business, culture and sport, council, NHS, 3rd sector, private, independent, corporate, political etc., in their broadest sense all appear to be the same thing; people wanting to do the best for where we live.

Thoughts anyone?


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Sociable city anyone?

  1. What a great blog item, very interesting to see how your project developed, I blog for Leeds Wellbeingweb, best wishes with the possible expansion!

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Sue. I think Leeds Wellbeing web is a great idea. For me, there are many ideas and projects (not that I see ‘Sociable Organisation’ as a project as such), that are already making Leeds a sociable city. I think it’s about how they all work better together rather than perhaps expanding; that is the key.

  2. Angie Legge says:

    I think the idea of a Sociable City is great. Social media exists, therefore we need to make it positive to support improvements, and that would be more effective with one big strategy and approach. But then, I might be biased #HSCLeeds

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Angie, I think social media will play a big part but I think it is also about how people get together to make things happen. Things like making it easier for people to access services in person and actually feel more welcome in our city. I’d like to think sociable city is an idea rather than a strategy. It definitely won’t be having a PID!

  3. Fiona says:

    Thanks Phil, good to hear your thoughts, still on my own ‘social journey’ and looking forward to the future! Fiona

  4. Mike Chitty says:

    Lovely post Phil. And a lovely project that has done a lot to move things forward.

    Is there an opportunity to recognise that a Sociable Organisation would not just be sociable online, but would take seriously its role in engaging in the physical space too? These days there is much emphasis on leadership as convening – bringing people together to develop relationships, ideas and interventions. Yet as a city we have very few, if any accessible, affordable and suitable spaces for inclusive convening around problems and opportunities facing us as citizens in Leeds.

    So, if the concept of the ‘Sociable Organisation’ is central to the successful development of ‘civic enterprise’ in Leeds, and I believe it is, then how can we open up developing opportunities in the physical space too. Providing a physical space that will support communities as well as virtual ones.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Absolutely, totally, yes. YES. It is so much more than just being sociable online.

      That is why this idea of sociable organisation came about; because the LGA social media friendly mark campaign appeared to miss the point and there was a danger that the digital by default agenda might increase the digital divide.

      The following is in the about page

      “Also it is realisation that it’s not just about shifting to digital as the cheapest communication channel. With changes to welfare reform, people will increasingly want and need to find a place where they feel confident to talk about their problems face to face. It has to be about being sociable.”

      So let’s get together and see what we can do. I like your explanation of civic enterprise as people seeing a need for something and then doing something about it.

      Sociable city in action.

  5. marktravisinfo says:

    Hello Phil (and Mike),

    As a fellow council staffer I think that’s good, balanced blog. I am also going to read Mike’s interesting pointer. Thank you.

    I’m new here. But I’d repeat the importance of ambition and bravery in social circles.

    An example…
    I’m trying to improve comms/publicity for small, volunteer-led Down syndrome groups. Whatever, wherever I’m going to try and help with some free design help via (sorry, shameless plug!)

    On Friday I stumbled upon a free 2-week trial for software that, to me, is brilliant. It now means I can vastly, easily improve an element of DS material, when previously I’ve struggled.

    The problem was I don’t have the money for the software’s perfectly reasonable subscription rates.

    So I got social.

    One email, one tweet and one hour later I got an unrestricted, indefinite, no-conditions license from this great crew across the pond. I will not mention their name here, but keep an eye on my stuff and you’ll soon find out who I’m talking about.

    No-one pays, hopefully the vulnerable benefit.

    Apologies if this is a bit off-tangent but my eyes are open.

    Social is liberating.

    Now Phil, tomorrow I’ll set a date and time for that oft-delayed chat.


  6. Pingback: Whose line is it anyway and where is it? | between personal and professional

  7. Ian Street says:

    I’ve been part of this adventure this year and set up @RecoveryLeeds as a result, which is just the starting point for doing things a bit differently which I hope to continue to develop.

    I like Mike’s point of physical spaces which I’d like to think could help break down the them and us barriers after all I’m both a citizen of Leeds and someone who works for the Council. I’d like to see some more ways to physically interact and ask questions for help and support around ideas. For example when I’m out and about with a Council hat on people will often complain about “us” as in ‘oh I don’t know who to contact or where to get help etc’ but the same is also true, I’m fully aware that many brilliant brilliant people work in Leeds who have nothing to do with the Council but could help us turn ideas into reality that can help the city as a whole. How to find those people is a challenge that maybe physical spaces or idea pods or something could help to connect people up.

  8. Fiona says:

    Thanks Phil, encouraging stuff, lots of great thoughts to consider!

  9. Pingback: » Legible City Leeds?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s