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.