Crowdsourced squirrels


This post is a chance to share my favourite thing in my garden and a fantastic crowdsourced research project.

The black squirrel in this video took up residence last year after a stand of horse chestnuts was felled locally, forcing him and his friends to move home. 

Black squirrels are the same species as grey squirrels, just with a different pigment, and are commonly sighted in East Anglia after a gaggle of them were released in Woburn around one hundred years ago.

Anglia Ruskin University have been crowdsourcing black squirrel sightings for a few years on their Black Squirrel Project website. The project aims to: “gather data on the geographical range of the grey and black squirrel in the British Isles. This data may help explain why the grey squirrel is such a successful invader here.” It’s a fun, easy to use website and you feel that you’re involved in some interesting scientific research. That’s a great use of the web in my book.

Photo: Black Squirrel_3377 by Robert Taylor on Flickr


Some Semple advice

Knitted mouse

Set those Trojan Mice running

Shirley Ayres recently recommended a book on Twitter – Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do – by Euan Semple. It’s excellent, split into succinct chapters in a readable style.

From my first read-through (I love rereading books), ten points have jumped out at me:

  • we’re seeing a cultural change, not a technological one
  • create “Trojan Mice” – small, nimble projects – and watch where they go
  • “Sharing what you know doesn’t diminish its worth but instead increases its value.”
  • the more you blog the better you get at it – but writing an effective post is a skill
  • stand up for your opinions and don’t be afraid of criticism
  • if it turns out that you don’t know what you’re talking about, embrace it as a learning opportunity
  • help people in your network and it will always be reciprocated
  • digital natives will expect access to social media at work – and links to their professional networks will help them do their job
  • crowdsource social media (and other) guidelines and make them enabling, not simply “Thou shalt not”
  • social tools can come into their own during a disaster or crisis – but you need to build your network in advance if it’s going to be effective.
It’s good advice. Now where did that mouse go?


Photo: Mouse by Anifan via Flickr

So, what do you do then? Defining PR

A man standing on a plinth with a question mark on his head, the sun shining through a cloud behind himThere’s an interesting exercise going on at the moment to modernise the definition of Public Relations. Defining PR isn’t a recent quest – Rex Harlow famously found 472 definitions made between 1900 and 1976.

Headed up by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and utilising crowdsourcing and social media, #PRdefined is a global collaboration between the PRSA and 11 peer organisations – including the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Launching the initiative, Rosanna M. Fiske , PRSA chair and CEO, said: “As recognition of the profession’s value has grown in recent years, it has become increasingly important that we find a universal definition befitting the scope and modern role of public relations.”

PR professionals were invited to submit ideas online for a new definition, by answering: Public relations [DOES WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE.] These ideas were fed into three draft definitions (taken from the PRSA website):

Definition No. 1: Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

Definition No. 2: Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.

Definition No. 3: Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

The consultation on these draft ideas is open until 23 January, before three final definitions are put out to vote. You can comment here  and join in on Twitter using the #prdefined hashtag.

PR Week editor Danny Rogers has commented: “Finding a new definition of PR matters because the tens of thousands employed within this well-established industry need to more clearly and consistently explain what they do – and the value they add.”

Yet blanket acceptance is not assured. CIPR CEO, Jane Wilson, has said: “PR Professionals themselves have widely diverging opinions on the nature of public relations. It might be the case that a one-size-fits-all definition is very difficult to reach, but the process of trying will be very instructive.”

The debate looks set to continue.

Photo: Question Mark by Marco Belluci via Flickr

Open source mapping

A map of South Cambridgeshire District Council

© OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

This was the second of three topics at #Brewcamp on 6 October led by Stu Lester – @stu_lester and My Brain Dump

Stu spoke about open source mapping (OSM) – a completely new topic for me – and the huge potential it offers to councils and communities to collaborate on local mapping. It could also save local government huge amounts of  money – always a winner in these straitened times.

OSM can apparently be just as good, if not better, than paid-for information. And if it’s good enough for the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) ….. The UNEP is working with Vizzulaity on mapping methane info around the world. They take feeds from Wikipedia and link with Flickr and Youtube. Using Wikipedia as a Content Management System, UNEP pushes out data that other people can see and use.

Humanitarian relief has also used OSM. After the earthquake in Haiti, Open Street Map used aerial photography from Yahoo to map the country and help direct aid and other activity.

Current GIS products are often hard to use for non-experts. It’s easier for councils and residents to use OSM. New York City identified potential areas for hurricane issues earlier this year and produced PDFs for locals to download. Bloomberg announced them and the NYC site promptly crashed. The PDFs were instead posted to Tumblr – easy access and a social media win.

Open source has fostered a sense of community. Stu cited that 15 to 20 people tend to work on systems based around the world, meaning there’s potentially 24/7 responsive IT support. If users come across functionality that would be handy it can be suggested and perhaps incorporated. It may be free, or could need a small amount of seed funding. Cheap bug ransoms can also help to iron out creases. It’s a real collaboration.

And just because OSM is free, doesn’t mean it isn’t sound. The same goes for other online tools and sites. The website that kept coming up was Open Street Map – a free, editable map of the whole world. Yes, the whole world. Wow.

Local uses for OSM include:

  • taking a screenshot of a map and adding it to your blog. As long as correct credit given, it can be used freely. Doesn’t matter if you’re an indivdual or an organisation
  • crowdsourcing to create information quickly and accurately – accessible public toilets – The Great British Public Toilet Map – and places of faith both examples cited – local government releases an area map and people/groups add their own details. It’s free, useful and the data is then available for everyone else to reuse
  • while people can and will abuse open source maps, others will correct it. If it’s a critical system, you can download a local copy and now and again fetch an update
  • The University of Nottingham is studying OSM to assess if it is better quality than other mapping. Open Street Map apparently has more correct roads that Ordnance Survey
  • Surrey Heath Borough Council is using Open Street Map data for tourist information
  • Open Street Map has even been used by artists to create new work.

This is an area that is bound to become more prominent in local government. It’s very exciting and has the potential to create great working relationships between councils and our communities, and produce really useful information for people who live in, work in or visit our areas.

Links – from @stu_lester and as tweeted by @siwhitehouse, @pigsonthewing and @mappamercia
Stamen Design – the poster boys of the GIS world (apparently!) – push all their tools out as open source
Indigo Trust – great example of user-generated content on OSM helping a community in Kenya
Open Street Map – provides old, out-of-copyright Ordnance Survey maps
Mapquest – personalise, save and share maps
Quantum GIS – free, open source geographic information system
Creative Commons: Map image of South Cambridgeshire District Council downloaded from Open Street Map. It was my first visit to the site and I found it  really easy to locate and download the image. Give it a go!

Learning as I go

A teacher standing in front of a blackboard and students with their hands raisedThe last six weeks have been a steep social media learning curve for me.

I’ve probably learnt more than I ever knew before, and much of it is due to the thriving and generous online local government community. I’ve been inspired to:

– start blogging using WordPress. It’s surprisingly easy. If you’ve been thinking about doing it, dive in

– help crowdsource a Twitter for local government guide via the Local Government Chronicle. You can help too (until 2 August). Take a look here

– learn how to use Flickr to source pictures under creative commons licensing. Amazing images and photos that you can use for non-commercial purposes as long as you give acknowledgement – and why wouldn’t you. WARNING: Flickr has time-bending properties, minutes swiftly turn into hours

– start tweeting regularly. I’ve been involved in conversations with people I would never otherwise have linked to. Sharing and learning opportunities abound on Twitter. Grab them

– sign up to Google+. I need to set aside some time to have a proper look at this, good noises coming from some of the people I follow on Twitter though

– reappraise how I use LinkedIn. I’ve been a bit half-hearted about it previously, but more people are using it now. Was definitely worth a second look

– use Google Docs for the first time. It’s brilliant that you can have numerous and unconnected people collaborating on a document online, all at the same time

– take part in a live web chat. A great way to chew the fat over a specific issue, learn and hear other people’s points of view

– learn more about QR codes and their potential use in local government – great piece and comments on @DaveBriggs blog here. Who’d have thought those funny little boxes could have so many applications.

To be honest, it’s made my head spin a bit, but I’m also really excited. Yes, it takes time and some effort to learn about social media, but that’s all it takes, your training budget need not be touched. And it’s so worth it.

The phrase ‘tipping point’ is being bandied about with increasing regularity, could we really be there?

Social media is about to expand in a big way within Local Government, through obvious applications plus ways that we probably can’t even foresee. There are exciting times ahead. Great.

Creative commons: Learning Time by Temari 09 on Flickr