Engagement in Kettering

My local authority, Kettering Borough Council, is doing some great work in the democratic engagement field, firstly by taking part in an excellent nationwide democracy project, and also by promoting local online communities.

First up, Kettering is taking part in the annual ‘I’m a Councillor, Get Me Out of Here!‘ project which is run with my good friends at Gallomanor. It’s an excellent initiative:

For the two weeks of the event, young people use web technology they feel comfortable with, to ‘meet’ local councillors from their area. They ask questions and have live chats with councillors, and then vote for their favourite to become ‘youth champion’ for the area.

Secondly, a local group in the village of Burton Latimer have started their own website to help promote their activities and maybe get some others involved too. Great! Even better is that the Council are giving them space on their own website to promote it. Excellent work all round, I’d say.

Going local update

Thought I might post an update on my efforts at establishing a social media group in Kettering, Northants. Having been subscribed to various feeds searching for Kettering based content, which mainly produced details of various car boot sales in the area, I might finally be getting somewhere.

A couple of guys have been posting some great photos to Flickr, which have been tagged as Kettering, and with a bit of digging, it’s definitely the one near me, rather than in the States!

This is a clear issue – the tag ‘kettering’ is too vague, and maybe something like ketteringuk or ketteringnorthants needs to be used to ensure it’s unique. Of course, this sort of thing can’t be promoted until people start coming together.

So, I have sent a flickr mail to these guys seeing if they are interested in maybe a pub meet or a photo walk. Hopefully they won’t think I am being too forward 😉

Going local

Jon Bounds has put together a nice little site for guiding people around Birmingham. It’s wiki based, so anyone can get involved, and there is some nice Google Maps action going on there too. There’s quite a big group of social media savvy folk gathering in Brum, thanks to Nick Booth‘s Birmingham Bloggers meetups, and hopefully this group of people will be able to fill the site up with some great content. It is also the latest in a line of useful tools being built around Birmingham in the social web space – see BirminghamBloggers (put together by Paul Bradshaw) for example.

I attended the first Birmingham Bloggers meet but haven’t made one since – mainly because I have been tied up with other stuff, but its fair to say that I struggled to feel like I really belonged there. I work in Coventry, down the road from Brum, but live close to Kettering in Northamptonshire. What struck me at the meet was how strong a sense of geographical belonging was evident. It’s wonderful, but meant I kind of felt a bit excluded.

I’ve been thinking over the last week or so about how one can create local groups around topics of interest, and how this can tie in, or learn from, initiatives like Birmingham Bloggers, the Membership Project and the Tuttle Club.

I have no idea whether there is any appetite for any kind of social media meet in Kettering. I’ve looked around, and there is a Flickr group or two for Northamptonshire; and a county based Linux Users Group, within which there may well be a few bloggers. Perhaps something based on a larger area is more appropriate for less urban areas?

I’ve set up a few feeds to check for Kettering popping up in Flickr, Google Blog Search, del.icio.us and Technorati – it will be interesting to see exactly what starts to appear. Can anyone think of other ways of monitoring for this kind of stuff?

It doesn’t help that the local paper doesn’t provide an RSS feed; and while the borough Council does, it doesn’t actually work (at least for me, anyway).

So what are some of the things that might be needed to form a community around social media in a local context? Firstly a common tag which can be used to identify content, whether blog posts, photos in flickr, video on youtube, del.icio.us links etc. This has to be right and everyone clear on what the tag is – if people start using different tags then it’s going to be difficult to keep track of stuff. It’s probably also worthwhile created a hashtag for Twitter and other stuff like that – even if people aren’t using it straight away, it will be useful to have in place for the future.

The common tag is really the starting point of the community, because people can use it to follow conversations with their RSS readers. The second step is to create a hub where a lot of this content can be aggregated in one place. The easiest way of doing this is with a public personalised start page like those at Netvibes or Pageflakes. This gives some centre to the community, a single place for people to go and find out what the latest is.

Hopefully by this time people are talking to each other by leaving comments on blogs and other mediums, but the conversation is likely to be spread about and it might be difficult for people to feel completely involved. It’s probably time to arrange a face to face meeting, whether a few drinks in the pub or a photo  walk if there are lots of flickr fans about. How can this be organised though? It’s time for something to be built: maybe a wiki, or a Google Group mailing list or just a space on a social network that everyone is on. The latter is good because you can pick up new members easily, but not everyone will be on that network. I wonder, though, if putting this communication channel together should come earlier?

If the group starts to have some interesting discussions that are developing, it might be worth putting together a group blog as a focal point for others. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog about the group itself but about the issues that the group is interested in. As the group matures and other projects get started other stuff can be developed to meet the need, whether it be wikis or other collaborative environments like Basecamp.

So, the things to do to establish a local social media community (according to me) are:

  • Establish tags
  • Aggregate content
  • Communicate
  • Meet
  • Develop

I might try and put this into effect and see who else is about in Kettering or Northamptonshire who digs this stuff. If you pick up this post somehow and are interested, let me know.

Otherwise, what other thoughts do folk have on using social media to form local groups?