Social Media Surgeries for data and open data skills

OpendataCould your community group or charity be more effective if you collected information in different ways, used it better, shared it with the right people?  Would it help if you could more easily find information that government has about the places  or perhaps the people you are trying to help?
Nick Booth (from Podnosh, who helped us to start our social media surgeries) is experimenting with ways we can use social media surgeries to share not just social media skills with local community groups and charities, but also data skills. Nick will be coming along to our social media surgery in Stourbridge on Monday 23 February to chat to people from local groups and charities about this. Register here if you’d like to to come along. We’d also welcome colleagues from Dudley Council who work with data and are interested in seeing how it can be useful to local groups, and what role they play in helping that.
Here’s a bit more information from Nick:
What should I expect?

As always we start with you and your group.  What are you trying to achieve? What skills and tools do you have at the moment?  Can we show you new ideas that could help you achieve more? Can we help you in practical ways use those skills and tools – there and then? Always the same relaxed approach of a social media surgery.

What’s your aim?

Our ultimate aim is to encourage more community groups and local charities to find good uses for Open data.  This is numerical information that government shares in public.  so we can have a better understanding of the places we live in and the way government works.  But we won’t throw you into anything difficult, we’ll start where you are and help you with the numbers and skills that matter to you.

Is there any information online?

As we work with people we’ll learn together how to solve problems. We’ll describe what we’re doing and share it here on the blog.  We will also be writing about things that might help you, tools, sites where data is stored, examples from other organisations.

I have no idea what you mean when you say open data!

Sorry – it is jargony.  Open government data is when government shares information on the internet that it owns  and grants you and I permission to use it (using an open government license) A simple example is local government releasing a monthly list of all spending over £500.  You can find the Dudley one here.  There is also a website called All About Dudley which contains all sorts of data. But don’t be phased by any of this – we want to help you develop the understanding and skills that might be useful for what you are trying to achieve.

Image credit: Auregann – shared on wikimedia commons


Why I love the informality of social media surgeries

One of the most brilliant things about Social Media Surgeries are the connections people make with each other. At this week’s Social Media Surgery in Stourbridge Catherine Growcott from International Cuisine Association popped in to bring along her colleague Sangeeta Rangwami. International Cuisine Association are an inspiring and dedicated group of people bringing their skills and experience from industry to a social enterprise which aims to change people’s lives through learning about food from around the world and developing confidence in cooking.

Sangeeta and I were working through the pros and cons of Facebook Pages, and the fact that under Facebook rules organisations and groups shouldn’t set up a Facebook Profile – they are only for individuals.

We were then joined by Aneela Hanif, who was fully sighted until her early 20s, and is in the process of setting up a new group called Vision Division to support people going through experiences similar to hers, or looking for something a bit different to more traditional groups supporting partially sighted people which tend to involve people who are much older and not necessarily facing challenges of working or getting work.

The three of us took a whistle-stop tour of twitter. On the spur of the moment I chose the National Trust’s twitter stream to explain to Sangeeta and Aneela how to write engaging and friendly tweets, use hyperlinks and what hashtags are used for. It was a rather wonderful place to start, I’d fully recommend delving in to the National Trust’s tweets – for their warmth of tone, amazing pictures and gentle awareness raising of relevant issues.

As is often the case at a Social Media Surgery, we spent as much time learning about each other’s work as we did about social media. Sangeeta and Aneela started to connect ideas about what they do, and Sangeeta invited us over the road to International Cuisine Association’s teaching space on the High Street in Stourbridge, which has a healthy take away and noodle bar on the ground floor, called Taste. Catherine showed us around and ideas were bubbling up about cooking sessions for people who are partially sighted. Sangeeta expressed a desire to learn about what support partially sighted people might need in relation to learning to cook. Catherine generously offered Aneela’s group free use of the space.

I can’t wait until both of these Stourbridge based organisations are using social media, as I am keen to see what collaboration and learning develops online and offline.


Hyperlocal in Hawbush

A hyperlocal blog is one which has a focus on a specific particular area – it could be a town, a neighborhood or even a single street. More broadly, hyperlocal sites are things on the web which talk about a place – they could be a Facebook page, a forum or a twitter account, as well as blogs and websites. They don’t usually call themselves hyperlocal, it’s a just term sometimes used to group these sorts of things together, and was useful to me in naming this post as it alliterates with Hawbush!


Hawbush is an estate in Brierley Hill which is home to a number of active community groups including a Tenants and Residents Association (TRA), Community Gardens and a Community Learning Centre (St Paul’s). Hawbush is also home to Peter Plant, a retired carpenter and joiner with a passion for his community and for social media.

Peter first attended one of our social media surgeries in January 2012, when Andy Mabbett helped Peter to learn how to set up a free blog site using Peter said then: “I didn’t know about it before, I’m now aware of it and will set one up for Hawbush TRA”. A man of his word, Peter set a site up that very day – – and a week later was using it to promote an upcoming TRA meetings, and since has used it to share news of TRA meetings, clean ups, local meetings run by the police, community events and useful information. Peter shares the posts on twitter (@HawbushTRA).

award shaped like a person holding a starIn December 2012, Peter’s social media skills were recognised by Dudley Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, who presented him with a Social Media Award at their Awards Night 2012.

Peter’s next social media project was to develop a blog for St Paul’s Community Learning Centre, which as well as giving useful information about what’s on regularly, has a thoughtfully presented page about the venue, which is available to hire. Peter had the inspiration to include photos of the rooms, which is really useful for people looking to book a venue as they can get a sense of what the space is like.

screen grab of St Paul's Community Learning Centre blog

Peter came along to our most recent social media surgery to ask us about ways to create newsletters. He said “I was a bit nervous about coming along because I know that social media surgeries are not for creating newsletters, but now I know how to create one and share it using social media including my blog and twitter so I’m very happy.”  

At the surgery Melissa Guest gave Peter some pointers on creating a newsletter in the powerpoint software he had on his laptop and, importantly, how to add hyperlinks and create a pdf so it can be added to the Hawbush TRA and St Paul’s blogsites. Peter said “I can now create my newsletter, add links to my twitter account and blog, PDF it, add it to my blog and share it. This has been really helpful. I was really confused about how to get started with this so it’s been a big help. I can now create online newsletters for the church, my TRA and the patient’s panel that I volunteer with.”

We can’t wait to see your newsletters, Peter. I’ve added the Hawbush blogs to the #DigitalDudley local blogs page.

If you know of anyone like Peter who is blogging, tweeting, sharing photos or videos about our communities in Dudley borough please tell me about them below. 

social media surgery successes

This month’s social media surgery took place at Cafe Grande in Dudley (as ever we’re grateful to the owner Martin, for welcoming us in the cafe).

Dudley Voices for Choice twitter profile page

Sarah Offley came along from Dudley Voices for Choice, which is a self-advocacy group for people with learning disabilities. She wanted to find out how to use twitter, and was supported to set up her own twitter account (@DVCSarahO) and send her first tweet. She said: “I feel so relieved – it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be! I will use the account for promotion, keeping in touch and up to date on important issues.” As a result of the social media surgery Sarah has bought back the @DvcDudley twitter account from a year of inactivity. Keep an eye on them for interesting news and collaborations.

Alison Sayer from Halas Homes wanted to learn about twitter, and how to include a twitter feed on  her organisation’s website, or a blog. We talked about ways that Halas Homes could develop a fresher online presence, and Alison left equipped to talk to her board. She said “We had a really helpful and informative conversation about WordPress blogs and Twitter. I now know that blogs can be updated through Twitter and I can see that this will help me make best use of my limited time.” Within two working days Alison had a new twitter account for Halas Homes (@HalasHomes) created and active, with great sharing going on already.

image of a tweet from Halas Homes  about a coffee morning

There’s more about the social media surgery in my Storify archive, so I’ll finish with Alison’s feedback: “I didn’t know what social media surgeries would be like but it’s been really informal and an enjoyable experience.”