confessions of a gritting geek

by Geoff Coleman

My name’s Geoff Coleman and I’m a gritting bore. There, I’ve said it and a cathartic experience it was too.

Now, in mitigation, can I explain how I’ve tried to turn that strange obsession into something useful?

With the weather taking a turn for the worse over the last fortnight, you may have noticed the advent of the #wmgrit initiative on twitter.

If not, in short, #wmgrit is a campaign bringing together gritting alerts and other winter information tweeted by local authorities across the West Midlands and the Highways Agency.

We all use the same hashtag (#wmgrit) and people can access the combined information in a variety of ways (see below)

The idea is that wherever you're planning to travel within the region you can quickly check to see whose roads have been gritted - making it easier to plan your journey.

#wmgrit launched on December 1 with seven councils: Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Solihull. We've since added Wolverhampton, Telford and Wrekin, Coventry, Warwickshire and the Highways Agency.

So how did it come about?

I first floated the idea for #wmgrit in September - yes I really am sad enough to think about gritting before the end of the cricket season. The first person I spoke to was Dan Slee at Walsall Council. Like Birmingham, Walsall have been tweeting gritting information for the last couple of years and, like me, Dan is something of a #gritgeek (in the nicest possible way)

Anyway Dan thought the idea was worth pursuing so we then spoke to a few more local authorities at a#hyperwm event in Warwick and I said I would get cracking.

We launched on December 1 and as it turned out the timing was perfect - many of the authorities involved sent their gritters out for the first time this winter that night.

The campaign uses Cover it Live and it pulls in live tweets from all participating organisations.

So far the coverage for #wmgrit has been positive and of course it’s great to earn plaudits for an initiative.

But that’s not why we’ve done this. The only thing that really matters is that this is seen as a useful service, a valued addition to local government communications in the West Midlands.

To that end I did a quick check on hashtag tracking and for the 24 hour period from 9am on 13 December, 126 tweets using the hashtag generated 139,000 impressions and reached an audience of 86,377.

As I write this on 14 December we haven't really had what you'd call proper winter weather yet but we know it will come. Then, hopefully, #wmgrit will really come into its own.

In local government, we're often accused - sometimes justifiably - of working in silos. But the inspirational people I've met at events like #hyperwm and #localgovcamp are people who love to collaborate, share ideas and work together to improve services.

#wmgrit was born out of that collaborative spirit and I wonder if the regional approach could now be used to communicate other messages across the region. Maybe we could look at #wmtradingstandards next…

So now, if you're commuting from Digbeth to Darlaston or Billesley to Bilston you can quickly check where the roads have been gritted en route.

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Geoff Coleman is a Birmingham-based journalist, local governnment PR and social media fan

Geoff also designed and built Birmingham Newsroom

photo credit

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