The beginning of this story will be the same as many council’s across the land so if you’re sitting comfortably I’ll begin...
by GUEST EDITOR Carolyne Mitchell
Once upon a time there was a council information officer who opened herself a Twitter account. After a few days of lurking she tweeted her first tweet and a whole new world opened up before her eyes.
She was lucky to have a boss who trusted her judgement when she suggested that the council should open a corporate account and so they did, under the radar, as a ‘pilot’, in case anyone asked.
Things went well and after a few months the council account had 300 followers. Then two things happened that would change everything.
On the Saturday the council website crashed.
On the Sunday it snowed.
On the Monday it snowed some more. It snowed enough to close schools.
With the website down Twitter was all our information officer had and word quickly spread. Parents followed the council. Pupils followed the council. Pupils begged our information officer to close their schools. Parents used her tweets to prove to their sons and daughters that their school was open and they had to go.
Two weeks later the council account had 1,500 followers. Then on December 6, 2010 snowmageddon happened. But Twitter soldiered on, keeping pupils, parents, residents and motorists warned and informed.
When the snow began to thaw it was obvious to management and our officer that Twitter had saved the day.
But our information officer was wondering how to make it better.
A like-minded adviser in another department had discovered that the roads manager used a detailed weather forecast to plan the gritting action. It was so good, he thought it was worth sharing and set about working out how.
Plot twist – our information officer and the adviser are married and so putting two heads together they came up with a cunning plan.
The weather forecast is valuable to the public.
The gritting action is valuable to the public.
Together they are invaluable. They let people plan their journeys and their day.
Both are now published on the council's website with supporting information such as grit bin locations, gritting routes and how to prepare for winter.
Everything is automated, letting the heroes of our story work out what else they can share on social media.
And the moral of the story?
It’s not just the big data that should be shared. Councils use information all the time to plan services – could anyone else use it, how can you share it, will it add value?
If the answer to any of those is yes just do it. You might not all live happily ever after but you might just make life a little easier.
Footnote: South Lanarkshire Council uses the weather forecast from the Meteo Group who provide forecasts for other councils up and down the country. Web/social media people, go and ask your roads people if they want to share their information with the public.
Image via Flickr creative commons