Monthly Archives: July 2011

How local authorities are using social media

localbysocial-screen-shot-213x300I first read this pamphlet from IDeA and Nesta just over a year ago when it was first published.  Having just re-read it again this afternoon, it’s stood the test of time – a year in social media being a pretty long time.

There’s a wealth of examples of how local authorities are starting to use social media to engage with their communities.  And just as interestingly, some great examples about how local communities are organising themselves and engaging with their local authorities – that ground up approach rather appeals to my inner activist.  There are schools using twitter to keep parents up to date; enabling people to log details of problems which are piped directly to the relevant local authority for action, and many more.  It’s available as a download or read it online at .

It’s candid about some of the challenges involved in deploying such projects.  There are new and evolving skills needed to resource them, and the fear associated with trying something new in the public eye.  Though this quote from the intro pretty much sums it up for me…

The problem for councils though, is that not engaging now represents a far greater risk than engaging. Citizens will still use these networks to talk about you, whether you add your voice to the conversation or not.

I’m not going to summarise it further, as it deserves a full read.  The author (@gandy) makes it a breeze to work through 44 pages.  And I defy anyone to get to the end without thinking of something they could do in their organisation.

I haven’t come across a similar publication for the social housing sector yet.  I wonder if it exists but my google-fu is failing me?  Maybe it doesn’t exist yet?  Maybe we could crowd source writing it…?


Mindmeister: A SaaS mind mapping tool


I’m quite a visually-driven person and I really like using mind maps to sketch out ideas, take notes and plan things.  My daily notebook used to be full of ‘em.  In order to make them more useful (and legible) for other people, I started using some mind mapping software a few years back.  My favourite to date is mindmeister by a country mile.

Its a SaaS tool, which means there’s no software to install – just a few details to set up an account and you’re started straight away.

It’s intuitive and and easy to use, opening up with a large blank canvas.  You start by making your central node, and then add branches as you need them.  There’s everything you’d expect from a mind mapping tool…

  • lots of styling options
  • expand/collapse feature for big branches
  • auto-placing for optimum layout
  • embed icons, links, images, notes
  • export your map to a pdf

The fact that it’s SaaS also means…

  • mind maps stored online – you can access them from any computer connected to the internet
  • you can invite others to view or collaborate on your maps
  • mind maps can easily be embedded in a web page

There’s a iphone and ipad app for mindmeister, which, as a regular commuter, I love.  It means I get to make use of journey time to do a bit of work without the faff of getting the laptop out.

I’ve use mind maps for loads of things, but my favourite is taking notes during meetings, with can then be shared with everyone else for instant minutes.  I used to spend lots of time bothering about getting minutes neatly typed up, in numbered paragraphs with action points.  I’m much less bothered about the format these days.  By sending out the link to the mind map at the end of the meeting, folks can immediately review whilst things are fresh in the mind (and no-one misses the colour-highlighted action points).  The only downside I’ve found is we’re all used to people taking notes on paper during a meeting, but someone tapping at a computer seemed a bit rude, like they weren’t really paying attention.  I try to link the computer to a big screen during the meeting so folks can see what notes are being made – that seems to work quite well.

What is SaaS


Nothing to do with being sassy.  Everything to do with clouds.

SaaS is an acronym that stands for ‘Software AA Service’.  But I reckon that still doesn’t help much if you’re not a bit geeky.  Its not complicated though.

Instead of installing a piece of software on your computer (like you might do with say Microsoft Word), with SaaS, you simply use your browser to access software that’s been hosted in the cloud by the provider.  Software becomes a service that you use, rather than a piece of code that you install on your computer.

The last few years have seen a huge increase in the variety of software tools available on a SaaS basis, from simple desktop applications like wordprocessing and spreadsheets, through to enterprise software like CRM and HRM systems.

Payment for SaaS is often a monthly access fee, compared to a one-off purchase fee for traditional software.  There are often ‘freemium’ pricing models, where you can try out the basic service for free, and only pay for premium elements such as more features, storage or users.

I’ve been using SaaS tools more and more frequently over the past three years.  One of the key benefits I’ve experienced, is how they’ve enabled effective collaboration with colleagues.  Because they’re in the cloud and we’re sharing the same platform, they’ve  helped enormously with the real-time creation of documents by remote teams; and the tedium (or confusion) of managing change control.

SaaS tools can help deliver two elements which feature in many organisational ICT strategies – enabling collaboration and creative working within organisations; and reducing the overall cost of technology ownership.  They’ve already gained much traction in the private sector technology world, but are only just beginning to make an impact in organisations delivering public services.  I wonder if this is simply an awareness issue, or whether folks have experienced problems?

Over the coming months, I’m going to write about the various tools I’m already using, and new ones that appear.  I hope you find it useful.  Feel free to use the comments to raise any questions or share your experience of using different services.