#AboutMeLeeds – 3 lessons in digital participation

#AboutMeLeeds – 3 lessons in digital participation
Image courtesy of Leeds Data Thing

Image courtesy of Leeds Data Thing

Do social networking spaces afford opportunities for people accessing health and social care services, citizens and public sector organisations to have conversations about important topics that affect all of us?

This was the question we tested out in #AboutMeLeeds which took place during the Leeds Digital Festival and which was supported by local NHS organisations and the council, NHS Employers, NHS Confederation and NHS England. We partnered with Leeds Data Thing to experiment with a social conversation which we hoped might help shape the use of data in our city. You can find out a bit more about what we hoped to achieve here.

Leeds Data Thing have posted the results of #AboutMeLeeds with some intriguing insights, such as the fact that most people want access to their health records, but comparatively few have ever done so, and that many have concerns about security of their data.

Whilst the results are valuable – I am equally interested in how #AboutMeLeeds worked as a social conversation and the extent to which it proved an effective means of involving citizens in Leeds.

What we found is that we have a strongly connected and active health and social care community in Leeds (people accessing and working in services) on blogging platforms and on Twitter. We enjoy talking to each other. A lot! But it also showed that when it came to #AboutMeLeeds, we didn’t permeate out much beyond ourselves to other networks. The citizens of Leeds pretty much let us get on with our chat and got on with other things.

Now this gives us some invaluable lessons that we can apply to future conversations and below are key reflections I have drawn from the experience:

  • Make it personal – find a way in to a topic that makes it personally relevant to people and captures their attention. It is pretty hard (if not impossible) to recreate Twitter flashpoints such as the Asda Halloween costume that I have reflected on in a previous post. But making it personal rather than institutional is key. Prime interest groups beforehand and secure their support to set off the conversation on their own terms and in their own ways.
  • Tell stories – build the conversation through stories that people can personally relate to, find interesting, and want to share with others. Stories are better told peer-to-peer by people with a personal connection to the topic, rather than representatives of institutions, and are likely to have more virality.
  •  Mix online and offline – mix online and offline activity to boost the conversation and spread out events/activities to generate new interest and spread engagement. The Leeds Data Thing event which took place during #AboutMeLeeds gave a new lease of life to discussion and got new people involved who had their own networks to connect with.

If you have any other insights and/or suggestions for future social conversations I’d love to hear from you. I’d like to thank all the people who blogged for #AboutMeLeeds and participated in the conversation; and here’s to the next one with added oomph from lessons learned this time around 🙂

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