Time to let go of the CMS?

The platform our website used to be built on started to crumble because it wasn’t supported and increasingly it required a lot of bespoke coding to make it do what we wanted. The decision was taken to go out to tender for a new generation CMS and all of the ones we looked at promised the earth and looked to be so simple that even an information officer like me with no coding skills except a smattering of html would be able to build and maintain a complex multi-layered website with hardly any effort.

CMS bought, we set to work building our new, shiny site. We also had three new developers join the team and between them and our design team we ended up with a great looking site. We’ve worked hard to make it task-centric and we do regular user testing but about 18 months ago I made a comment to my manager that I thought the new CMS had made us all a bit lazy. It looked after itself so there was no real thought from service managers and the front line about how we could make it even better.

I felt a bit for our developers who had ideas they couldn’t develop because the product wouldn’t let them and it was perceived that anything special they wanted to do was taking us back to the bespoke days, pre-CMS. As time went on this made no sense to me – coding is what they do so why shouldn’t they?

And then in February Gerry McGovern’s Decentralized publishing equals amateur web management blog hit my inbox. I love Gerry – I’ve read his books, done his webinars and heard him speak and I agree with most of what he says – and here he was confirming everything I’d been thinking about content management systems for a while.

There seems to be a feeling that if we let developers create websites from scratch we’re setting ourselves up for disaster if they walk. But think about it – actually if we have in-house developers who only use a CMS and they walk, finding another developer with those exact CMS skills will be a long and laborious task. Developers all speak from a set of coding languages, they use industry standards and, as long as a web build is properly documented, any number of developers worth their salt should be able to pick up previous work and run with it.

Pic from US Library of Congress under Creative Commons Licence via Wikimedia

Pic from US Library of Congress under Creative Commons Licence via Wikimedia

Content management systems are fine if there are no coding skills at all within your organisation and you’re relying on a marketing or comms team to do your website, with oodles of budget to spend on support from the CMS company. However, if you’re lucky enough to even have one developer – like Paul in Falkirk Council who I met last week and is starting out on this very journey – open source is the way to go. There’s a whole community out there offering free and instant support – no job tickets, no hidden fees and no waiting.

It’s time to adopt a developer, cut yourself free of the CMS reins and get building something exciting with the customer firmly in the middle.

Oh, and read Gerry’s blog because I’m with him on the centralised team which has access to customers, with continuous improvement based on user testing and evidence. Oh, and they have to be able to write killer content but most importantly be able to kill content. That’s not to much to ask is it?

Today I have learned

  • content management systems are like baby walkers – we outgrow them at some point
  • my hairdresser is a Jedi master
  • I’ll probably only ever read fiction on holiday

Today’s track

I really struggled to pick a favourite Nouvelle Vague track cos I love them all but this one I want to put on repeat.

Today’s recipe

wpid-20130424_192249_LLS.jpg

You can use any veg you like for this but I’d always include either spring greens or pak choi.

Ingredients

Sesame oil for frying

1 onion, roughly chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp Lazy Red Chillies

a couple of handfuls of mushrooms, sliced

6 babycorn, chopped

a handful of sugar snap peas

2 heads of pak choi, leaves separated

2 tsp Lazy Ginger

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp sugar

a good splash of soy sauce

a good splash of Chinese cooking wine

Method: Prep all your veg before you start. Heat the oil till smoking and add the onion, garlic, chillies and ginger. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, corn and peas and cook briefly before adding the pak choi. After 2-3 minutes add the fish sauce, sugar, wine and soy sauce and stir. Serve with noodles or rice.

Help me with my pledge

I have been on the marketing/comms team for a new initiative for a few weeks now but last Friday’s meeting was the first I could attend.

Get Active Lanarkshire is a partnership between NHS Lanarkshire, North and South Lanarkshire Councils, South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture, North Lanarkshire Leisure, Healthy Working Lives and the University of the West of Scotland. The aim is to get the people of Lanarkshire more active in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and hopefully to keep them active beyond.

At the meeting it became apparent that I should have been there earlier. There was a leaflet getting signed off which had no mention of a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Turns out there wasn’t a Facebook page or a Twitter account. I quickly explained that this is exactly the kind of project that lends itself to social media, especially Facebook because people can post up the activities they’ve been doing and pledge online in front of their Facebook family and friends – the wall will look after itself.

There were 10 minutes left of the meeting so I knuckled down, logged on to a free PC and set up a gmail account, a Twitter account and a Facebook page just so we could be sure we had the domain/account names we wanted and the leaflets could go to print with the Facebook and Twitter logos on them.

This afternoon I uploaded avatar pics, covers and headers. Then I sent out some invitations on Facebook to like the page. It’s funny but we have an inordinate amount of roller derby players liking it – I can’t think why ๐Ÿ˜‰ In an afternoon we’re more than half way to the requisite 30 likes to get the analytics feeding into it.

Now we have to decide who’s going to be looking after these accounts but the thing that’s worrying me is that all the members of the team have to take the Get Active Pledge. Every now and again I promise myself to always use the stairs but it lasts a week then I’m back to the lift. I love t’ai chi but the class is too far away. I used to do Body Balance but it’s too much of a rush to get to class on time. In a former life I used to be a contemporary dancer but I stopped when I was 33 and heavily pregnant with MiniMe. I loved trapeze but I doubt I’d be able to haul my ass up the rope now. And my absolute favourite – I used to play roller derby but then my Masters got in the way, I crashed the car and lost confidence in tackling the M8 at rush hour plus the fear of injuring myself became the elephant on the track.

2679045897_0f006c99a4_z

By the Library of Congress under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

So what can I pledge to do that isn’t going to kill me, that doesn’t mean an evening class and isn’t metafit because most of the office bails out to that once a week and someone has to answer the phone? OK, so that last one sounds like a cop-out but I don’t do sweaty at lunch time plus that’s when I do my MOOCs.

All suggestions gratefully receive – just remember I need to have time to write this blog each night. Oh, and go and follow and like us please.

Today I have learned:

  • Twitter uses hidden urls which is why my access at work sometimes sucks
  • I am not alone in my crusade to open up access to social media – I have an ally in IT believe it or not!
  • fire drills in the middle of meeting sometimes means you can have a completely different meeting in the car park with great results

Tonight’s track

Cos I used to be a goth, OK.

Today’s recipe

Roasted lamb shanks in mulled wine sauce

wpid-20130428_141522_LLS.jpg

I had a bottle of mulled wine lurking in the wine rack – what can I say.

Ingredients

4 lamb shanks

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, peeled and sliced

3 sprigs rosemary

3 sprigs thyme

10 peppercorns

1 bottle mulled wine (seems a shame to use normal red wine – just drink that)

3 red onions, peeled and quartered

3tbsp redcurrant jelly

Method:

Put the lamb shanks, carrot, white onion, herbs and peppercorns in a large casserole – I have to use my new copper jam pan that I bought in France because all my casseroles and pans were too small.Pour over the wine, cover and leave to marinate for about 5 hours, stirring every now and again.

Heat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Put the casserole on the hob and bring to the boil. Cover and place in the oven for an hour. Remove the lid and cook for another hour.

Remove from the oven and take the lamb shanks out and put in a roasting dish with the red onion. Ladle over some of the sauce and put back into the oven for 25 minutes, basting if needed.

Strain the cooking juices into a pan and heat. Stir in the redcurrant jelly and stir till melted.

Serve with mash and Yorkie puds.

 

Mentoring the mentors

I have struggled to bring you this post. We’ve had sketchy broadband and HimIndoors can’t make up his mind whether it’s a dodgy router, dodgy Zen or dodgy BT. On Friday I tried tethering the netbook to my phone but it wouldn’t find it. It’s been running slow for weeks now so today HimIndoors tried installing Ubuntu on it and it’s now as dead as a Python parrot. Luckily the broadband is up again so this post is brought to you via a wing and a prayer.

On Friday I was on the bill with Leah Lockhart at Falkirk Council facilitating a discussion with a group of graduates and modern apprentices, all working in local government comms teams. This was a follow-up to the panel discussion we took part in at the LGComms Scottish event in Perth at the end of March.

We had been tasked with teasing out of them what they thought was going well and what we comms teams could be doing better for them. There was seems to be some really good mentoring going on but in some places no real direction at all. Mentoring can be a hard gig unless you’ve had a good mentor yourself at some point in your career. I have done a coaching course and I think that would stand me in good stead but mentoring takes coaching up a whole level. It’s about passing on knowledge and skills but it’s also about how to conduct yourself and being a role model. I suspect that those graduates/apprentices who feel they are floundering have mentors who haven’t had mentors themselves.

I consider myself lucky. I’ve had three great bosses in my life. None of them had or has ever been described officially as a mentor but I guess they have been. Anyone can teach you the mechanical bit about a job like deadlines, contacts, how to top and tail a press release, how to book a photographer or how to use a content management system. A mentor will pass on the nuances of the job like how to get an editor on side, how to stage manage a photocall to get more than a line-up of suits, how to conduct yourself in management meetings. They will help you gain the confidence in yourself to step into their shoes when needed. They may not even recognise themselves as your mentor – they’ll just be getting on with their job but giving you the insight as asides, a chat over coffee or taking you along to meetings as back-up. If there’s someone you admire at work, watch how they go about their business and work out what it is about them that gives them the edge and the respect of others – what makes them tick. Can you weave that into your job at your level?

Photo by the State Library of New South Wales under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

Photo by the State Library of New South Wales under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

I’ve had one official mentor in my life and boy, is he a difficult act to follow. David Holdstock has a formidable track record but it’s difficult when your mentor is 340 miles away. I don’t really know how he operates in his daily life but I do know that he commands respect but still manages to have fun at work. I also know that if I ever have a question I can text or call him and if I’m ever in London or he’s up here we can meet up. When we do get together we chat about what I’m up to and about my future and the questions he asks generally get me thinking.

Overall the chat with the graduates was positive and we’re going to get a community set up for them on the Knowledge Hub so that they can link up with others around the country. The whole thing did make me feel ancient though. I started working the year most of them were born!

On Saturday I had a quick visit from John Fox who was travelling back down south from a holiday up north. We chatted about Socitm, task-centric websites, business processes and customer journey mapping. I pointed him in the direction of work done by Sarah Fogden and Gerald Power when they worked at the Cabinet Office. I met them when they spoke at a channel shift event and they were excellent. After that event I tracked the documents down to the National Archives but they now seem to be disappearing so I’ve saved them and put them here. These documents are invaluable if you want to get your head round business process re-engineering, how to make services Digital by Default, task-centric websites and customer-centric tasks. They are simple to understand and give you a step-for-a-hint if you have any senior management to convince.

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer Journey Mapping 2

This weekend I have learned:

  • non-working tech drives HimIndoors insane
  • I really should defrost my freezer more often

Today’s track

Heard this guy for the first time on Craig Charles’ show and was blown away. There’s no video but have a listen – the lyrics and the horn section are the video.

Today’s recipe

Double chocolate cake

wpid-20130428_184421_LLS.jpgI made this for John and Marion coming to visit on Saturday and even Molly the dog had a piece.

Chocolate cake

Ingredients:

100g self raising flour

40g cocoa powder

1.5 tsp baking powder

150g softened butter

150g soft brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 tbsp milk

3 large eggs

For the frosting

100g softened butter

175g icing sugar

40g cocoa powder

1 tbsp milk

Sprinkles to finish

Method: Grease and line a rectangular tin. Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar in another large bowl then mix in the vanilla and the milk.

Crack an egg into the butter bowl and beat in till smooth. Add a big spoon of the flour mixture and beat till smooth. Repeat till the eggs and flour mixture are used up.

Tip into the tin ans smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes till a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave till completely cool.

For the frosting: Put all the ingredients (minus the sprinkles) into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer. Put on top of the cake and smooth out with a palette knife. Add the sprinkles.

Past it at 35? I don’t think so!

I love how Twitter helps make things actually happen.

Last night Jay Rosen put out three tweets about a forum looking for young, networked women who are using mobile to change the world. I knew without following the link that, at 45, I didn’t fit the bill but I thought that Liz Azyan and Leah Lockhart fitted the bill perfectly so I tweeted then. Lo and behold when they checked it out one of them was too old at 35!

Screenshot

This morning saw a flurry of activity between us, with a few others joining the conversation, all aghast that apparently digital women are washed up by 35. Needless to say we are having none of it. It’s the same as every other job or profession – you may be quicker to learn, find it easier to keep up with the latest tech and be an early adopter but what makes a role shine is having someone with a bit of life experience who is willing to learn.

So that then led to a whole Twitter conversation about mentoring and how it’s not just about the experienced person mentoring the inexperienced – it’s also about the younger person mentoring the more experienced in the latest thinking. This has been a recurring conversation with Leah and me and one we’ll probably keep having. But then something lovely happened – a bit of fortuitous serendipity if you will.

I’m going to London for a Socitm Better Connected seminar in May but when I go to London I try to add value and do other worky things while I’m there. In the past this has included visiting FutureGov to talk about the Casserole Club, visiting the Cabinet Office to talk about nudge, visiting Neil Wholey at Westminster Council to talk about measuring sentiment and catching up with my Future Leaders mentor David Holdstock. When I go down I stay with my lifelong friend who is Head of Digital at AgeUK and we talk about digital exclusion, social media, school days, France and general cerebral nonsense. Now that I’m a facilitator on the Social Media and Online Collaboration community on the Knowledge Hub I thought it would be a wheeze to visit Michael Norton who knows all things KHub but who also works for David Holdstock. I was hoping for a meeting with Michael and a social with David so I tweeted Michael to see if he’d be around that day. Within minutes there was a meeting pencilled in with Michael, Liz Copeland and Liz Azyan, then later the night out was set-up. By the afternoon Michelle Rea had me booked in for a chat.

Anyway I gave Michael a call to see what we could get out of the meeting and I mentioned the idea of a skills database on the KHub for mentoring opportunities. Turns out he’s been working on something much better and he’ll give me a walk-through at the meeting. Instead of a database it’s benchmarking so you benchmark yourself then identify someone who’s at the level you want to be at and approach them to be your mentor. It sounds like a plan so let’s get to work and make this happen so that no other 35-year-old needs to feel past it again!

So now I’m excited about my trip. I’ve put the call out on Twitter to another couple of people I want to meet up with and I’ll have to email another who’s a virtual Luddite.

Today I have learned:

  • no matter what the technology, there will always be room for serendipity
  • car racing games are always rubbish without a proper steering wheel

Today’s track

I always sing ‘My mother was a sailor’ – don’t know why.

Today’s recipe

Home made baked beans

wpid-20130423_184900_LLS.jpg

1 packet of chorizo, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 stick of celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 tins chopped tomatoes

2 tins beans, borlotti, canellini, pinto, your choice

1 tsp black treacle

black pepper

Method: Heat a deep pan and fry the chorizo till crisp and the orange juices are starting to escape. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes (you can add a little oil if it needs it).

Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 10 minutes.

Add the treacle and black pepper then check and adjust the seasoning. Serve with thick buttered slices of sourdough toast.

A stroke of genius

Tonight’s post has gone a bit medical on me.

Last Sunday when I opened MiniHim’s curtains there was an ambulance outside the house across the road. The couple who live there are getting on a bit but both are pretty sprightly. He walks with a stick but he’s a retired farmer and always used to walk with a stick so it’s more habit than a medical aid. When the ambulance drove off I still wasn’t sure whether it was Mr or Mrs F who was in the back.

There was no sign of either of them in the house for the next few days, although with us at work during the day I knew it would be difficult to work out without being downright nosey what was up. Eventually one of the neighbours set me straight. Mr F had had a stroke and was in hospital but was doing well. I stayed away for a bit longer – they have family who live just down the road and I knew Mrs F would be rushing about between visiting hours.

So I went round tonight with some cala lillies to see how they are doing. Mr F is home now and sees a stream of medical professionals each day – a nurse to take blood, a physio to work on his weak side and an occupational therapist. He’s in good hands and he’s definitely better off at home in Mrs F’s care than in hospital. Mrs F said the thing that surprised her the most was the speed it all happened. One minute he was fine, the next minute he was talking nonsense. She phoned NHS 24 who were going to send someone round within an hour and a half but she started to get more concerned and dialled 999 instead. It’s just as well she did because with a stroke it’s essential that the patient gets specialist help within 4 hours.

8098941301_f6c38d8ee4_z

By strange co-incidence I’d been discussing with HimIndoors the signs to look out for with a stroke just the other night and I did include these in a blog post but I’m going to share them again. They originally appeared on my Facebook wall but they checked out. Apparently there were just three until recently when doctors discovered a fourth indicator.

  1. Ask the person to smile. If it’s crooked, dial 999.
  2. Ask the person to raise both hands above their head. If they can’t, dial 999.
  3. Ask the person to say something simple like ‘chicken soup’. If they are incoherent dial 999.
  4. Ask the person to stick out their tongue. If it twists to either side dial 999
  5. Mr F has actually identified a fifth one so here goes. If the person wears false teeth ask them to remove them then put them back. If they can’t do either because they don’t seem to fit dial 999. (Sometimes the distortion of the face can be so subtle as to not be noticed externally but Mr F’s jaw was ever so slightly out of alignment and his teeth wouldn’t fit for a few days)

According to the person on Facebook if you share these indicators with 10 other people the chances are you’ll indirectly save at least one life.

This gem also turned up on my Facebook this morning and I have to share this with you too because it’s fascinating and a joy to watch. I know we don’t have a large number of house pools in Scotland but this is such a good thing to teach. In America, where there are more pools hundreds of babies drown each year. Infant swimming resource self-rescue teaches tiny babies and toddlers to right themselves, float and cry for help. Some also learn to swim to the side. I’m telling you, this video is heart-stopping and heart-warming all at the same time. Hang on till the end because the final frame of the baby’s face with his dad will make you melt.

While we’re on the subject of saving lives, can I also tell you about ICE numbers? I store 3 mobile numbers in my mobile phone contacts book called ICE1, ICE2 and ICE 3. One is HimIndoors, one’s my dad’s moby and the other is my mum’s. If I’m ever in an accident and am unconscious but one of the paramedics finds my phone they’ll know to look up my ICE numbers for who to contact because it stands for In Case of Emergency. You should do it too.

Today I have learned:

  • rushing lunch between meetings gives me heart burn
  • not fuelling up enough rushing between meetings makes my blood sugar hit rock bottom at about 4pm
  • on days like today coffee is not my friend

Today’s track

Today’s recipe

Beetroot rosti with smoked salmon and dill dressing

wpid-20130422_190203_LLS.jpg

Serves 2

Ingredients

350g raw beetroot, peeled and grated

1 onion, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, peeled and grated

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp plain flour

oil for frying

1 packet of smoked salmon (enough for 2)

For the dressing

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

a good splodge of olive oil

2 tbsp dill, chopped

Method: Put the beetroot, onion, garlic, egg, flour and some seasoning in a bowl and mix together with your hands.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, tip the beetroot mixture in and flatten out all out with a fish slice or palette knife. Leave to cook and crisp up for about 10-15 minutes. To flip it put a plate over it in the pan, lift the pan off the heat, place your hand over the plate and flip everything over. Separate the plate and the pan then slide the rosti off the plate into the pan to cook the other side for about the same amount of time. Repeat to remove once ready then slice into quarters and plate up with the salmon placed on top.

For the dressing: while the rosti is cooking place all the ingredients in a jug and whisk well. Serve on top of the salmon.

Ranting – it’s what I do best

I think I can kiss goodbye to certificates from any of the courses I’m doing because I’ve fallen so far behind. You can take them at your own pace but they all have written parts that have to be handed in by a certain time and my week’s holiday in France has left me struggling. If I’d just been doing one course I’d probably have caught up but three is impossible.

As you know the Complexity course is just to test out me and maths, who have been uneasy partners ever since I failed my maths prelim so badly I wasn’t allowed to sit my Higher. Surviving Disruptive Technologies is really interesting but so far hasn’t told me anything I didn’t already know, although I think I’ll be learning new stuff soon.ย  Dan Ariely’s Introduction to Irrationality has been marvellous so far. His books are amazing and even just to be on the receiving end of one of his video lectures is a privilege. I’ve already learned lots of stuff that is applicable to campaign work.

However it’s the academic reading that I’m finding invaluable – just being pointed in the right direction and being given free access to academic journals in the fields of consumer behaviour and behavioural economics has told me a lot about how we behave around money, how different payment methods make us buy different things and how money actually demotivates us. It’s all gold dust when it comes to welfare reform and channel shift.

For instance when one of our tenants starts to fall behind with their rent we send a letter detailing all the ways they can pay. My gut feeling was to give them just one option, and not the option that suits us best but the one that suits the customer best. These papers back up my hunch with scientific experiments and research. As a council we would prefer it if people paid by direct debit but that means having a bank account and a debit card. Even that one step away from using cash changes the way we think about money and what we buy. The pain of paying is reduced if cash doesn’t change hands making it easier to buy the things we shouldn’t, even if it means we don’t have enough to pay the necessary bills. Already vulnerable people become more vulnerable when they’re hit with bank charges to pay for overdrafts. Not only that, once you have a bank account you’re open to the ‘suggestion’ of a credit card. Research shows that the pain of paying is even less with a credit card and when it comes to food we’re far more likely to fill our trolleys with unhealthy food if we’re paying by credit card so those financially vulnerable people’s health also becomes an issue.

So if we’re really serious about helping the most vulnerable of our customers we should concentrate on face-to-face contact using cash or at the very least a payment card they can pay their bills with at a PayPoint. We shouldn’t be forcing them online with a debit card because we’re only creating more problems further down the line with rent arrears and all the problems ill health brings. Ideally it’s the people on the cusp of moving from phone to online and the cusp of moving from face-to-face to phone we should be targeting so that there is more face-to-face time available for the most vulnerable in society. Not only that our face-to-face customer services officers are trained to look for the signs of domestic abuse and the risk of someone becoming homeless – that’s not something that can easily be picked up the phone, never mind online.

4265798115_78c15c8ec7_z

Anyway, that’s my rant over for tonight. I rarely know where these posts will go and all I meant to talk about tonight was the courses but look where it ended up! If you fancy a doing one of these free online courses there’s a database of 338 (and counting) courses, provided by 62 universities and you’ll be joining an international campus of nearly 3.5m students – see you at the bar in the Union ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today I have learned:

  • I am a hoarder of travel tickets, most of which are now too old for me to claim back
  • I can remember most of the theories but have forgotten most of the vocabulary from 1st year chemistry
  • this shouldn’t bother me – it was 33 years ago
  • I am old

Today’s track

Cos summer’s coming ๐Ÿ™‚

Today’s recipe

Meatloaf

wpid-20130421_182931_LLS.jpg

I thought the kids would love this because it’s basically a square burger. They didn’t. It was an epic fail for them so now HimIndoors and I will have to eat it all – such a cross to bear!

Ingredients

500g steak mince

500g lamb mince

1 onion, grated,

2 cloves of garlic, grated

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

50g Parmesan cheese, grated

1 egg beaten

seasoning

100g fresh breadcrumbs

Method: Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 5.

Put everything in a bowl and squelch together well with your hands. Force the whole lot into a loaf tin and shove in the oven for 60-70 minutes.

Remove and let it stand for 5 minutes. Drain the juices then remove from the tin and serve in slices with the tomato sauce from a previous post.

Meet my professional digital footprint

So I let myself down and missed three posts at the weekend, although think I have pretty good excuses for two of them

On Friday next door had an impromptu candle party because the charity she was holding it for would get 35% of the commission if the order was in before midnight. Cue nibbles, wine, Stella Artois Cidre, much hilarity and my bank account a bit depleted.

On Saturday night we were at my folks’ house helping HimIndoors celebrate his birthday. I had meant to blog earlier in the day but ended up rushing about trying to pack bags, sort out the Minis and clean the house after a teenage sleepover.

Sunday night was spent catching up on washing and ironing and all I wanted to do in the evening was read a book and go to bed.

But tonight I’m back, slightly frazzled round the edges.

A comms colleague in another council emailed last week asking I could think of any exercises she could use to make interviewing digital comms candidates more meaningful and that would make the interview about the person rather than the spin any good PR person can put on just about anything.

I thought about it overnight but then I thought, really there is no point. These days a comms candidate’s skills and personality should hit you square between the eyes before they’ve even set foot in the building. The more I thought about it the more I realised that my digital footprint is my CV, application and job interview, all at a few clicks of a mouse or a few taps on a touchscreen.

Try it yourself, but not just on Google. Try Bing, IceRocket and Metacrawler but best of all try DuckDuckGo – it doesn’t filter bubble you like Google does.

This is a screenshot of the results when I search on my name.

DuckDuckGo

If you ignore the sponsored link there are 32 results in total and 22 of them are either my own accounts or other people talking about me.

First up is my Facebook account, which although I have the settings pretty secure, there’s nothing there I wouldn’t want my granny to see.

Next comes my LinkedIn account, my blog, my Quora account and a link to my Masters thesis – all legitimate things I’d want a future employer to see. After that comes my Prezi slides and a guest blog I did for Comms2point0 followed by a link to lovely comments from a residents’ association I went to talk to about the council website. After that I get mentions by Corrinne Douglas and Liz Azyan in their Storify account and blog respectively.

The next mention is in a blog by Paul Kearney, the Chief Security Researcher at BT Innovate and Design. We were on the same bill at a Business Continuity Conference and he says some lovely stuff about my presentation.

There’s even a link to a Blood Transfusion leaflet that used a quote from me about how easy it is to use their online booking.

The search results also reveal that my Masters thesis was used during a Really Useful Day, a few more mentions in blogs, hotel reviews from a trip to Paris and how I broke the story about John Barrowman falling off his horse during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk (I tweeted it then the media picked it up).

And there you have it – solid evidence that I ‘do’ digital comms, that I share knowledge, that I know people at the top of their social media/comms game and that I am highly regarded by others in the field. I still find that last bit difficult to say – must be my good Calvinist upbringing. But that’s the thing – in an interview I probably wouldn’t be able to blow my own trumpet while online I have numerous top-notch referees who#ll do it for me.

So if you want to get ahead in comms, get blogging, tweeting and sharing. If you want to get the right person for the job, ignore competencies and application forms because your future employee’s digital footprint should contain everything you need to know – just ignore the things you don’t (unless it’s murder!)

From that I have learned:

  • people think I’m an entertaining and engaging speaker!
  • people think enough about what I write to retweet it and blog about it
  • social media can be a confidence boost

Today’s track

You know this brass section – play it, you know you want to!

Today’s recipe

Tortilla coated chicken

wpid-20130419_192009_LLS.jpg

I’m always on the lookout for different crumbs for coating chicken. This time it was the leftover tortilla chips that got it.

Ingredients:

3 chicken thighs each

half a huge bag of tortilla chips

a good tablespoon of American steakhouse seasoning (I get mine in Aldi’s)

2 tbsp plain flour

1 egg, beaten in a bowl

oil for frying

Method: Heat the oven to 200C /Gas 6.

Put the tortillas and the seasoning in a big freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin till they look like breadcrumbs.

Put the flour on a plate, set the egg bowl next to it then a plate with the breadcrumbs next to that. Dip the thighs in the flour, then the egg, then roll in the tortilla crumbs to coat, then set aside on a plate.

Heat the oil to medium then flash fry on both sides till golden. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes.

From eye witness account to prime time news

There are very few Twitter accounts that I have set up for phone alerts. Aside from @comms2point0 the rest are academics or academic institutes doing research on disaster comms, behavioural economics and journalism.

Over the last couple of days the Nieman Lab has been combining two of those areas. The first I tweeted about this morning is research on how the Boston bombing broke, analysing the timeline of the tweets and the retweets. This shows that the story was broken by eye witnesses at the scene – unwitting citizen journalists. Their initial tweets one mustered a few retweets within their social networks.

The next phase was those tweets being picked up by the media which, with more followers gained more retweets. They also added more weight to the story as they are a trusted source.

The report highlighted the fact that it took an hour for the facts to be corroborated by the government. The conclusion was that this type of story is broken by the public but is verified and amplified by the media.

Well, I agree as far as it goes but this is exactly what my Masters thesis researched and I would say that they should have factored in the Twitter response from the first responders involved – sometimes they have just as many, if not more followers than some media accounts. By using Followerwonk you can work out how many common followers accounts have. When I compared South Lanarkshire Council followers with those of Strathclyde Police and The Evening Times they were very different with less than 100 people following all three accounts. In my thesis I proposed that in emergency situations we should all work together using common hashtags, embedded Twitter streams on each other’s websites and automation tools such as IFTTT and TwitterFeed.

Also in Scotland all first responders now have verified Twitter accounts – not something all media outlets have so the public know whose information is more trustworthy.

If you’re particularly interested in the emergency response side of things the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is also worth a look.

On Monday they’re running a symposium called Sandy Hook and Beyond: Breaking News, Trauma and Aftermath. US regional and national journalists will be joined by community leaders, Sandy Hook families, mental health experts and policy advocates to share perspectives, discuss lessons learned and point the way towards responsible news coverage going forward. They will be live streaming the event – I’m not sure if they’re recording it for those of us who’ll be asleep while it’s on but I’ve asked the question on Twitter.

*Word just came back that it will be recorded and will be available here 10 minutes after the event finishes. You heard it here first!*

Today I have learned:

  • there’s a new 4th indicator for a stroke
  • 1st is to smile – worry if it’s crooked
  • 2nd is to ask them to say something simple like ‘chicken soup’ – worry if it’s not coherent
  • 3rd is to lift both hands above their head – worry of they can’t
  • 4th is to get them to stick out their tongue – worry if it’s twisted
  • share this with 10 people and the chances are you’ll save a life

Today’s track:

Today’s recipe

Posh quichewpid-20130418_184426.jpg

Serves 4

I had a packet of Parma ham and some mushrooms needing used up so I thought I’d make quiche. Normally I’d use shop bought pastry but I forgot so I had to make it from scratch which turned out to be a lot less hassle and quicker than I thought it would be.

Ingredients

Pastry

200g plain flour

100g cold butter cut into tiny chunks

1 egg yolk

a little milk

Filling

a little butter

1 onion, sliced

a garlic clove, chopped

a handful of mushrooms, sliced

3 eggs

200mls double cream

a couple of handfuls of grated Gran Padano cheese

2 tbsp chopped chives

a sprinkling of thyme leaves

Method

Pastry: Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together with your finger tips until it looks like sand. Add the egg yolk and bring together with a little milk but not too much or the pastry will shrink in the oven. Once you have it all together roll into a fat sausage. Cut into slices then push the pieces into a flan dish, using the heat of your fingers to work the patchwork together so there are no holes.

Add a layer of baking paper and put some baking beans or dried chickpeas on top. Put in the oven for 20 minutes. Take out, remove the beans/chickpeas and paper and put back into the oven for 5 minutes.

Filling: Melt the butter in a small frying pan and cook the onion, garlic and mushrooms.

In a bowl mix the eggs, cream, cheese and herbs.

Once the pastry base is ready spread on a layer of the mushroom mix, then a layer ofย  Parma ham ripped into strips then add the egg mixture.

Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

In the frame

I’m not sure what to talk about now I’m all out of holiday.

Before I went away I had a chat with a colleague about photography and the fact that neither of us were that keen on traditional camera clubs. I explained that I’d hoped to learn how to use my camera but that the only real lessons had been in using Photoshop. Within about five minutes we’d hatched a plan to start a work camera club but first we had to get the idea passed by Personnel.

When I came back from hols there was an email saying we could go ahead with the club as long as it was during lunch and we could find someone willing to lend us a room to hold it in.

So my next task is to put together a piece for the intranet and a survey to find out when people want to meet, what level they reckon they’re at, what cameras/phones they use etc. The first meeting will let us scope out what they want to get from the club and let us identify possible class topics, outings and maybe pair up beginners with more experienced people. Hopefully suggestions for talks such as publishing using social media and getting the most out of your moby camera won’t be met with as much resistance as previously experienced ๐Ÿ˜‰

I think in the unconference tradition we’ll call it a camera unclub.

On other news we have a new head of service which has certainly given a morale boost to the team. It feels like our work has been recognised as being important enough to have a seat at the top table. It’ll take a while for him to settle in but so far so good. Apparently I’ve already been recommended to him by a couple of people which is lovely – except now I have to live up to expectations!

What I have learned today:

  • every day’s a school day when you’re developing content for the procurement department
  • Webteams worth their salt should use their weight in PostIts and BluTack every couple of years

Today’s track

Today’s recipe

More-Than-Soup Cullen Skink

wpid-20130417_185305_LLS.jpg

I love Cullen skink but this is more substantial – a one-pot supper.

Ingredients

335mls milk

2 bay leaves

2 leeks

2 smoked haddock fillets

a slice of butter

4 slices smoked bacon, chopped

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

black pepper

a large slug of double cream

2 tbsp flat leafed parsley, chopped

1 tbsp chives, snipped

I also threw in some veg I had leftover from last night (baby sweetcorn and orange pepper)

Method: Cut a 3/4 length of one of the leeks and slice it in half lengthways. Add to a pan with the milk, bay and haddock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the leek and discard. Remove the haddock and flake. Keep the milk and bay.

In a large pan melt the butter and cook the bacon for 2-3 minutes. Slice the remaining leek, add to the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for another 4 minutes until starting to soften.

Add the reserved milk and bay, about 75mls water, (any extra veg), bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Discard the bay leaves then with a masher, roughly mash half the pan. Add the haddock, cream and parsley and heat through. Serve with the chives sprinkled on top.

Comme ร  la maison

My last post about the trip to France is dedicated to the house we rented as a thank you to its owner Fiona who obviously loves France when she’s there.

I found the Town House on the Chez Nous website but it also has its own site.

I’d never been to Picardie before but it’s a beautiful and friendly part of France. You could spend your time in and around Saint-Quentin but if you have your car there’s loads to see. Bruges with its lace and chocolate is a couple of hours away. Reims, which is apparently pronounced Raaz with a throaty French ‘R’ is near enough to stock up on champagne, although you may want to catch the train for a day trip so you can do some tasting. Disney is two hours’ drive, Paris slightly less. Lille is just up the motorway and the Great War battle fields of the Somme are about an hour away, although Arras is closer.

The house itself is deceptive. From the outside it looks quite small but once you’re through the front door it opens up like a tardis.

The ground floor extension makes the ground floor massive with an open plan lounge, dining area, bright and airy kitchen and a breakfast area.

Up on the first floor is a twin room, our double room and the bathroom and up the stairs again is the master bedroom which was converted from half the roof space.

The rest of the roof space is for storage and drying clothes – I’m not sure if Fiona intends an en suite up there but my parents felt the trip down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night to the toilet on the ground floor was a bit daunting ๐Ÿ˜‰

Had the weather been warmer we could have enjoyed a lovely glass of wine in the sitooterie but it was a bit nippy ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I’ll definitely be back in Picardie and I’d love to stay in this house. It’s obviously a much loved family holiday home and I can see why the Roberts fell in love with this part of France.

Both the Minis were begging to stay at the end of the week and MiniMe still reckons she’ll move to France one day so maybe HimIndoors and I will have our own French crash pad to break us into the idea of a French retirement.

I’m counting the days . . .

From all that I have learned:

  • French living has a certain je ne sais quoi
  • asking myself what a French woman would do is slowly changing my outlook on life
  • nothing beats fresh baguette or croissants with a cafetiere of strong coffee
  • never mix up fils with fille when ordering a Happy Meal in France – you’ll end up with the wrong kind of toy and a tantrum

Today’s track

The perfect pop song

Today’s recipe

Creamy pasta with squid ink spaghetti

wpid-20130416_191059_LLS.jpg

My bestie Jill brought the pasta back from Rome so when I was thinking what would go with it I thought a cream sauce would look best against the black, as well as being damn tasty.

Serves 2

Ingredients

olive oil for frying

1 onion, chopped,

1 garlic clove, chopped finely

a mixture of veg – I used baby corn, mushrooms, baby asparagus and orange pepper

a dash of white wine

a good slug of double cream

a handful of finely grated Parmesan

a tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, chopped

seasoning

your choice of pasta to serve

Method: Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic. Throw in the rest of the veg and cook through for 5 minutes or so. Add the wine and let it bubble for a minute. Add the cream and the cheese and stir through. Add the parsley and the seasoning. Heat through and serve.