Syrians are creating “parish councils” to restore grassroots democracy

You may think Syrians are trapped between a rock and a hard place and face a choice between Bashar Al Assad and the jihadists. But the real choice being fought out by Syrians is between violent authoritarianism on the one hand and grassroots democracy on the other. Syrians are creating “parish councils” to help restore civil society.

When Robin Yassin-Kassab interviewed activists, fighters and refugees for his book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, he discovered the democratic option is real, even if beleaguered. To the extent that life continues in the liberated but heavily bombed areas – areas independent of both the Assad regime and ISIL – it continues because self-organised local councils are supplying services and aid.

Syrians are creating parish councils to restore grassroots democracy

On 18 July 2017 women and men in Saraqib, eastern Idlib, participated in elections for their local council. According to the election commission 2475 people cast their ballot, 55 percent of eligible voters. Just days earlier, the three candidates had held a lively public debate. This is unheard of in ‘Assad’s Syria’ where free elections have not been held in five decades of dictatorship. And this is the alternative to the regime – self-organization, democracy and local autonomy – not ISIL and not foreign occupation.

Another example is Daraya, a suburb west of Damascus suffering under starvation siege, is run by a council. Its 120 members select executives by vote every six months. The council head is chosen by public election. The council runs schools, a hospital,and a public kitchen, and manages urban agricultural production. Its office supervises the Free Syrian Army militias defending the town. Amid constant bombardment, Daraya’s citizen journalists produce a newspaper, Enab Baladi, which promotes non-violent resistance. In a country once known as a “kingdom of silence”, there are more than 60 independent newspapers and many free radio stations.

And as soon as the bombing eases, people return to the streets with their banners. Recent demonstrations against Jabhat Al Nusra across Idlib province indicate that the Syrian desire for democracy burns as fiercely as ever.

Where possible, the local councils are democratically elected – the first free elections in half a century. Omar Aziz, a Syrian economist and anarchist, provided the germ. In the revolution’s eighth month he published a paper advocating the formation of councils in which citizens could arrange their affairs free of the tyrannical state. Aziz helped set up the first bodies, in suburbs of Damascus. He died in regime detention in 2013, a month before his 64th birthday. But by then, councils had sprouted all over the country.

Some council members were previously involved in the revolution’s original grassroots formations. They were activists, responsible first for coordinating protests and publicity, then for delivering aid and medicine. Other members represented prominent families or tribes, or were professionals selected for specific practical skills.

In regime-controlled areas, councils operate in secret. But in liberated territory people can organise publicly. These are tenacious but fragile experiments. Some are hampered by factionalism. Some are bullied out of existence by jihadists.

Manbij, a northern city, once boasted its own 600-member legislature and 20-member executive, a police force, and Syria’s first independent trade union. Then ISIL seized the grain silos and the democrats were driven out. Today Manbij is called “Little London” for its preponderance of English-accented jihadists.

In some areas the councils appear to signal Syria’s atomisation rather than a new beginning. Christophe Reuter calls it a “revolution of localists” when he describes “village republics””such as Korin, in Idlib province, with its own court and a 10-person council.

But Aziz envisaged councils connecting the people regionally and nationally, and democratic provincial councils now operate in the liberated parts of Aleppo, Idlib and Deraa. In the Ghouta region near Damascus, militia commanders were not permitted to stand as candidates. Fighters were, but only civilians won seats.

In Syria’s three Kurdish-majority areas, collectively known as Rojava, a similar system prevails, though the councils there are known as communes. In one respect they are more progressive than their counterparts elsewhere – 40 per cent of seats are reserved for women. In another, they are more constrained – they work within the larger framework of the PYD, which monopolises control of finances, arms and media.

The elected council members are the only representative Syrians we have. They should be key components in any serious settlement.

In a post-Assad future, local democracy could allow polarised communities to coexist under the Syrian umbrella.

Towns could legislate locally according to their demographic and cultural composition and mood. The alternative to enhanced local control is new borders, new ethnic cleanings, new wars. At the very least, the councils deserve political recognition by the United Nations and others. Council members should be a key presence on the opposition’s negotiating team at any talks.

And the councils deserve protection. Mr Al Assad’s bombs hit the schools, hospitals, bakeries, and residential blocks that the councils are trying desperately to service. If the bombardment were stopped the councils would no longer be limited to survival. They could focus instead on rebuilding Syrian nationhood and further developing popular institutions.

As the US-led invasion of Iraq showed us, only the people themselves can build their democratic structures. And today Syrians are practising democracy, building their own institutions, in the most difficult of circumstances. Their efforts don’t fit in with the easy Assad-or-ISIL narrative, however, and so we rarely deign to notice.

Perhaps Syria looks like a huge, expensive and complicated problem that can only be contained with on-going and continual military action. If this is our only strategy, Syria will fester like an open sore. Perhaps other options are available, if so let’s test them to see if they are feasible.

Andy Black Associates (ABA) provide English parish councils with a specifically designed, low-cost, easy-to-use and customisable WordPress website application, accessed as a cloud service, that enables parish councils to comply with the 2015 Transparency Code and improve engagement with the local community. This type of model can be adapted for Syrian local councils.

Perhaps the UN could set up and manage the cloud service and create a framework where Syrian local councils receive phased financial support for projects to rebuild their local communities in exchange for transparency, local democratic accountability and the creation of local neighbourhood plans. This would help prevent corruption, create local employment and increase grassroots democratic engagement. It could also stem the tide of Syrian refugees into Europe and encourage others to return home to rebuild their country.

Good leaders use emotional intelligence to stop microaggression in the workplace

Good leaders use emotional intelligence to stop microaggression in the workplace. Would your company leadership consider the following to be “good-natured” joking in the office: unwanted “compliments” toward attractive female co-workers, a disabled co-worker being made the subject of some jokes, or a male co-worker being mocked because he isn’t considered masculine enough? No, because these employees are not being made to feel welcome.

Employers should care about this type of workplace behavior not only because they should want to be good corporate citizens, but because this sort of discriminatory behavior is harmful in business. So much so that US legislation like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed to address various types of overt workplace discrimination.

But there’s one thing these acts cannot address that you as a leader can: a new form of discrimination called microaggression.

Microaggressions are everyday acts that carry a subtle hint of racism, sexism, or homophobia. I see it encroaching into many workplaces, making professional lives more challenging and leaving a damaging effect on businesses.

andy black associates blog

Corporations are realizing that unconscious bias, a form of microaggression, prevents improvement of workforce diversity and employee productivity. Microaggressions that point to ageism and race can also have harmful effects on employees.

While microaggression is an age-old issue, it cannot be accepted as the norm in the workplace. Incoming generations joining the workforce shouldn’t be left defenseless to stop it. It is important to recognize microaggressions for what they are, manage them effectively, and prevent their damage to performance, productivity, and profitability.

Though it may be a byproduct of diversity, you cannot allow microaggression to consume your people as well as your profit. Recognize where it starts, learn how to micro-manage it and grow with the process.

1. Recognise where it starts.

A microaggression is a subtle way of showing one’s bias and discriminating tendencies. Any statement, joke, or inappropriate inquiry alluding to someone’s gender, race, or even age, can be a sign of a microaggression, especially if it’s said in the context of one’s weakness.

A high turnover rate can also be a sign of microaggressions in the work environment. Any personal attack based on one’s unique qualities can build up feelings of incompetence, inadequacy, or resentment, which leads an employee to underperform and search for a different job.

According to a study by Michigan State University, all organizations should consider the nature and impact of sly or seemingly unintentional forms of discrimination. Racial microaggressions, insidious mistreatment, and exclusion are often discounted because they are vague or cryptic and the perpetrators can argue that they are unintentional. Such experiences, however, can have a significant detrimental effect on employee morale and productivity, resulting in substantial financial losses and even a risk of litigation.

2. Open the lines of communication.

The workplace is every worker’s second home. The environment should make them feel secure and respected, which starts with having an open communication line among employees and with the management.

Create sessions that are intended solely for discussing microaggressions to raise awareness and minimize these behaviors at work. Hold support groups or forums that allow reports of incidences of microaggressions. This could inspire making new policies that are more inclusive and improve the company’s ethical standards.

It’s also good to get workers involved in the community, as it allows them to learn about each other and tackle the bigger problems out there together.

3. Grow with the process. 

Make your workers aware that working for professional success is not an end in itself. A person’s self-worth also comes from the wealth of experience and relationships he or she has built over the years.

A person’s uniqueness can bring more quality and value to the work environment, and it enriches your work-life experience when you can embrace your true self. So honor every worker’s uniqueness in the workplace, especially during occasions such as International Women’s DayLGBT Pride MonthInternational Day of Older PersonsInternational Day of Persons with Disabilities, and of course African-American History Month.

Microaggressions in the workplace will continue to challenge every aspect of a business along with its processes, organizational structure, network of people, ethical standards, and overall success. Regardless of size or nature, every organization should lay a sufficient groundwork for a workplace that secures both its people and the business in the years ahead.

Improving work relationships may not have a numerical value of its own, but a better quality work environment does translate into higher productivity, which if handled correctly, can lead to greater profits. That’s what makes the people who work with you such an invaluable resource.

 

The digital transformation of Parish Councils has begun

The digital transformation of Parish Councils has begun. Parish Councils originated in medieval times and are the first level of government for UK citizens. They are now adopting cloud computing services to provide a better service for the local community.

We are proud to be helping this transformation. Andy Black Associates (ABA) is an official G-Cloud 9 (G9) cloud service provider offering a suite of digital services for Parish Councils and local government. The cloud services became available for public sector institutions via the UK Government Digital Marketplace on 22nd May 2017.

ABA provide Parish Councils with a specifically designed, low-cost, easy-to-use and customisable WordPress website template, accessed as a cloud service, that will enable Parish Councils to comply with the 2015 Transparency Code and improve engagement with the local community.

The digital transformation of Parish Councils has begun
Google Maps integration allows virtual walk-throughs of planning and building applications

The Parish Council website is also fully responsive when viewed on a mobile device. This is particularly important as today web pages are more likely to be viewed on mobiles than on PC’s, and this trend will only accelerate. Younger parishioners are overwhelmingly “mobile-first” and this key demographic will be difficult to engage if a Parish Council website is not mobile-friendly and responsive.

 

The software-as-a-service for Parish Councils includes monthly backups, data storage, data security and support – ABA manage all the technical infrastructure. This allows parish clerks to focus on managing the parish paperwork and documentation. When compliance information needs to be published, the service is simple to use and parish clerks can easily upload the information to their sites.

Parish clerks will be able to comply with the Transparency Code and easily publish:

  • All items of expenditure above £100
  • End of year accounts and annual governance statements
  • Internal audit reports
  • List of councillor or member responsibilities
  • Details of public land and building assets
  • The minutes, agendas and meeting papers of formal meetings.

As well as the required compliance data listed above, additional information can also be easily added, including:

  • Land & property planning applications
  • RSS feeds from local government
  • Google Maps
  • Parish history
  • Local services
  • Neighbourhood Development Plans
  • Surveys and polls
  • Email newsletters
  • Social media integration

Combining the required compliance data with complementary parish information makes the websites more engaging. In addition, when parishioners visit the site they will find the navigation and drop-down menus are uncluttered, mobile-friendly and easy-to-use.

The cloud service has been designed to take account of the various levels of network coverage in rural areas and can be accessed on PC’s, laptops and mobile devices connected to 3G, 4G or broadband networks. Parish clerks who live in rural areas without broadband can use a laptop connected via the “hotspot” capabilities of a 3G or 4G mobile device to update and upload content onto the cloud service.

Parish clerks can check the 3G and 4G network coverage for their parish using this free crowdsourced geo-location tool.

the digital transformation of parish councils has begun

The service was developed and iterated over the last year by collaborating with parish clerks, parish councillors and local government officers and is currently being rolled out by the Herefordshire Association of Local Councils, where over 50 Parish Councils have already adopted the cloud service. Some “early adopter” parish clerks are using their newly acquired WordPress skills, learnt by using the ABA video elearning library, to turn the Parish Council websites into community hubs.

Take a look at some examples of our Parish Council websites:

Lynda Wilcox, the Chief Executive of Herefordshire Association of Local Councils, said “The Parish Councils in Hereford using the service have already noticed an increase in the number of parishioners attending meetings, more engagement with older parishioners by email and also more younger parishioners turning up at meetings wanting to get involved in local democracy.”

Mark Millmore, ABA Director, said “Our low-cost and easy-to-use, software-as-a-service (SaaS) can be easily rolled out to any of the 8,356 Parish Councils in England and G-Cloud will be an important route for us to reach these government organisations.

Our software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model will enable Parish Councils to comply with the Transparency Code and improve engagement with the local community. It will also allow significant savings to be made from the UK Government £4.7 million grant managed through the National Association of Local Councils (NALC’s) and its 38 independent County Associations to ensure all 8,356 Parish Councils are compliant with the Transparency Code.

Over the last year we have collaborated with stakeholders to iterate, test and design the service. During this period we have also developed templates, workflows, a cloud server infrastructure and can scale our service to meet client requirements.

The ABA pricing matrix for Parish Council websites being offered to NALC and the 38 independent County Associations that administer the 8,356 Parish Councils is a one off fee of:

  • £500 each for 1-10 websites
  • £400 each for 11-30 websites
  • £350 each for 31-50 websites
  • £300 each for 51-99 websites
  • £250 each for 100+ websites

The one off fee includes all technical set up on a dedicated cloud server at a secure 1&1 UK datacentre, domain name registration, custom email server, plugins, logo, menus and pages, SEO, loading of last 12 months archive Parish Council content, Google Maps integration and access to a customised Parish Council specific video elearning library.

After the first year there is a £100 annual fee for each website that covers support, maintenance, updates, backups and access to a Parish Council specific video elearning library (available online or as CD’s).

Whilst not a requirement of Transparency Code compliance, if requested, we can also provide SSL certificates (HTTPS) and .gov.uk domain registrations for each website, these additional services are charged at cost price.

Our low-cost and easy-to-use cloud service will enable Parish Councils to comply with the Transparency Code and improve engagement with the local community. As such, we are delighted to have been awarded a place on the G9 Agreement, the latest iteration of G-Cloud, and can’t wait to take advantage of the many opportunities that the initiative offers for both suppliers and government bodies. The digital transformation of parish councils has begun.”

Digital transformation is not just for parish councils, soon every citizen in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire will benefit from Fastershire.

Fastershire is a partnership between Herefordshire Council and Gloucestershire County Council to bring faster broadband to the two counties, with funding from central government’s Broadband Delivery UK matched by the local authorities.

Phase 1 of the project, in partnership with BT, will see around 90% of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire having access to fibre broadband, with all premises in the project area being able to access a minimum of 2Mbps.

Phase 2 of the project will extend fibre coverage further across both counties to make ultrafast speeds available to over 6,500 of the most difficult to reach rural homes and businesses.

The ultimate aim is that by 2018 there will be access to fast broadband for all who need it. Fastershire is not just about technology. The project also includes social and digital inclusion activities, and an extensive ‘Business Support’ programme, designed to help small and medium size businesses enhance their digital skills and use fibre broadband to grow their businesses and be more competitive.

To help the small businesses of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire capitalise on this opportunity, ABA can also provide low-cost, easy-to-use and customisable WordPress ecommerce website templates, accessed as a cloud service. An example of the ecommerce website template is being used by Pengethley Farm Shop.

Small businesses in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire using our ecommerce cloud service will also be able to take advantage of the ABA digital transformation platform to drive business and generate revenue.

It is expected that Fastershire will help to boost the local economy by £420m over the next ten years.

Fastershire will revolutionise the way that people of all ages across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire participate in democracy, work, learn and play, and will benefit generations to come.

The “parish council” model for local democracy can also be used as a template for nation-building after war or revolution.

For enquires about the parish council and ecommerce cloud services contact Mark Millmore on 07891108154

For enquires about the digital transformation platform and digital training contact Andy Black on  07881 314570

Additional information:

G-Cloud is a Crown Commercial Service (CCS) initiative to encourage public sector adoption of cloud services by connecting government organisations with providers of all sizes in a secure and open environment. The CCS acts on behalf of the Crown to drive savings for the taxpayer and improve the quality of commercial and procurement activity across both local and central government.

To qualify for inclusion in G9, organisations need to prove that they are a suitable and secure potential partner for government technology projects. They must be prepared to list the capabilities of their products, along with indicative pricing. As a result, G9 provides public sector bodies with an open, secure and transparent digital marketplace in which to search for cloud solutions.

It also provides new business opportunities to businesses that pass the checks required to qualify for G9 status. Crown Commercial Service suppliers are given an opportunity to advertise their services to a wide range of interested public sector bodies in a competitive environment. Since it became available in 2012, UK government organisations have placed billions of pounds’ worth of orders through the service with most orders being won by SME’s.

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy – Interview with Amina Maikori

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

He is a Director of Andy Black Associates, a London based Digital Media firm. He began his career in Film, Television and Theatre before making the switch from traditional analogue media to digital media-that’s close to an impressive thirty years ago! Andy’s message on his website is a constant reminder to visitors that having digital presence is profitable for all businesses:

‘Are you ready for the Digital Economy?’ It says.

Those who have attended Andy’s training courses know that he is very practical in his teaching methods with great insights on ways to manage a fast growing numbers of digital channels. Andy has a process: he tries and then tests the latest apps and digital platforms before introducing them to you.

The digital economy is huge. Think Konga, think Dealdey don’t forget Amazon or eBay. Part of world globalization includes the luxury of getting across to people, opportunities and products regardless of distance, language , time or even business type.

Here’s an interview I did of Andy about three weeks ago. He tells you just how relevant Digital Media is to you and how you can own it.

Amina: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Could  you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself?

Andy: I am Andy Black, a 50 something digital consultant, I have been running my own digital consultancy for 3 years and have been working in the technology sector for over 25 years.

In the 1970’s I was a pupil at Emanuel School in London where my contemporaries included Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, Sir Sebastian Wood, UK Ambassador in Germany and Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

In the early 1980’s I was a student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where I received practical training in film, TV, radio and acting. My contemporaries at Bristol included Daniel Day-Lewis, Miranda Richardson and Samantha Bond – in this sort of company I soon realised my limitations and became an expert in spear carrying.

I worked professionally in film, TV and theatre for 2 years before joining a Soho video production company in 1987 that was launching the first analogue to digital film tech – that was 30 years ago!

Since then I have worked in data analysis, information services, search software, intelligence gathering, digital marketing & content creation. I am divorced, happily single and have a 28 year old son who is getting married next year. I look forward to being a digital granddad.

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

Andy (left) worked in film, TV and theatre for 2 years – here appearing as Oberon in a 1983 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Bristol Old Vic with Lisa Bowerman as Titania and Tony Howes as Puck 

Amina: Digital grandad! That would an interesting title, definitely. When and why did you make the transition from traditional to digital media?

Andy: My transition from traditional analogue media to digital media occurred in 1987 when I started working for TeleTape Video Ltd. They introduced the first analogue to digital video display technology to the UK, and I joined a team of 4 young edgy techie creatives who started to play with and evolve commercial services with the new technology. Lots of late nights, laughter, hard work and busy weekends.

I became a digital obsessive and tried out things like subliminal messaging and building digital sculptures with monitors that displayed video & information. We were involved in lots of interesting projects including the launch of Sky TV, video displays at the Conservative Party conference and lots of air and defence trade shows. I will always remember working on the the launch of SkyTV at the National Theatre, the highlight was Rupert Murdoch slowly walking through a swirling sea of dry ice engulfing two of our huge videowall sculptures as he launched Sky TV to the assembled global media – you can imagine the pressure on me in the control room!!

In 1990 I was headhunted to join Perfect Information a City start-up, where digital was used to scan original company documents and newspaper cuttings to create a unique image based real-time information service for City clients such as Goldman Sachs, Cazenove and Kroll Associates – I learnt on the job about data management, ISDN, metadata, information, RAID, internet, broadband, cloud computing, telecoms, optical storage – as well as how the City and M&A teams operate.

In 1996 I joined Excalibur Technologies, a US based advanced search software company, where I worked on projects including web crawling for Factiva, advanced search software for ProQuest and the Excalibur rapid rebuttal database for the Labour Party. In many ways Twitter and automated bots have now democratised rapid rebuttal. Unfortunately it has also led to memes, fake news and algorithmic manipulation being used as a type of information warfare to distort traditional news flows and disrupt public opinion. It is fascinating to watch the analogue to digital revolution.

Amina: It must have been exciting to be part of that revolution. What do you find is the major difference between the two?

Andy: A digital file is cheap, made once and can be easily stored, copied and also shared an infinite number of times. A printed book is expensive to print and also difficult to share or store. The economics of digital totally disrupts any sector it touches. Every business needs a digital transformation strategy otherwise they risk being Blockbuster when their customers want Netflix.

Amina: For a lot of people, digital or social media is what they do on the go with no specific time scheduled for it. Your case obviously is different, perhaps with more structure. What is a typical day like for you?

Andy: I am connected 24/7 and regularly monitor Twitter for news, Facebook for news from friends, LinkedIn for news from connections, Twitter Lists for expert news and Google Custom Search for key website content for projects i am working on. I also use extensive Boolean search operators and scripts to retrieve deep web information that is not indexed by Google. When not working at a client site or on a specific project, my typical day is as follows:

At 08.00 am I normally start by checking Twitter for trends and news – I then curate interesting stories regarding the digital economy and use scheduling tools so my tweets appear at the optimum time for my followers, which is between 1pm-4pm – I normally send 5 tweets and 1 LinkedIn share a day. I use Twitter saved searches, Twitter Lists, Google Custom Search and Hootsuite to make this fast and efficient.

After this I monitor trending topics and hashtags to see if I can “newsjack” a relevant trend and share a link to my website – this is a very effective tactic for growing followers and increasing traffic to my website. I normally complete this by 10.00am.

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

More web pages are now viewed on a mobile than a PC – is your content & website mobile friendly?

Then I login to my website, check emails from website visitors, check my SEO, Google Analytics, Adwords and Woorank to make sure my pages and ads are all functioning. A key daily task is monitoring for any changes in the Google, Facebook and Twitter algorithms, these three companies are now the gatekeepers for news and content and any changes they make can have a dramatic effect on content marketing and digital campaigns. I finish this by 10.30.

From 10.30am to 12.00 i do my admin, other business emails, proposals, Skype calls with my associates. In the afternoons I attend meetings or go to the Frontline Club to work.

In the evening I normally do 1-2 hours reading, OSINT deep web research or try out new software/apps. Google only indexes 5% of the Internet so an understanding of information resources on the deep web is absolutely vital, otherwise you may make “fake decisions”.

Amina: The digital sphere is flooded with all kinds of apps and social media channels, if you’re an outsider it’s a bit hard to decide on which one to embrace or ignore. Which 5 platforms would you say are an absolute must for organizations or businesses and why?

Andy: Whilst there are regional and demographic differences, I think the current 5 key platforms are;

  • Facebook (Page, Live, analytics, ads, Messenger)
  • Twitter (ads, analytics, Periscope, lists, geo-location search, advanced search)
  • LinkedIn (ads, SlideShare, posts, advanced search – and soon Skype)
  • Hootsuite (social media management/engagement, Hootlet, apps, scheduling)
  • Website (SEO, mobile responsive, AdWords, blog, YouTube, navigation, ecommerce, Skype)

Your website should be the hub, with social channels linking to it.

Amina: Let’s take a look at the digital economy. I notice it’s the first thing that pops up on your page. More specifically, we see the question ‘ Are you ready for the digital economy?’ Why is that such an important thing?

Andy: Digital technology is reshaping traditional industry, especially those sectors that rely on direct engagement with consumers (for example, marketing, PR and design) and technological innovation (for example. science and high tech). Education, however, is the sector with the lowest proportion of digital businesses.

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

Countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil are using digital and mobile to transform their economies.

Digital is ubiquitous. Mobile devices are everywhere and countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil are using digital and mobile to transform their economies. This represents huge opportunities for collaboration, trade and knowledge sharing, organisations that fail to grasp these opportunities will go out of business .

Amina: Finally, what do businesses and organizations need to do to get ready for the digital economy?

Andy: They need to move away from hierarchical structures to self-organising networks.

What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

Move from hierarchical structures to self-organising networks.

Take a look at how the Labour Party used crowdfunding, crowdsourcing bots and AI in the 2017 UK General Election!

If you want to know more about the Digital Economy follow  Andy Black Associates on Twitter ‪@AndyBlacz ‬.

You can also access their free Advanced digital toolkit here.

Finally , check out how sales work in the old days versus now. Yes, just look at that for a moment. Or two.What Andy Black can tell you about succeeding in a Digital Economy

This interview originally appeared on Amina Maikori’s blog.

Why are there more car-crash media interviews than ever?

The number of “car-crash” media interviews is rising all the time. Just over the last few days we’ve had Diane Abbott and Angela Rayner receiving the Nick Ferrari treatment on LBC. Other recent victims include government ministers like Chloe Smith, shadow ministers like Richard Burgon, elder statesmen like Ken Clarke and even party leaders, with the Green’s Natalie Bennett having an extraordinary “brain fade” in a pre-election interview in 2015.

So why are we getting so many more than ever? Why are politicians unable to cope in the spotlight? Here are five reasons:

The media is a results business, and broadcast journalists, in particular, can raise their profile by skewering a politician. Nick Ferrari’s profile went up no end last week after his interview with Diana Abbott, which quickly went viral. When Victoria Derbyshire riled Ken Clarke, goading him into disagreeing with her over the nature of rape, he had to fight to save his career – whereas hers got a huge boost. There is a big incentive for journalists to go hostile – more shares, more clicks, more revenue.

Over the last few years, MPs have come in for lots of stick – not least with the expenses scandal – and every aspect of their lives is now scrutinised. In fact, politicians remain the profession least trusted by the British public, even below bankers. The result? Only those with the thickest skin are standing for parliament, and bright, talented, knowledgeable people with just average skin thickness are no longer willing to put themselves forward – especially as they can earn so much more elsewhere. We’re narrowing the talent pool from which MPs are chosen, with the result that some of today’s politicians lack the intellectual authority of their predecessors.

The cult of youth means that many politicians are promoted to senior positions way too quickly, as experienced cabinet ministers go off to make money outside politics. According to research by Stephen Taylor of Exeter University, between 1964 and 1997 the average time between being first elected to parliament and being appointed to the cabinet or shadow cabinet was 12.6 years. For the period between 1997 and 2015 this figure had gone down to just eight years. Chloe Smith, slaughtered on Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman, entered Parliament in 2009 and was promoted to a ministerial post just two years later at the age of 29.

In this age of social media, voters are far more accustomed to public humiliation of others – from contestants on Britain’s Got Talent to celebrities and political leaders. There’s simply a greater appetite for aggressive interviews. Far from empathising with politicians as ordinary people doing their best, we see them as a breed apart, ripe for a good kicking. And social media only amplifies the mistakes, people love to share car-crash interviews and many have become viral memes.

The sheer number of broadcast media channels continues to rise exponentially. There are now nearly 500 TV channels available in the UK alone, all looking for content, and countless radio stations too. In the 1970s, there were basically three TV channels. Many more channels means many more interviews, and therefore much more chance for politicians to mess up live on air.

None of these trends is going to reverse anytime soon, so we can expect more car-crashes over the coming years. What is painfully obvious is that all public spokespeople need media training, sooner rather than later.

Andy Black Associates awarded G-Cloud 9 supplier agreement for UK Govt

Andy Black Associates has been awarded and officially listed as a G-Cloud 9 (G9) cloud hosting service provider for its suite of digital services for Parish Councils and local government. G9 services became available on the Digital Marketplace on 22nd May 2017.

The digital transformation of Parish Councils has begun. Parish Councils originated in medieval times and are the first level of government for UK citizens. Andy Black Associates provide Parish Councils with a low-cost, easy-to-use and customisable hosted WordPress website template, specifically designed for Parish Councils, that will enable them to improve engagement with the local community, comply with the 2015 Transparency Code and provide a better service for parishioners. The hosted website is also fully responsive when viewed on a mobile device.

The hosted cloud software-as-a-service for Parish Councils includes monthly backups, data storage, data security, support and access to a streamed video e-learning library that enables Parish Council members to easily learn how to customise their sites, enabling value added services such as how to add the minutes of meetings, how to create an email newsletter, how to integrate social media or how to add YouTube content.

The service was developed and iterated over the last year by collaborating with parish clerks, parish councillors and local government officers and is currently being rolled out by the Hereford Association of Local Councils, where over 50 Parish Councils have already adopted the cloud service. Some “early adopters” in this group are starting to develop their Parish Council websites into community hubs.

andy black associates awarded G-Cloud 9
Google Maps integration allows virtual walk-throughs of building applications

Lynda Wilcox, the Chief Executive of Hereford Association of Local Councils, said “The Parish Councils in Hereford using the service have already noticed an increase in the number of parishioners attending meetings, more engagement with older parishioners by email and also more younger parishioners turning up at meetings wanting to get involved in local democracy.”

Mark Millmore, ABA Director of Hosted Services, said “Our low-cost and easy-to-use hosted website template and hosted cloud service can be easily rolled out to any of the 8,356 Parish Councils in England and G-Cloud will be an important route for us to reach these government organisations.

Our software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model will enable Parish Councils to improve their service to the local community and allow significant savings from the Central Government budget allocated to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC’s) and its 38 independent County Associations for Transparency Code compliance for each of the 8,356 Parish Councils under their administration.

The ABA pricing matrix for Parish Council websites being offered to NALC and to each of the 38 independent County Associations is a one-off fee of £500 each for 1-10 websites, £400 each for 11-30 websites, £300 each for 31-50 websites, £250 each for 50+ websites and £200 each for 100+ websites, after the first year there is a £100 annual fee for each website that covers support, maintenance updates and backups. Our low-cost and easy-to-use cloud service will help Parish Councils comply with the Transparency Code and provide a better service to the local community.

Take a look at some examples of our Parish Council websites:

As such, we are delighted to have been awarded a place on the G9 Agreement, the latest iteration of G-Cloud, and can’t wait to take advantage of the many opportunities that the initiative offers for both suppliers and government bodies.”

Mark Millmore can be contacted on 07891108154 for further information.

G-Cloud is a Crown Commercial Service (CCS) initiative to encourage public sector adoption of cloud services by connecting government organisations with providers of all sizes in a secure and open environment. The CCS acts on behalf of the Crown to drive savings for the taxpayer and improve the quality of commercial and procurement activity across both local and central government.

To qualify for inclusion in G9, organisations need to prove that they are a suitable and secure potential partner for government technology projects. They must be prepared to list the capabilities of their products, along with indicative pricing. As a result, G9 provides public sector bodies with an open, secure and transparent digital marketplace in which to search for cloud solutions.

It also provides new business opportunities to businesses that pass the checks required to qualify for G9 status. Crown Commercial Service suppliers are given an opportunity to advertise their services to a wide range of interested public sector bodies in a competitive environment. Since it became available in 2012, UK government organisations have placed billions of pounds’ worth of orders through the service with most orders being won by SME’s.

What exactly is Open Source Intelligence and what are the benefits?

Watch ABA Associate Arno Reuser talk about Open Source Intelligence in this video blog.

Arno is a professional librarian and information scientist with more than 30 years experience in information handling and processing. He was the founder of the Open Source Intelligence Bureau for the Dutch Defense Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) and currently holds the position of Senior Policy Advisor for OSINT and Cyber at the Dutch Ministry of Defence.

Arno was responsible for migrating the Dutch military intelligence library from an archival to a discovery capability. It involved efficiently extracting information from incoming streams of raw data and sharing relevant parts of the information with a virtual team of Dutch open source intelligence experts. In addition, the team used Arno’s search methodology to do research and collaboration using open source software, this enabled rapid analysis of incoming information and a fast evolution of it into intelligence. This innovative, low-cost and highly effective methodology inspired many EU, NATO and UN intelligence agencies.

Arno’s expertise is to design and use systems that can translate information requirements into actionable intelligence. Or, in other words, find pinpoint answers to questions, and to design and run training courses about this for govt and private sector clients.

In recognition for his contribution to the Intelligence Community, Arno was awarded the Golden Candle Award by OSS.net in Washington D.C.in 2003 and the Lifetime Award in 2004. He was nominated for Information Professional of the Year in 2010.

Does endless message repetition really work?

Does endless message repetition really work? Over 20 years ago, Peter Mandelson spoke about messaging at a client event I organised. He was compelling, as you might imagine, full of great advice and revealing anecdotes. And I’ll remember to my dying day one particularly pithy piece of advice he gave: “It is only when you’re sick of hearing yourself repeat the same message over and over again that your audience is just beginning to get it.”

The truth of this was brought home to me last week when I saw some research by YouGov showing that only 15% of people polled could spontaneously recall Theresa May’s “Strong and stable” line. Considering the number of times Tory politicians have uttered those words, and with such sheer relentlessness – so much so that journalists and commentators have been pulling their hair out in frustration – you might have expected a better recall rate.

But given also that ‘strong and stable’ isn’t the most inspiring slogan ever, and that 67% of voters tell YouGov they are finding the election ‘boring’, a 15% recall rate is actually pretty good. And, in any case, those who say they will vote Tory (currently around 45%, according to the polls) might well be influenced by a slogan even if they can’t spontaneously recall it.

Does endless message repetition really work?

To my mind, Labour’s ‘For the many not the few’, which they’ve used for donkey’s years, is more evocative and powerful. Yet, during this election campaign their politicians haven’t repeated it with the same ruthless and robotic discipline that the Tories have mustered. So, according to YouGov, only 2% of people recall it. A poor return.

Drilling the message into the voter’s minds by endless repetition is, clearly, an important part of an election-winning strategy. But for communications strategists, there is another vital consideration: the slogan has to be credible. It has to have a ring of convincing and distinctive truth about it – preferably in a way that puts the opposing parties in a negative light.

For example, Ed Miliband could never have used ‘strong and stable’. It wouldn’t have suited him. Likewise, David Cameron would have struggled with ‘for the many not the few’, which, of course, made it all the more potent for Labour. But ‘strong and stable’ really is a good line for the doggedly determined Theresa May. Likewise, ‘take back control’ was a beautifully simple shorthand for the Leave campaign last summer, and ‘make America great again’ resonated with Trump supporters at least in part because it reflected the candidate’s seemingly unshakable self-belief. ‘Yes we can’ was the ideal accompaniment to Barack Obama’s young and fresh surge for the Presidency in 2008, as he broke through all sorts of glass ceilings.

It takes time to find the ideal strapline, mantra or slogan – in political marketing just as in advertising. It requires trial and error. But once you land on a line that works, you need to commit to it and, yes, repeat it as often as you dare. The lesson of this election, so far, is that endless repetition makes journalists groan and moan – but it really does work.

In the age of instant news and live streaming, leaders can benefit from media training

In the age of instant news and live streaming, leaders can benefit from media training. As Theresa May flew over the Atlantic to meet President Trump, she surely reflected upon how well she has picked her opponents. Labour is in a trough. The LibDems are climbing, but from the lowest of bases. UKIP, post-Farage, is an unknown quantity. Only the SNP is in the groove.

It all means that her position seems unassailable – even with the huge uncertainty over Brexit.

But for how long? As David Cameron knows, a leader can quickly go from hero to zero. Once the honeymoon period is over (and they all end eventually), May will be scrutinised like never before. And all those things that commentators are, for the moment, letting pass – an ill-conceived comment here, a botched decision there – will be used against her with far greater hostility and purpose than at present.

In the age of instant news and live streaming
The US and UK – a special relationship

The danger for May is particularly acute, as she is no natural performer. Yes, she is a serviceable public speaker when she’s in total control of what she says and how she says it, and she more than holds her own in the bear pit of PMQs against a limited opponent. But her challenge comes when interaction and spontaneity are required away from the House of Commons, such as in media interviews, press conferences and speaking on the hoof. Then she looks tense and awkward, sounds evasive and struggles to project warmth.

Naturally, people will compare her with Margaret Thatcher, who also had difficulty, particularly in the early days, with her media image. Thatcher realised this, and employed coaches to help her – and, as a result, she became reasonably good, though always better at conveying conviction than humanity.

Likewise, May needs to improve markedly. Her evasiveness is her most obvious challenge. Just like Gordon Brown, she seems to regard too many questions as potential banana skins. For sure, some questions can be dangerous, but not as many as May seems to think. Take her interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr last Sunday. He asked her four times whether she knew about the Trident missile failure, and each time she dodged the question. The result? The watching audience assumes the worst – that she did know, but didn’t want to admit it. Cue a massive scrambling operation in Downing Street, and a brick removed from her wall of unassailability.

A golden rule of doing media interviews is always to answer or at least address the question. Dodging it altogether, especially four times, makes the dodger sound untrustworthy and even deceitful. May must quickly get out of that destructive habit while she has time.

She also needs to work out what her personal story is. Like it or not, successful leaders tell us a lot about themselves and their “journey” (think Bill Clinton, “the boy from Hope”). Yet May is clearly uncomfortable talking about herself and, for example, the trauma of losing both parents when she was young. That’s understandable, of course. But the danger is that her opponents will frame her story for her. Already titbits are leaking out that she is a control-freak when it comes to running the government. She needs a counter-story to challenge these damaging rumours.

Finally, what about her meeting with President Trump? As Prime Minister she hasn’t yet appeared at ease with foreign leaders, looking like Billy No-Mates at the EU summit in December. With Trump, there are other dangers. Let’s hope it’ll be a case of opposites attract, because they could hardly be more different – she guarded and shy, he belligerent and provocative. If she carries out a joint press conference with him she’s bound to be asked about his comments on women, disabled people and ethnic minorities – minefields, all of them. It will be a big test of her ability to be diplomatic, while conveying strength and thinking on her feet, and an equally big test of how much she has learned and improved since last summer.

May has many strengths as a leader, and has impressed onlookers by her determination, steady competence and ability to navigate through treacherous waters. She has earned public respect, if not public affection.

But as a media performer she’s weaker than any Prime Minister since Edward Heath 45 years ago.

So now is the moment, with her opponents struggling, to develop her personal communication skills. The time will inevitably come when she’ll need them to keep her premiership going.