WhatsApp experiment shows we mustn’t be afraid to ‘fail’

A little while back I blogged about what I thought was quite an exciting trial that Shropshire Council were running, allowing residents to contact the council (and specific elected members) via WhatsApp.

It struck me as a brilliantly simple idea and I was really interested to see how their trial worked out.

The other day I did a little bit of twitter stalking to see if there was any news about the results – sure enough Lorna Perry, who was behind the trial at Shropshire, recently posted an update about how it went.

The results were – as Lorna says – a little disappointing, and a bit surprising really, I thought. Despite lots of publicity , the council leader only received eight messages during the four week trial, and the general enquiry number only seven.

Lorna puts that down partly to a certain amount of apathy in terms of contacting local councillors – and I suppose that has a part to play. Perhaps, as Lorna suggests, if the trial had taken place during a period when there was something particularly controversial going on in the area – am unpopular planning issue or something of that nature – then the uptake might have been higher – mind you perhaps the councillors who took part wouldn’t have been so keen to receive the kinds of messages that might have arrived on their mobiles!

However you’ve really got to admire the attitude that Shropshire – and it’s elected members – took on this one – a kind of “let’s just do it and see how it goes” attitude. It wasn’t going to cost anything and it might just have worked – they made it clear from the outset that if it didn’t work, it didn’t matter – no unrealistic expectations were raised, internally or externally. They kept it simple and didn’t invest either extortionate amounts of time or money on it – so they could afford to be bold and there was no major drama if it didn’t work out.

In these fast changing and austere times councils shouldn’t be afraid of trying something new – without making a huge industry out of deliberating the pros and cons – and if it doesn’t work out, be happy to say so and move on to try something new. What’s important is that we think, and act, innovatively.

Lorna does mention in her post that some of the other council services – such as those who work with parents and young people – are still interested in exploring the possibility of utilising WhatsApp, so the idea isn’t dead yet.

Well done Shropshire for trying something new. I wonder if any other councils will also give it a go – maybe to take feedback on very specific projects or proposals perhaps – and whether any will have more luck in doing so?

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