Tag Archives: democracy

Why be a councillor?

Pretty damning stuff from Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones:

If somebody was to ask me about becoming a councillor nowadays, I’m not sure what I would tell them were the benefits of doing so and I don’t mean to the councillor. Government funding cuts and more and more centralisation of power, hidden behind the facade of Localism, means that getting elected is more likely to become a exercise in frustration and disappointment, than a fulfilling experience in serving the community.

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A bit more on #networkedcllr

This morning’s round table, held by EELGA with the support of Public-i, was an enjoyable couple of hours, hearing about how councillors and others involved in local democracy see the future of the role and the impact the internet and social media will have on it.

One of the best things about the beta Public-i report is that it takes the view of ‘networked’ councillors in the widest possible sense. In other words, not just online networks, but all networks.

So we want our councillors to be available, open, accessible, transparent, collaborative and so on – whatever medium they may use is up to them, as long as it meets the needs of the community they serve.

Go read the report – it’s good stuff.

Following on from the session this morning and in addition to my previous notes, here are a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, there is still a clear need for training for councillors in using the internet and social media. This needs to incorporate hands-on stuff, showing people how to log in, which buttons to press and so on; but also cultural stuff, including the netsmarts that Howard Rheingold talks about. How to write, how to know when to respond, identifying trolls, that sort of thing.

Second, we need to put some thought into what the councillor role should be. I think much of what success looks like for councillors will depend on their original motivation for doing it in the first place. For me, as a parish councillor, I see the role making certain tools – processes and structures and procedures – available to me that wouldn’t be otherwise. So it’s a means to an end to get stuff done for the community.

However, it’s fair to say that the role has barely changed in the last decade or so, despite the radical changes to society, the economy, and how people live their lives. If we were starting from scratch, now, to design how our local elected representatives would perform their role, what would it look like? Nothing like it does now, I’d have thought.

I don’t think it’s possible to make existing councillors change their culture or their worldview. If they haven’t been open and collaborative before now, I don’t see how they can be encouraged to change. The effort should be going into designing a role that will appeal to new councillors, who are net-savvy, time limited, mistrustful of bureaucracy, and so on.

So I am looking forward to where the conversation goes next, and hope to get to play a part!

What makes for a 21st century or networked councillor?

This week we ran a webchat on the What Next for Localism site in partnership with NALC, on the topic of 21st century councillors. You can read the archive via the CoverItLive widget on that site.

On Monday next week, I’ll be popping down to Cambridge to take part in a morning’s round table discussion based on Public-i’s Networked Councillor report, which in a way is an answer to the question posed by NALC but also another question in itself. What should a 21st century councillor be? Networked! So what’s a networked councillor?

The report states the following things that should be part of a networked councillor’s DNA:

  • Open by default: This is open not just in terms of information but also in terms of thinking and decision making
  • Digitally native: Networked Councillors will be native in or comfortable with the online space, not in terms of age but in terms of the individual adopting the behaviours and social norms of the digital culture
  • Co–productive: Co-production is a way of describing the relationship between Citizen and State which brings with it an expectation that everyone in the conversation has power to act and the potential to be active in the outcome as well as the decision-making process
  • Networked: A Networked Councillor will be able to be effective via networked as well as hierarchical power as a leader

It’s hard to argue with much of that.

So, I’m a councillor myself these days, in a small way – I’m a parish councillor in my village in Lincolnshire, and have been since the start of this year. Due to some changes on the council, I’m now vice-chairman and taking on more tasks and more responsibility.

It’s fair to say that up to this point I’ve taken a bit of a watching brief, taking in what the council does, who the personalities are, what some of the history is. Now I’ve got my feed under the table, I’m hoping to start making a few things happen.

For me, and this is just a personal view and other councillors’ mileage may well vary, I want to use the role of councillor within our parish to be a community organiser. To use some of the processes and systems at my disposal to improve things for the community around me.

Right now our council has very little engagement with those not directly involved. This is unsurprising as we don’t really do a lot that’s worth engaging with – for various good reasons, the council has been a rather reactive one. However, I’m hoping we are now entering a stage where we can start to proactively do some stuff.

So first step for me is to remind the village that we exist! Start some small activities to demonstrate that the council is there to help them – perhaps an organised litter pick and similar activities to those. Things for people to get involved in, somewhere down near the bottom of the ladder of participation.

Then hopefully people will see the council as a group that does stuff and doesn’t just talk about it – and of course with actual activity we can start to communicate – it’s hard to talk to people about nothing! We can at that point start to think about local planning, surveying residents about their views and that sort of thing.

So I do agree with Public-i’s list of needs for a modern councillor. I think my personal list would be:

  • passionate - about the local area and improving it for everyone
  • open - to communication, engagement, criticism
  • community focused - working to do what’s right for the whole community, organising and motivating the community to action if necessary
  • accessible - whether down the pub, on the phone or via the internet
  • positive - always be constructive, always take on suggestions and feedback, always smile

As I said earlier, this is a personal view and one that is shaped by my limited experience of being a parish councillor – it may well differ for others, especially if they are working at a district, county or unitary level.

Digital democracy: tweeting meetings

I’m giving a talk today at a conference in Norwich for parish and town councils and one of the things I want to do is just to share some really simple ideas on how councils could get some online interactivity going.

One of those ideas was to tweet meetings. I asked my network on Twitter for examples, and was deluged!

I’ve used Storify to collect them all together, and have embedded it at the bottom of this post. Storify seems a great way of dragging tweets (and other media) together – ideal indeed for covering meetings!

It seems like there are different approaches being taken, mainly around who does the actual tweeting. Is it council officers? Councillors themselves? Journalists? Citizens?

Have a read through and see what you think.

http://storify.com/davebriggs/tweeting-meetings

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