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.

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

2 thoughts on “What makes for a 21st century or networked councillor?”

  1. Beautifully put!

    Modern Councillors need to take note of the behaviours and values you highlight above, which for me should include a serious effort in changing negative language and its impact into positive, open and transparent language.

    Here’s only an example of the difference this would make:

    Before the election I remember receiving brochures and surveys which ask residents about problems that needed attention and seek to raise campaigns often on a minority view. This attracts residents who may already be on their ‘soapbox’ and in ‘blame-mode’. A situation which leads to LOSE-LOSE.

    I would say a networked councillor is a person who scans their community for ideas and for people who are passionate to make things happen (crowd-sourcing based on strengths rather than problems). This will create an unstoppable positive energy of continuous improvement rather than indulge the few in the believe that someone other is to blame.

    I personally think this too would partially answer the question of why so few people vote, as the few who are ‘ready to blame’ rule the outcomes over the majority who are happy to take some personal responsibility for the outcome.

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