Why chief executives should blog

I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, recently.

Since taking up his post, Mark has written a prolific internal blog about his work at the Council to inform and engage with his colleagues at all levels of the organisation.

This is exactly the sort of thing I have been talking about for the last couple of months – that really effective use of social media behind the firewall should be a priority for local councils. Mark’s experiences should hopefully encourage more of this activity across local government.

Many thanks to Michele Ide-Smith for arranging this interview.

I’m keen to do more videos like this – if you or someone you know would make a good subject, do get in touch!

Remind us of your views, again?

I wrote a little while back about a fairly terrible website being used by Cambridgeshire’s Transport Commission to consult people on their views.

Cambridge News now reports:

A PROBE into Cambridgeshire’s transport crisis – including the idea of a congestion charge for Cambridge – has been hit by a technical blunder.

The chairman of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission, Sir Brian Briscoe, has revealed the commission’s website has been affected by “initial teething problems”.

The result is that some of the responses to the commission’s request for people’s views on how to tackle the traffic issue have been lost.

People are now being contacted to resubmit their views. Let’s hope they can be bothered.

Oh dear oh dear. I found out that this website cost the sum of £2,990 to produce. Now, that might not sound like a huge amount, but for a microsite like this it’s a sizable budget. What the Transport Commission got for their money was – frankly – piss poor, and it now turns out that it doesn’t even work properly.

Can someone explain to me what an eMagazine is, please

An item on the local TV new bulletin alerted me to Cambridgeshire County Council’s effort at citizen engagement on transport issues, as part of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission. They’ve got a website and everything:

Well, I think it’s a website, only it describes itself as an “An environmentally friendly e-magazine”. If anyone can tell me what that actually means please send me a postcard, or at least leave a comment.

Though nothing like as bad as the other example I covered recently, there are stacks of missed opportunities here. There’s a lot of text on the site, which could so easily be augmented with some short video clips explaining what the whole thing is about. The participation element is slightly better done than just providing an email address, with a survey asking for views on a range of different issues.

This is fine, as far as it goes, but where is the conversation? One off responses are all well and good, but surely greater value will be achieved by bringing people together and letting them discuss the issues that are important to them with others that may or may not share there concerns. More could be done too, perhaps along the lines that Barnet have done, in taking vox pops by actually proactively asking residents for their views and recording them on video for others to see, and comment on.

This isn’t the first e-magazine Cambridgeshire have produced though – Paul Canning recently exposed me to something called Weather the Storm – a website to “help Cambridgeshire through the economic downturn”. Have a look round and see what you make of it – I found it full of useful information but seriously, seriously lacking in any kind of interaction. What helps people through difficult times is a sense of community, working together – but this website doesn’t help to do that at all, and it so easily could have.

Take this example – on the front page, those who heat their homes using oil are advised to organise themselves into fuel clubs – effectively getting discounts on oil by buying in larger amounts. Sounds simple. The website’s guide on how to do this features this as the first tip:

  1. Find other people locally who would be interested in joining a fuel club.  Ask friends and neighbours, speak to community groups or contact your Parish Clerk.

Erm… how hard would it be to have some kind of social functionality here, to help people create and join fuel groups online? The answer is, of course, ‘not very’ but obviously such useful features don’t come with e-magazines. A shame.

So Councils could be doing this sort of thing much better. Whether they should be doing it at all is another matter. Perhaps the possibilities that the web create in terms of self organising mean that, actually, it would be better if civically-minded folk were enabled to do this stuff themselves.

Big City Talk has shown that active, enthusiastic residents can make Council consultations more fun. Perhaps this model could also be applied to Cambridgeshire’s traffic engagement activity. So what if their site doesn’t let us upload videos? – let’s do it ourselves.

Likewise, people sharing stories and guidance about how they get through difficult financial times might better be done by themselves, bringing content together from all over the county from those that wish to submit it. After all, nobody knows all the answers, and the more voices we have, the closer we might get to have a really useful collection of material.

Both these websites could have been done so much better if more appropriate technology has been used. I’m really interested in how much this stuff cost, so I have put in a freedom of information request via WhatDoTheyKnow.