What do we need to be telling councillors about digital?

I’ve done a fair bit of councillor training on digital in the past. Every time it focuses on social media, digital engagement and how members can use the web to interact with the public.

It usually goes away, people have an interesting time and one or two actually start doing new stuff as a result.

However.

Right now I am not convinced that this is the most helpful thing we could be doing with councillors when it comes to digital, the internet, and technology in general.

Just as the work I have been doing recently on capability with civil servants emphasises the importance of understanding the mindset and approaches of digital ways of working, the same is also true of elected members.

After all, members – particularly those with a role on the executive in their authorities – are making decisions with digital implications all the time. They are asked to signed off digital and IT strategies. They might be asked to give their OK to a big spend on the implementation of a new system. They might be signed up to a big transformation programme with a heavy emphasis on digital ways of working.

Do they really have the capability to be making these decisions? Are they asking the right questions of officers? Can they really be held accountable for decisions made which – in al truthfulness – they possibly don’t understand?

I think this is something that needs to be looked at.

The trouble is, as anyone who has been involved in member development knows, providing ‘training’ to councillors is really hard. They are very busy people who operate in a political environment. This means they have little time, and little appetite to admitting weakness or ignorance.

So I think there is something to learn here from the top of the office coaching programme that Stephen and Jason run at DH.

This is where the eight (I think) people right at the top of the organisation get one to one coaching with digital experts once a month – an opportunity to ask questions without fear of looking silly in front of colleagues, and to really dig into what relevance digital has for them and their bit of the organisation.

I’m pretty sure something like this could work very well with councillors – matching them up with digital coaches who could give up an hour a month for (say) six months to provide answers to questions, coaching and mentoring on specific topics and being a sounding board when needed.

It would be great to get people’s thoughts on whether this is a problem that needs a solution, and whether a lightweight volunteer coaching programme would work.

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.

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!

Digital councillors

digitalcllr is a place where we are bringing together all the work we have been doing recently with elected members.

Mostly that means training, but we also offer a service to host websites for councillors, for free.

On the digitalcllr site, we’re also putting up content now and again that might be helpful to elected members starting to dabble in online engagement.

This morning, for instance, I posted some online safety tips, that may well come in handy.

We also create video content, interviewing councillors about their use of social media. Here’s Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones talking about his use of Twitter and a blog, for example.

If you’re a councillor needing some support in using social media, get in touch! Likewise if you are a democratic services or member development bod.

New councillor? Get the training you need online

With the elections of May 5 2011 now complete Member Development Officers need to look at the most efficient and cost effective way to train these newly elected councillors.

Modern Councillor is the online learning and support destination for councillors, people considering standing for election, or indeed anyone with a passion for local democracy provided by my pals at Learning Pool.

The service has been designed with both new and more experienced elected members in mind. A subscription to Modern Councillor provides elected members with full access to a growing catalogue of e-learning modules, at a fraction of the cost of classroom based training as well as access to our online community.

What modules are included?

All 17 of the current e-learning modules have been created alongside subject matter experts and cover areas such as Induction, Media, Community and Legislation. Specific modules include Introduction to Local Government, Your Role as a Councillor and Getting Started with Social Media. You can view a full list of the current modules available in this PDF e-learning catalogue.

Who does the community involve?

Alongside a suite of e-learning modules, Modern Councillor will now include an online community bringing together councillors, prospective councillors, co-opted members, local government officers, activists, and residents so that they can connect, share and learn together. Join the community, for free, here.

Guest Access

If you’d like Guest Access to preview the training available through Modern Councillor or any other information, please email breda@learningpool.com.

MDO Support Webinar

Join us for our free webinar on training and supporting your elected members on Thursday, 19 May, 2011 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM BST. Register here.

Councillors! Here’s how not to do Twitter

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Twitter is a great tool for local politicians to use to connect with their electorate.

It’s also a brilliant channel for espousing your views on the stoning of women, as Gareth Compton, a councillor in Birmingham demonstrates:

Twitter fail

The golden rule of Twitter (and indeed life generally), is of course “don’t be a dick”. This is what happens when you ignore that advice.

Update: The Guardian has picked up the story, and Cllr Compton has apologised for what he describes as an “ill-conceived attempt at humour” – and deleted the offending tweet.

Bookmarks for July 3rd through July 7th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

On leadership

Light blogging recently, mainly because I’ve been busy talking to people and haven’t had much spare time to write here. Apologies.

One of those talky things was at the Cllr 10 event, organised by the Local Government Innovation Unit, expertly led by Andy Sawford.

My session was somewhat pompously titled: Leadership 2.0: why local authorities need to become learning organisations. It was my usual hotch potch of ideas, snatched magpie-like from thinkers far more original than myself.

Big props go to Jemima Gibbons whose book, Monkeys with Typewriters informed a lot of what I said and is a very worthwhile read – as is her blog. David Wilcox has extensively covered Jemima’s work.

Here are my slides, for what they are worth:

Many thanks to Carl Haggerty for providing a screenshot from the internal business networking tool currently being piloted by Devon County Council.

Broadly speaking: the new online social technology changes the way we behave, and makes open, collaborative working methods much more likely to work. It’s also probably true that organisations need to be able to have proper grown up conversations internally before they can converse effectively with external people. New ways of working means new ways of leading, and in the local government context councillors can provide that leadership.

This is still half baked thinking on my part, and the bits that work are the bits I have stolen from others. But I’d welcome any feedback.

C’llr.10 conference – 4 February 2010

The c’llr.10 event is the first ever major national conference specifically for councillors. Organised by the Local Government Information Unit, producers of Cllr Magazine, in conjunction with Ingenium Strategic Events, Cllr 10 will be held at The Emirates Stadium, London N5 on 4th February 2010.

Learning Pool are among the supporters of the event, as we have two great offerings for local politicians – one around the support we can provide helping them get to grips with the opportunities provided by online tools for communication and collaboration. The other is with our Modern Councillor package of elearning – providing all the training a councillor needs in a format where they can do it whenever it suits them. Learning online has a huge number of advantages for councillors, both in terms of flexibility of access, cost effectiveness, the sheer range of learning available, and of course the fact that it can be completed without needing to leave the house!

Here’s a bit more information about the event:

The conference will provide a unique opportunity to hear at first hand some of the most influential voices in and about local government, and to engage in debate on what is important to local communities. The wide variety of workshops will help you to develop your practical skills as a Councillor and your understanding of what key policy challenges, such as the ageing population or environmental change, will mean for your ward and what you as a Councillor can do to give a lead. During the day there will also be opportunities to network with colleagues from all over the country to share your experiences and ideas. In addition to Councillors, the conference will also be very useful for council officers and others who support or work closely with elected members.

I’m on the agenda to speak to those attending, and I am keen that I keep the content as relevant as possible. My talk is titled “Leadership 2.0: why local authorities need to be learning organisations”. What I will be talking about is that despite all the talk of the online revolution and the growth of social networking, the interesting bit remains the implications of the technology rather than the technology itself. The session will explore the opportunities for improvement and efficiency that the new culture of openness and sharing brings – and how councillors can make sure their councils make the most of them.

Should be fun, then!

There are a bunch of other great sessions on the agenda. For readers of this blog, I suspect “Making social networking work for you”, which features Ingrid Koehler amongst others, will be the most interesting.

Well done to LGIU and partners for arranging a great looking conference.

You can book your place using this link.

Ten top internet tips for councillors

After a break of a week, the guest posts are back! This time it’s Mark Pack, who has written a handy guide for councillors on how to get to grips with the net.

It is pretty rare these days to find a councillor who doesn’t use the internet, at least occasionally. However, in part because the average age of councillors means that the vast majority are not ‘internet natives’, that often does not amount to much more than frequent use of email, a familiarity with the basics of searching on Google and not that much else. So in an attempt to help close the gap, here are my top ten tips for councillors. Any list like this is bound to exclude some tips which other people think are vital, so by all means post up a comment saying what you think should have been included in the list.

1. Get a feed reader (also known as a news readers or RSS reader)

These days nearly all news sites and blogs, along with many other websites, offer an RSS feed (sometimes called a ‘news feed’, or simply ‘RSS’ or ‘feeds’). You can sign up to the feed with a feed reader, and then, in future, when a new story appears on the site, it will appear in your feed reader, saving you the time otherwise spent checking on sites to see if they have anything new.

Google Reader – www.google.com/reader – is reliable, free and has a wide range of functions. It is by no means the only one available, but it’s a good safe choice.

Once you have set up your feed reader, you can tell it to keep an eye on a website either by inputting the web address into the feed reader software, or by visiting the website and then looking for the ’sign-up to a feed reader’, ’subscribe to RSS’ or similar option on screen (frequently accompanied by an orange square with curves cutting across it).

2. Use Google and Microsoft’s free satellite photos

Whether it is pondering a planning application, wondering about transport proposals or trying to picture a particular community, it is often useful to be able to see what an area looks like from the comfort of your desk.

Both Google – maps.google.co.uk and pick “satellite” in the top right – and Microsoft – http://www.bing.com/maps/?cc=uk and click “bird’s eye” – provide free comprehensive satellite photography of the UK.

Google has the bonus of its Street View for many areas, so you can not just look down on an area but also look at it from street level. Microsoft on the other hand has a slanted bird’s eye view, which can be particularly useful for trying to picture how a new development will look and affect an area.

3. FixMyStreet

This is a free service for the public to report local issues such as potholes and dumped rubbish to their council. Usage varies hugely around the country, but it’s a good way of keeping tabs on what some members of the public are concerned about in your area. Go to http://www.fixmystreet.com/alert and you can sign up to receive automatic notifications of new reports in the area of interest to you.

It is particularly useful for councillors who can use examples from the site as a sanity check against what the council staff and reports say about how the different departments are performing.

4. Planning Alerts

If you are a councillor, the chances are you are inundated with information about planning applications anyway. But make a visit to http://www.planningalerts.com/ and you can sign up to very clear and convenient alerts (including via RSS) which you can then use to spot what to dig out from all your council papers. It is also a very useful tool to highlight to non-councillor colleagues and constituents.

5. Use Google Alerts

Head over to www.google.com/alerts, enter the search term you want (such as Indeterminate Council) along with your email address. You can choose how often you want to receive the alerts, such as ‘once a day’ so that the alerts are reasonably timely but don’t distract you too much from what you should be doing!

These alerts are a very useful supplement to having a feed reader. Feed readers are great where you are regularly wanting news from the same sites; the alerts fit in where you want news on a particular topic, almost regardless of which site it has appeared on.

6. Flickr

Flickr lets you easily store photographs online for all to see, such as photos of local issues or your campaigning work. That then means they are all in one convenient place for future use or reference (no more scratching around for copies of photographs when you need them for a leaflet). It is also somewhere you can point journalists or residents to and it avoids the need to email round huge photos (which then fill up someone’s inbox or bounce).

All those benefits apply even if you don’t do anything else online, but Flickr also works easily with blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook. If you have any mix of those, you can put your photos on Flickr and then reuse them easily.

7. Use communities.idea.gov.uk

I’ve not used this site myself, but it’s been strongly recommended to me (thanks @mariejenkins) and it looks to be a good way of sharing knowledge and gathering information.

8. Install Google Desktop search

Another free tool from Google – http://desktop.google.com/. This is a very quick search program which looks through just the contents of your computer. But it does it fast and goes through emails and documents at the same time. On a decent speed computer it is so quick, you will often find that searching is quickly than remembering where a file was and then clicking through your different folders to get to it.

9. Keep your computer in good shape with CCleaner and Secunia PSI

Given that amount of personal data about other people that is likely to pass through your computer, even if you do only the smallest amount of casework, keeping your computer secure should be taken seriously. Plus getting infected with a nasty can end up taking up huge amounts of time and cause great inconvenience whilst it gets sorted.

You should have an anti-virus program and firewall anyway, and these days it is hard to get a computer without them. Adding these two free programs – http://www.ccleaner.com/ and http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/ – will give you a lot of extra protection at very little effort.

CCleaner is a program you can run regularly to keep you computer clean and tidy, which helps its performance as well as wrinkling out possible problems. Secunia can scan your computer to spot missing security patches and then point you at the right place to install them. (Both are for Windows computers.)

10. Make use of the previous nine tips

Don’t think that any of these tips are too complicated or too time consuming. You need very little skill with a computer to do them – and there are plenty of people who can help. With a little investment of time you will end up being able to do your job better and saving much more time as the weeks and months go by.

Mark Pack worked for the Liberal Democrats 2000-2009, ending up as their Head of Innovations. During that time he often trained councillors on how to make better use of the internet. He’s now at Mandate Communications (www.YourMandate.com) and blogs about politics, history and technology at www.MarkPack.org.uk. He’s on Twitter at @markpack