Digital democracy: some quick and easy ideas

Following up on my earlier post on tweeting meetings, here are a bunch of quick, easy – and probably free – ideas for getting started with digital engagement.

I put them together for a conference talk today on how local councils – parishes and towns – can use digital communications, along with more traditional approaches, to reach and engage with more people. The conference was a joint effort by the Norfolk Association of Local Councils and the Society for Local Council Clerks.

The point I was trying to get across is that there are some small actions you can try with minimal risk, need for knowledge, cost and so on – but which could have a really positive impact on participation levels.

The list includes:

  1. Tweet a meeting
  2. Start an email newsletter
  3. Map your parish
  4. Ask for ideas
  5. Verify a decision
  6. Run a web chat
  7. Hold a Skype surgery
  8. Become your local area’s online hub

The slides are embedded below, or you can download a PDF if you’d rather.

Online Networked Neighbourhoods Study

Networked Neighbourhoods have published their study into local websites. Written by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris, it is as excellent as you would imagine it ought to be.

For lazy people, here’s a link to the four-page summary (PDF warning).

For everyone else, here’s the page of resources including the full reports, research material and video interviews. It’s a great resource and I recommend sifting through it.

Neighbourhood websites, or hyperlocal sites, are an interesting thing in terms of the way they tie into government and democracy. Catherine Howe has written in her customary thoughtful style on this subject numerous times – this post is a good one (and she also covered the launch of the Networked Neighborhoods report in detail).

Here’s a comment I left (before my recent house move!) on one of Catherine’s post which sums up my views on this:

What is local? I can see a street from my bedroom window right next to the one I live in, which couldn’t be any more local to me. But I never walk down there, drive down there, or anything – to be honest, I couldn’t really care less about it. But Stansted Airport – 40 miles down the road – *is* local as far as I am concerned.

I suspect local is defined by the individual and in the context of the issue or activity, which doesn’t sound too much like the great foundation to a community to me.

I’m not denying that location based online communities work – clearly they do – but what is the motivation? You rightly point out that pretty much every hyperlocal effort so far has a different bent to it. The link to democracy has been weak so far, I think – the greatest influence so far has been the dearth of quality local media, I would say.

The one thing I would say is that there is clearly more scope for where locally-focused websites are thriving for councils and local politicians to engage better with them.

The work by groups like Talk About Local also demonstrate that where sites do not exist, there is still an appetite to get them going, once people have been shown how to do so.

It strikes me, however, that attempts by government to act as a catalyst – and indeed a platform – for the creation of such sites itself tends to be less successful.

My manifesto for councils engaging online

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to the national conference of the Society for Local Council Clerks up in Durham. It was a great conference with a group of people who really care about what they do and the communities they help serve.

My talk was on the usual stuff of how the web can help all of this happen. Particularly pertinent for this sector, where over half of Parish, Town or Community Councils don’t have a website. Most of the councillors in this sector don’t use email.

(I do sometimes think that we forget, in all the excitement about the new forms of online tools, just how utterly brilliant the act of simply publishing stuff online is. The fact that it is so easy, and can reach so many people!)

So, to help them out, I produced a ten point manifesto for what to do and where to start with this stuff.

If I’m honest, I threw this together in ten minutes whilst slightly hungover. However, I think there is value in most of it, and it would be interesting if others would pitch in and suggest some improvements.

Here’s the ten points:

  1. Get the basics right
  2. Don’t spend lots of money
  3. Go where people already are
  4. Don’t forget: what you say is permanent and findable
  5. Use the right tool for the right crowd
  6. Promote online stuff with offline stuff
  7. Be open, honest and human
  8. Don’t overburden with process
  9. Make your stuff findable, sharable and reuseable
  10. Think: how does the web change the way we do everything?

The entire slidedeck is embedded below.

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.