I’ve been doing work with local councillors for some time now – helping them see how they can use the internet to better engage with citizens, and communicate with them too.
This takes the form of running training workshops usually. There’s probably a better way of doing it, but they are probably a bit tricky to procure.
Anyway, I’m interested in finding out where we are up to with digitally savvy elected local representatives, so I have thrown together a quick survey. The main aim to to find out what councillors are doing on the internet, and try and spread the word to their less keen colleagues about how it’s working.
What we’ll do is do some research into your current online engagement efforts and provide some feedbeck. We’ll also take a look around your local area and tell you about the communities, blogs and tweeters already active nearby. Finally, you get an action plan of some quick tasks that will help improve your efforts.
You get a report, and a web conference that goes through all the findings. The process shouldn’t take longer than a week, and it aims to be practical, quick and lightweight.
The cost is £1,500 + VAT and you can get one now by simply getting in touch and asking for one.
I’m pleased, because as I have written on many occasions, I think blogging is a fantastic way for organisations to tell their stories, unhindered by having to go through third parties, media organisations and that sort of thing.
As Simon makes clear, these are public, official blogs, corporately branded and not the personal blogs of civil servants or politicians, which is a quite different thing. So what makes a blog an official one like this? I’d say some, not necessarily all, of these are factors:
Use of corporate departmental or organisational branding
Sitting on the official domain of that organisation
Linked to (reasonably) prominently on the standard corporate homepage
Written by a group of people rather than an individual (or a collection of individuals’ blogs, like in the FCO case)
There probably are others too – please do suggest them in the comments.
I’d like to start looking at which local councils are blogging officially, like the central government examples above. At the bottom of this post, you should find a form to complete if you have any to submit. If you can’t see it, that might be because you are looking at this in an email or your feed reader. Viewing the original post is your best bet.
My next post on this topic will be on how we can get more blogging happening in this way, and perhaps what Kind of Digital can do to help! 😉
I’m delighted to publish this – a guest post from Emer Coleman, Director of Digital Projects at the GLA, sharing her dissertation with us.
Anyone who has been following me on Twitter for the past year will know my struggles with “the dreaded dissertation” so it might be worth putting its origins in context.
In a previous life as Director of Strategy for Barnet Council I disagreed with a very deeply held belief in Local Government that the holy grail of resident satisfaction was how much you communicated with your residents. There was a correlation in Best Value surveys carried out every three years between “how informed” residents were and their satisfaction levels. But of course correlation does not imply causality. The simple edict went as follows Council Magazine + A to Z of Council Services + Managing Local News = Satisfied Residents.
Our corporate management team therefore wanted to do a huge communications campaign in advance of one of these surveys to ensure that residents knew exactly what their council did for them. The logic being that when they filled out their surveys on council performance they would recognize the council’s work. If only.
My Chief Executive at the time in response to my doubts said – “well if you want to change their minds you better put up a well argued case”. My dissertation is my attempt to do that.
In a nutshell it draws on the work of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas who draws the distinction between the System and the Lifeworld. In the system where government lives we believe in these simplistic correlations but in the messy and complex Lifeworld we know that human beings don’t act in rational or predictable ways.
My belief is that open data, open government and the open conversations that take place in public in the social web offer great opportunities to move from the rational ordered public sector way of doing things to a more humanized, communicative form of governance. I tried to example that in the case study on the London Datastore and by including contributions by so many people in the open data movement that have helped me in developing my public policy work around open data.
My work and practice has been incredibly energized by the interactions that happen on the web and through my engagement with developers and innovators committed to the public realm. Mark Drapeau (@cheeky_geeky) calls them The Goverati (though my tutor didn’t like the name much) but I do. So a big thank you to all of you (you know who you are).
Of course, there has recently been a very interesting move in this space with the announcement of the Big Lottery funded Your Square Mile project, which has very close links with the wider Big Society agenda, and which involves some kind of relationship with the social networking platform SocialGo. David Wilcox blogs comprehensively here.
I’m not sure anyone has access to enough information about this to make a proper judgement, however, some alarm bells are ringing in my mind:
As per the comments from Will and Manny highlighted in this post, government sponsored online community development does not have a great track record. I appreciate this is at arms length – but Your Square Mile is heavily linked with the Big Society Network, and therefore the current government
People will drift towards the funded option, and if (and I emphasise if) SocialGo is the mandated or preferred solution from those with the cash, we are going to be in a one platform fits all situation, which doesn’t really work
Objectives are important. Right now, I don’t fully understand Your Square Mile or what it is setting out to do. Hopefully internally they know exactly what they aim to achieve – because if it’s just a vague ‘we’ll get people to talk to each other on the internet and they’ll self organise themselves to do wonderful things’ then that might not work so well
What about those organisations that have being doing this stuff for the last few years? Are they just going to be steamrollered by the beast?
I think my real worry is that the one thing that has become apparent, from conversations I have had with people about this stuff, is that with online local communities, in the majority of cases, you need the community before the online. It’s what brings sustainability to the online effort.
Online elements certainly bring visibility to the community’s activities and spread reach, and enable more people to be involved. But a square mile, online or off, is going to be pretty empty if there isn’t the desire or will to keep it going.
I’m thrashing around with a post about consultation, engagement and crowdsourcing and why efforts in this direction haven’t been massively successful for governments – whether in the UK or elsewhere. I’ll get it into a fit state to publish one day, maybe.
Catherine Howe (CEO of Public-I) is carrying out some research into how all this might work at a local level as part of her Phd, and is blogging her learning as she goes along. Her posts are long and meaty – and not nearly as disgusting as that description makes them sound.
Her latest post covers some of this territory very nicely, and links in the role of elected politicians into this. In the rush to get The People involved, our elected representatives are sometimes overlooked.
We can use and will use technology to improve the consultation process and to build in more transparency and openness but unless we also find ways to let the public set the agenda and the context, and unless we embrace the fact that decision making in a democratic process is political then we are really talking about sticking plasters and triage rather than the more radical surgery that will be needed in order to really change the relationship between the citizen and state and to create new ways of making decisions.
New governance models do not have to mean a plebiscite democracy – there is no evidence that the public want to be involved in every decision and no process that could make this an informed process. But if we are going to reinvent our representative process to take into account social change, characterised by the network society, then we need find a way to be more honest about the role of representatives and let politicians be politicians.