Open Source: Give as well as take – "To this end, I will be encouraging all new WCC application development projects to distribute their source code and documentation under an open source license. The first example of this is the application that drives our open data catalogue, developed using Ruby on Rails and hosted on Heroku."
Will the iPhone and iPad finally kill off the Mac? – "Until recently, I would have said that the (open, permissive) Google/Android system would win out over the (closed, tightly controlled) Apple device. But sales of the new iPhone lead one to wonder if it will be Apple, and not Google, which replaces Microsoft as the company we love to hate."
The Big Society #2: Strengthening local leadership – "Whether they’re called community leaders or organisers, local champions, or bastions of grass roots democracy doesn’t really matter; current and future councillors play a big role in supporting the Big Society."
The discussion bit of the workshop was very simple, but quite illuminating. I simply asked the delegates to have a chat around their tables about what their hopes and fears are for this new way of doing things.
Many of the hopes and (especially) fears were common across the groups. I’ve listed them below, aggregating the similar ones together. Over the next week or so I’m going to be coming up with some possible approaches to tackle some of the fears, and to ensure the hopes become reality, and I will share that here as well as with the CfPS.
Inform future debate
Engaging younger people in scrutiny
Engaging those who cannot attend meetings
Be able to get good intelligence for enquiries by listening to local forums and other online groups
Getting members involved in forums, to learn the local view on issues
Get a better balance of involvement, rather than just those already involved in the scrutiny process
Use social networking in balance with traditional methods for a blended approach
People would know what they are contributing to – and not have responses disappear into a black hole
More open conversation with the public
A method of getting members themselves more involved
Culture change in the council not being scared on losing control of comms and messages
Greater participation will give more weight to decisions and recommendations
The authority will be more accountable
Potential savings in time and cost for consultation activity
Great transparency of process
Better targetting of engagement and communication to particular service users, for example
Potential for deliberation between the public and members without it becoming a fight
Confusion of role between elected members and officers in answering questions etc in online spaces
Potential for being overwhelmed by responses, or activity being generally too time consuming
Need to manage expectations of action resulting from engagement activity
Can councils react spontaneously – can they do “real time”?
Capacity and knowledge both of officers and members to do this stuff
Issue of manipulation of process by vocal and active minorities and also using pseudonyms to skew results
Corporate communications may wish to control messages coming from the council and interfere – or shut down activity entirely
Nobody wants to get involved!
Resource implications of moderating and managing websites
Potential impact on council reputation
IT access to technology – many of these sites are blocked. Also lack of support from corporate IT
Need to support members in this activity could be very time consuming
Fears of negative comments which make the council want to stop its involvement
Problems of interesting people in the less thrilling aspects of scrutiny work programmes
Risk averse nature of most councils
Need to be selective as not all the information can be online.
I like scrutiny – it was one of my first jobs in local government to help the process at a smallish borough council. The CfPS does a great job of supporting good practice in the area, and recently this is taking the form of providing advice and guidance around using online methods to engage people with the process.
The Centre for Public Scrutiny has published a critical analysis of what internet communication technologies might mean for public accountability. Cannot find server looks at themes in public engagement, and democracy to establish whether emerging social media are likely to enhance or hinder accountability. In an environment where too few accounts of this subject matter adopt a critical position a balanced analysis of the issue was needed. By looking at examples (both hypothetical and real) this publication helps the reader to build an understanding of where social media should fit within a broader engagement strategy.