Late last week I went along to the East of England Local Government Association Strategic Leaders Meeting at the fine offices of South Cambridgeshire District Council in that impressive new town just outside Cambridge called Camborne. I was there to represent Suffolk County Council, and to present one of the Agenda items - the Networked Councillor Report, commissioned by the East of England LGA and written by Public-I; and to talk about the launch of its next steps - the Networked Councillor programme, which aims to tackle the challenges and opportunities that face elected members operating in an increasingly networked and digital society.
I’m afraid it’s been a while since we last blogged here – what one might describe as an extended summer recess! Well, a summer recess for the blog, but not for the project – as the team at East of England LGA and at Public-i has been hard at work planning the future of the project and finalising the report.
Only a few minutes ago we were asked when the final version would be ready – and the answer is now. I’ll update the Scribd as soon as I can, but here’s a PDF for everyone to be getting on with: Networked-Councillor-Report-Nov2013.
The report will be formally launched on Friday at the East of England LGA Assembly – where we’ll also be talking about the new programme designed to take the principles of Networked Councillor and put them in place in a real council environment. The Networked Councillor programme will be available for councils to undertake – and is designed as action learning, so that councillors can build their own skills, understanding and digital footprint.
A taste of the programme
We’ll be writing a lot more about the programme in time, but briefly it’ll be for around 20 councillors and will be run over three workshop days. This will be piloted by Suffolk authorities. The theme of each will be:-
- Understand your digital footprint and current network
- Develop skills to shape that network and manage debates online
- Develop skills to influence your network and lead effectively in this context
Following the programme, councillors will be:-
- Able to integrate social media into their workflow
- Able to measure and understand their digital footprint and have made informed choices about the tools that they are using
- Actively influencing others online
- Actively managing their online networks and reach
This will also be supported with technical skills training and officer support as well – but I promise we’ll be telling you more in the near future!!
As a brand new Councillor, and a keen evangelist for all social tools and as many ways to connect as possible, I was keen to blog but want to get content and style fit for purpose. So I considered these questions:
- Who am I blogging for?
- Why am I blogging?
- Where can I find ideas about approach and style?
Who am I blogging for?
My primary audience is definitely my ward communities. I have twitter to talk to work and other connections; I have facebook to connect with activists. Although, I have to acknowledge that there is a secondary set of audiences:
- Activists (and I want them to be motivated to come out and help me campaign when I need it and also to feel informed about what I have done)
- Opposition parties (I need to be aware that they will look for mistakes especially nearer election time)
- Officers – Council officers will read this and my tone must not demotivate them even when I am challenging on issue
- Journalists – another local councillor from a different party regularly finds his blog posts in the headlines. There was an interesting twitter exchange between him and the journalist about legalities of using most of a blog post in a story – it is legal btw.
Why am I blogging?
- Transparency and accountability – First, I believe its right to report back to the ward on how I am spending my time, and how I am prioritising issues.
- Open thinking – I will also describe my approach. For example, I think a ‘back to the floor’ approach essential in understanding the impact of policies at the sharp end. I am also enthusiastic about learning from others and so is my group leader. We will be doing a series of study visits to other councils soon. I am going to blog my experiences…this way, ward communities will understand the steps towards policy formulation as it will be laid out in almost real time.
- Sharing stories – It is important to reflect the community back to itself through photos and stories. This kind of evidence helps when developing a policy which some people aren’t affected by. If they can see that it affects their neighbours and how, they will support me putting time into it. It also demonstrates that I am listening and, also important, who I am listening to.
There are probably other benefits but these are the ones that popped into my mind as my priorities.
Ideas for approach and style
I was looking for a cross party mix of examples, also ones that are more ward-focused than focused at another audience (eg. Politicos)
Brighton and Hove Cllr Graham Cox (Conservative) This blog is very friendly and takes a largely ‘educational’ approach… demystifying decisions and council procedures for the average person ultimately, of course to persuade. Cllr Cox also describes his impact.
Cornwall Cllr Jeremy Rowe (Lib Dem) This blog, at least, for me seemed outwardly focused and very much an opposition style, reporting and critiquing another party. It’s not an approach I would take, but if my secondary audiences (activists, journalists) were the primary audience…then I suspect it would be very effective.
Devon Cllr Claire Wright (Independent) I was keen to have an example of an Independent Councillor and I really like Claire’s. It’s very clear, she is making herself accountable and people are commenting on her blog which is difficult to achieve. I suppose demographically I relate to Claire too and her photos and bio are very engaging and friendly.
Kirklees Cllr Andrew Cooper (Green) Here I particularly liked the Annual Report post that Andrew does. It’s a nice way of being accountable to his ward. There is a lot of policy narrative on this blog as well, which isn’t, yet, in my list of objectives.
Torbay Cllr Alison Hernandez (Conservative) use of audioboo interviews which is very effective for the sharing of evidence, and the showing people who she is listening to element of my objectives.
Anyway, if you are curious, here is my first post!
Our own Emma Daniel has captured a very interesting Networked Councillor-themed conversation between her and other councillors: Rowan Draper, Alison Hernandez and Jon Harvey. She has created a Storify – read it here.
I thought it worth sharing on the blog too, since the chat concentrates on blogging – and, er… what better place to mark that than on a blog, right?
Cllr Rowan Draper started things off by asking if anyone had tips on more successful blogging. Here are some of the advice he was given:-
- Cllr Emma Daniel: “@Rowan_Draper look for people who have the networks you want to reach, cc them in your blog posts and ask for feedback and comments.”
- Cllr Emma Daniel: “@Rowan_Draper a poll might provide feedback also, storify twitter feedback.”
- Cllr Alison Hernandez: “@Rowan_Draper @huxley06 you need to get in the thick of it. I could film, photograph, interview, write about folk every minute of every day.”
There was even some advice on the style of photo that might be appropriate for a political blog, with Alison Hernandez suggesting he needed to pick a different, more approachable angle for the shot. Cllr Jon Harvey also chipped with some advice of a different nature. He said:-
- “@huxley06 @AlisonHernandez @Rowan_Draper But to get more readers? Interact with other bloggers & read other blogs. Use@messages lots.”
- “@huxley06 @AlisonHernandez @Rowan_Draper do some original research using FoI. Hope that helps.”
The conversation also touched on other issues – this is very much edited highlights – so please do have a look at the Storify for the full version.
This post is an attempt to capture some of the feedback we have had on the research over the last few (busy!) weeks and outlines the main changes we will be making to the beta version of the report. It also starts to describe the Autumn programme that we are starting to put together.
Firstly – it has been notable as to how positively the work has been received – there seems to be a real appetite for a more substantive conversations about how we support elected representatives in a more digital and networked society. At conversations at the LGA Annual conference there was an emphasis on the need to strengthen relationships with the public but also a recognition of the need to refresh and adapt the relationship with the public as well.
However there was also serious challenge to some of the thinking and that needs to be reflected in the final report. The main challenges were:
- We need to make it clear that the speed of adoption/adaption is mixed across different places. There is a a perceived urban/rural split and there is also a ‘long tail’ of adoption with members in most councils. The nuance on this will be in balancing the positioning of the report in terms of outlining the need for networked councillors with a realistic view of the pace of change
- In terms of the pace of change the future work needs to ensure that it is constantly adapting to the changing context – I live in fear of creating a ‘toolkit’ as these things have a tendency to get set in stone and to stop the process of creation/adaption.
- It is impossible to consider the networked councillor in isolation from the back office and process changes which will be brought about by a change in member behaviour. We will need to address this alongside the programme in the Autumn.
- We need to throw the emphasis onto the networked rather than the digital behaviours – channel matters less than the way in which it is used and it is possible to be a networked councillor and largely operate offline. There are challenges to this in terms of accessibility and transparency but the principle is very much the same.
This point about the support and process is a significant one – its very difficult to update skills and support in the back office (across democratic services / consultation / communications) without also considering changes to democratic process but this is a very difficult area to start to effect change in and one where the speed of change is very much at odds with the pace of technology. The point of entry for this may be around things like the scrutiny process and we will pick this up as as separate thread on the blog after the report is published.
In terms of the Autumn programme we are looking to address two areas (or three if you include work with officers and process):
- Social Skills – for example how to manage your digital presence, decide what you want to be public/private, how to integrate into your workflow, how to deal with ‘trolls’ and negative responses
- Basic skills – including analysis and monitoring not just the content creation skills
The point about workflow is where the social and basic skills intersect and where there is a need to do some more research before we convene the programme. At the LGA Conference a number of the networked councillors we spoke to had some tips and tools for this and we need to bring this into one place so that we can pass it one effectively. This is also the area where the officer support might intersect and need some changes.
We are currently exploring options of single authority / shared authority programmes and would be interested in people’s views on this as one of the findings was a preference towards peer support from outside your own authority and so it may be the best solution is single authority plus the peer support network that has been suggested.
So – lots to do and lots more to learn but its good to feel that we have a pathway towards helping more members to become networked councillors!
The New Local Government Network think tank has just published an excellent research paper called Future Councillors: Where Next For Local Politics?
The publication, which you can download from this page on NLGN’s website in PDF, aims to map out the future role for local councillors. Contrbutors to the paper include Sir Steve Bullock, the mayor of Lewisham Borough Council, Cllr Peter Fleming, the leader of Sevenoaks District Council, and our very own Catherine Howe, who has written about Networked Councillor to offer a perspective on the implications the Internet has for future councillors.
In his introduction to the paper, Simon Parker says that the NLGN wants to start a new discussion about the future role of elected members – which it thinks is the one part of the debate over the future of local government that has so far been missing. Catherine’s piece concentrates on the implications of the Internet for the role of councillors – and how it necessitates an awareness among politicians and councils of networked power.
Please have a read and keep the conversation going on Twitter (with the hashtag #NetworkedCllr or here on the blog).
There’s been more activity in the world of Networked Councillor this week, with two blog posts appearing in our Twitter streams. Here at Public-i, newly elected councillor Emma Daniel has written about dealing with online bullying.
This is no small matter – and she starts by saying that there’s a very clear distinction between those who are ‘challenging’ and those who are genuinely bullying. Those that are should not be taken lightly – even if old hands might be able to bat off unpleasant behaviour. Emma says: “Most councillors, as is the whole point of local government, are ordinary people who want to improve things for their community and it can be quite a shock. Even experienced councillors who first go online can be surprised at it and put down the social media tools as a result, but please don’t!!”
Emma goes on to draw out some important lessons. She recommends including ‘rules of engagement’ somewhere online and says that it’s important to consider who is doing the bullying and how harmful it can be. This, she says, can help you to understand what strategy you require to deal with it.
Read Emma’s post here.
We’d also like to thank Colin Noble for another lovely mention of Networked Councillor. In his latest post, he says that the project is run by the ‘excellent Public-i’. Thanks Colin! The work has been carried out for the equally excellent LGA, whom we shouldn’t forget as well.
Colin’s post is really about a social media training session that he attended for Forest Heath District Council. He makes some very interesting points – in particular about time. As Colin notes, there are two very common complaints from councillors who are new to social media – getting decent technology to use and the time that it takes to update SM accounts. With regards to the former, Colin says that it’s important for councillors to be accessible – and technology can and should help this. And on the latter point, he says: “With regards the time social media takes, frankly it simply has to come out of some other activity area and it’s about balance.”
You can read Colin’s post here.
One last thing: We’re now – as I’m sure most of you are aware – very close to the final report being finalised. We’ll be in touch with more news on this as soon as we can.