Networked Councillor – Taking the Plunge!

As one of the elected members who helped to shape the original Networked Councillor research report, Cllr Colin Noble, Suffolk County Council, talks about what the Networked Councillor means to him and outlines his hopes for the Networked Councillor pilot in Suffolk.   This was originally posted on the East of England LGA’s site.

“I don’t know about you but I rather took the plunge into social media without much of a clue as to what my strategy was beyond getting my twitter account up and running, working out how to use Facebook and promising myself I would take more photos to feed across the platforms and into my Flickr account. I was even lucky enough to be a Councillor on two councils that arranged some training, on both how to use the various platforms and some of the more fundamental traps and falls that it’s possible to make.

I did this because a couple of things struck me.

Firstly, local government is undergoing rapid change and we need to ask much more of our communities.  The relationship between residents and state has to change – both because of the drive towards increased localism but also because we have some incredibly tough decisions to make on the withdrawal or radical redesign of unaffordable services.  We cannot do this without the active participation of our residents and communities.  Yet often, when we hold meetings in that draughty community hall, the gatherings are smaller than we would like, or in fact need, to have a meaningful conversation.  There is always that odd occasion when a topic is suitably engaging to bring them out in numbers, but this is increasingly rare.

Secondly, whilst people seem to be talking less and less in surgeries and in community halls, more and more gathering on social media, and they are still talking politics but just not as we know it.  Recently in my home village a local charity running a small local care home, unbeknown to me, decided to close, and one Monday evening they told shocked residents, their families and loved ones about their decision and the time lines to move. After the meeting I had a couple of missed calls on my phone, and three emails.  The following day one of those who emailed the night before told me they were starting a Facebook page and I thought I should have a look at that. When I did, on the Wednesday afternoon, it had some 750 likes and lots of people posting various comments, most of which were misunderstanding on how the system works. Through Facebook I guided a large group of residents through the issues, corrected a few misconceptions and agreed to host a private meeting for Residents and their loved ones, followed by a public meeting where about 100 quite angry people wanted answers.  Beyond Facebook, the issue hardly registered in the community.  This just shows that if we want to part of these important community conversations, we must gather where they do, online.

So I am completely convinced that social media has be part of the overall tool set a Councillor uses to reach communities – and through using all the tools available to us we can all be Networked councillors.  In doing so we can start to change and develop our relationship with our communities to move from being communicative, to collaborative, and even co-productive with our residents. 

We don’t want the Networked Councillor concept to be just rhetoric, we need to make it a reality.  So as a next step, a new model for Councillor development will be piloted with all the Suffolk authorities in order to test out some of the ideas I describe above and, which are outlined in the Networked Councillor report. 
 
I am thrilled that Suffolk authorities will be the pioneers in embedding this new way of thinking. 
The pilot will be about peer mentoring and action learning rather than the ‘chalk and talk’ social media training that many of us have received.  We will work with a cohort of around 20 members and concentrate on a 3 themes: ‘Understand your digital footprint and current network’, ‘Develop skills to shape that network and manage debates online’ and then ‘Develop skills to influence your network and lead effectively in this context’. 
But this is not just for elected members, we will also look at the support function required for this new way of working and how it integrates with the work of officers in many different areas of the council, building on the different experiences and knowledge of social media within a council.

The end goal must be to improve the relationship with our electorate, increase turnout at elections and build confidence in both, us as elected representatives and the services the Council provides.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this Networked Councillor programme is a great opportunity to create a new, more positive, relationship with our constituents to address the challenges faced by local democracy.”

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Let me put you in the picture…

Originally posted on huxley06:

This is a very brief post reflecting on the images that myself and some of the Councillors I follow share via twitter. I was curious to see what the images we share say about us and our communities.

Here are my campaign photos taken and shared during the by-election:

HEG Campaign photos

Here are some recent photos which demonstrate my blurred identity – at a women’s football match, catching up on campaign news with a colleague in my kitchen, meeting a Special Constable …generally being a mum and in the spirit of the internet being a bit random:

Emma blurred identity

Here are some sets from other Councillors:

This is Councillor Ken from Solihull’s recent photos:

Cllr Ken Photos

I love that Ken shares pictures of his dog and his use of the local area. I think many people would enjoy these photos and it would help his desire to engage with people on subjects they care about.

Here…

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The Networked Councillor – The next steps

Originally posted on Colin Noble's Blog:

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.

As I have previously blogged the report lays out the evidence to support the idea that we need all our elected representatives to be comfortable and effective in the online space and recommends the need to develop new models of training, mentoring and support to help councillors be effective in a digital and…

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The finalised report and the next phase of #NetworkedCllr

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.

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 future

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!!

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Setting up a Councillor Blog – My experiences by @Huxley06

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!

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Chat on Twitter – about blogging well as a councillor

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:-

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.

 

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Networked Councillor: Where have we got to?

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!

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