We have been working with East of England LGA on a project for the last couple of months looking at what local politicians might need in terms of skills and support in the future.
The project was born out of two things:
- If we are going to have more networked and digital citizens we are going to need politicians with the right skills – we will need networked councillors but we have not yet really explored what that means
- Just showing people how to use twitter doesn’t solve the problem
This question of what the networked councillor will look like has been bugging me for some time. I am often asked to do sessions on social media for all kinds of people including Members, and a while ago I stopped making these about practical skills and started pitching them at some of the strategic challenges that a more networked world brings. My reasoning for this is twofold. Firstly that the skills are so simple that anyone doing one of these roles will be able to learn them for themselves if they have the right motivation for doing so, and secondly that we have to start creating a baseline for these skills which clearly states that our politicians need to be able to communicate effectively online.
The research was fascinating to do and really focused our minds on a few different issues:
- If we want local politicians to be accessible online then we need to support them – for example how many councils provide social media monitoring metrics to Members based on their ward?
- We need to be much more strategic in providing training to Members – they need help with their political voice online and their digital footprint as well as help with the basics.
- Much of this is tribal – politicians prefer to learn from other politicians – ideally of the same party. Are we challenging the political parties adequately as to how they are supporting their Members?
This work supports some of the other things we have been doing with respect to creating more co-productive citizen relationships and also finding and cultivating relationships with active citizens. This probably needs to come together into a single conversation at some point as we cannot coherently discuss democratic engagement in once place and more co-productive citizen relationships in another – we have to orientate this discussion around the citizen and not the council’s structures.
The report is now being published and you can read it here:
Rather than create a final report at this stage we are publishing this in ‘beta’ form. Like a software beta version we think it’s ready for public view but we expect a wider audience to have more comments on it. The objective is to end up with a final report which will have been genuinely scrutinised and evolved by people outside of the research team. We’ll be doing this here on the project blog, which is open for guest blogs and contributions and while we’ll be nagging people about this please do also let us know if you’d like to contribute a guest post. Alternatively you can contact me directly by email or Twitter (@curiousc) with any thoughts and comments, which will also feed back into the whole shared picture as it develops. Once the discussion really gets under way, we’ll be hosting a couple of different events to further explore, agree on revisions and hopefully some next steps. We’ll tell you more about those in due course – for now we really look forward to lots of lively and challenging debate around what you all think of the Networked Councillor.