Monthly Archives: June 2013

Comments on the report by Councillor Alison Hernandez

Councillor Alison Hernandez, Torbay, has very kindly allowed us to turn her comments on the Networked Councillor report into a blog post. As Alison wrote this just after arriving back from Australia, we’re very grateful to her for taking valuable time and thinking space to come up with some exceptionally thoughtful and helpful comments. The only edits I’ve made are cosmetic and Alison has approved this post.

My comments are aimed to prompt some thought in terms of a political perspective of it, so here goes:-

  • It would be good to state in the introduction of the report what political parties (or not) the elected members involved in the research were from. (This would be to set a frame of reference to the important role that political parties have in choosing candidates who are social media savvy.)
  • Could there be more emphasis on mentioning the candidate selection process for political parties? I personally think the public should be demanding social-media-savvy councillors.
  • Technology issues: This part of the report could be enhanced by reference to the debate about IT departments, as it is really about how engaged the Elected Leader/CEO and Head of PR/Comms are; everything else falls into place when these people are engaged. Also, it might be worth mentioning the civil service/national government’s IT strategy that is innovative at looking at Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to help employees engage in the use of social media. We are using this example in Torbay to push IT dept towards BYOD as we have no money…they’re testing security and apps as we speak.
  • It might be helpful to mention early on in the report about the role of a councillor as a community leader and all the current offline efforts that go into that e.g. surgeries, ward newsletters, visits to local groups/meetings. This will help set the scene for the fact that social media enhances what’s existing so it is not seen as an alien concept.
  • In my experience the officer aversion to the online world with elected members is directly related to the types of conversations and interactions they have in the offline world. So inappropriate comments may get made, etc. and so officers worry is what they’ll say in public. Ensuring the Council does not fall into disrepute seems to be the overriding factor rather than exposing inappropriate behaviour by Cllrs. I feel it needs to be exposed…. This goes back to the selection of council candidates…. A few more professionals, rather than mainly self-employed or retired councillors wouldn’t go amiss!! It’s better to have a few mistakes made and, as a result, get more diverse councillors than to be so risk averse that the status quo – with very limited public engagement in local politics – remains.
  • Councillors who aren’t the Leader/Mayor aren’t necessarily supported by officers in the offline world in my experience (especially those who are working or those with caring responsibilities) and this translates to the online world, too.
  • Councillors’ involvement in the digital agenda is ultimately about getting people out to vote and encouraging people to be involved in how their local area is run.
  • Officers’ involvement in this agenda is ultimately about getting people to understand how (electoral registration, what a ballot paper looks like etc) and why to vote (councillors’ decision-making abilities on key policies) and finding ways to enable people to get involved in the way their local area is run or services delivered.
  • Political parties’ involvement in this agenda is to broaden their membership base and get their vote out at elections. Generally the role of campaigning (whether community based or not) has a political bias and are often born out of active party members from all parties.
  • Private political debates aren’t really possible now with social media because they are among the most exciting things with which to engage people! For example: should the Mayor use council funds to buy a palm tree for £20k or not? We had a hashtag trending on it at one point on Twitter – this could be seen as bad for the Mayor but it actually raised the profile to a wide audience about what public money should/shouldn’t be spent on and what people’s views were of how the area should look. This was a great opportunity to promote the budget consultation process that was happening at the same time.

Alison is on Twitter and on Facebook. Please comment below or use the hashtag #NetworkedCllr.

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The #NetworkedCllr roundtable: Many thanks!!

We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came and took part in Monday’s Networked Councillor roundtable. It was a great event and, very soon, we’ll be writing more about what happened and what that all means.

But before we do that I wanted to just highlight some of the great contributions we’ve already seen in writing:-

  • Dave Briggs has talked about the event and the need to think about redesigning the councillor role. He said: “…we need to put some thought into what the councillor role should be. I think much of what success looks like for councillors will depend on their original motivation for doing it in the first place. For me, as a parish councillor, I see the role making certain tools – processes and structures and procedures – available to me that wouldn’t be otherwise. So it’s a means to an end to get stuff done for the community.” Read the full post here.
  • Among a number of excellent points, Carl Whistlecraft said that identity and reputation are important. He wrote: “In particular [councillors] want to better understand the rules of engagement in instances where they are interacting with “anonymous” users and those who are “challenging” – trolls.  I would hope that, as the Networked Cllr work progresses, thought is given to striking a balance between equipping councillors with the confidence and support to be effective whilst not binding them with protocols or frightening them off completely.” Read the full post here.
  • A very thoughtful post by Puffles2010 starts by picking up on what he says was the overall theme of the day – that “Social media activities should complement what you do offline, not act as a replacement.” He said: “There is a risk with social media advocates – myself included – that we see social media as the be all and end all, rather than the tools that they are. Hence some of the negative stereotypes about ‘so-shall meed-jah’ types wanting everyone to be subconsciously connected up to each other via wireless devices implanted into our brains.” Read the full post here.

I’m sure there’ll be a lot more said – and I’d really encourage everyone who’s interested in the Networked Cllr debate to read and comment on these posts if you can. There are more opportunities to talk about Networked Councillor coming up, not least the sessions we’ll be involved in at the LGA Conference that starts on the 2nd of July.  We wrote here about them, but just to remind you they are:-

  • LGA networking session ‘Skills for the Networked Councillor’ – 17:50-18:20 Tuesday, 2nd July. This will be a great opportunity to ask questions and discuss the practical skills needed to be a more networked and digital councillor. The agenda will be built on the day by the participants and we will have a range of social media experts – including elected members – there to answer your questions.
  • LGA fringe event with EELGA – 08:00-09:00 Thursday, 4th July
  • LGA Innovation Zone session – 12:00-12:45pm Thursday 4th July

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Scrutinising the Networked Councillor!

Really interesting day yesterday at the Centre for Public Scrutiny Member Academy and unconference. The latter really made me reflect on how unconferences can take on the ‘flavour’ of the sector or group they are convening – you should have seen the evidence based approach to achieving a balanced agenda in the unconference!!! It was also really good to see the open spaces format being used simply as the right tool for the task of organising 50+ experts rather than the format being the focus of the event. I also was struck by ways in which stronger connections could be made with community engagement processes – the discussion about appreciative enquiry for example links strongly to a move to asset based community development. More on those points perhaps over on my home blog at some point.

I pitched a session on the Networked Councillor work in order to get some feedback from the Officer group who were at the unconference. After laying out the basic findings and overview we kicked off with a couple of questions:

  • Is this vision of a world of more networked and digital councillors a real one for you?
  • If you do then how do you think support for these members will need to change?

Do you have any networked councillors?
The good news is that the basic proposition of a growth in the numbers of networked councillors was agreed on – however the speed of that growth clearly varies from place to place. Where some participants were talking in terms of already have a sizeable ‘networked’ group the others were seeing slower change. There was a general acknowledgment that officers are often responsible for holding members back to some extent as they are concerned about the risks but to balance this there was also a sense that the skills were present in the council to support members when they did go online (though we didn’t discuss some of the more advanced skills outlined in the report). The outcome of the discussion on the absence of control was a suggestion that we need to design with this is mind rather than assuming we can achieve any kind of control!

There was also an agreement that networked did not have to mean digital – and @Huxley06 talked about the potential for these tools to make more networked individuals more successful as members.

The debate was framed in terms of ‘when will we achieve critical mass’ rather than when will we have a majority or complete set of networked councillors. However there was sufficient clear consensus to take the debate on to the next question.

How should we support them?
It was here that we got into some really interesting ideas and while I have noted these below (as the flip chart notes I took are illegible. There were two that I want to highlight as they stood out:

1) We talked a lot about the blurring of boundaries between personal and professional interactions and the difficulty in framing support for members online in this shifting context. This is one of the issues highlighted in the research from the members point of view but it is interesting to consider it from the support perspective as well. The complexity was twofold – firstly how do you judge ‘appropriate’ use of resources and secondly how do you draw boundaries between interactions as an individual officer whose personal/professional boundaries are also being blurred? There is also the specific scrutiny concern of how to extract evidence from these interactions.

2) As we discussed evidence and the role of the kinds of digital networked interactions that we were discussing as part of the Scrutiny process the idea of an “Open evidence store” was mooted. This store would have three different elements:

  • scrutiny evidence as is already understood and used
  • open data
  • citizen content

This three elements would be available publicly and we then moved into an interesting debate how open data like this could drive more open practice – thinking in public – and how this might then start to put pressure on the more linear processes which we currently run in terms of policy and scrutiny.

Wither Scrutiny??
Finally, there was a discussion about how digital interactions might enter into the scrutiny process both in terms of setting the agenda but also providing evidence. There was a general feeling that digital evidence – user generated content – can be considered in two ways:

  • evidence that suggests further investigation
  • evidence which can contribute to a decision or outcome

This distinction is a useful one, as the question of how we ‘qualify’ social evidence, and the need to introduce some kind of identity and representation. I will try and pick it up elsewhere in this project with some reference to what other people are doing around this.

So – huge thanks to all who participated in a really interesting discussion. If you disagree with anything here as a record of the debate then please do comment – and regardless then thank you very much for you contribution!

 

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More on the #networkedcllr events

We’ll be taking the word of Networked Councillor out over the next few weeks and there are a few chances to come and talk about the report coming up.

They include the Public-i usergroup, which will be on the 21st of June in central London. It’d be great to have some councillors who are interested in the report join us for the event. So if you’ve read about the report here and are interested in talking face-to-face with its author, Catherine Howe, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. Please give us a call on 01273 821 282 or email jane.purcell@public-i.info.

There will be more information about this event going up very soon on the Public-i blog, but please, please, please tell us if you’d like to come along. We’d love to see you.

By the time of the usergroup the report should be near to finalised – and more feedback collected at the roundtable earlier in the same week.

While the roundtable isn’t an invite event, we’ll be reporting about it here on the blog as soon as we can – and tweeting more about it with the hashtag #networkedcllr. But the really exciting events will be the three sessions we’re involved in at the LGA – so if you’re a delegate we’d love to see you there:-

  • LGA networking session ‘Skills for the Networked Councillor’ – 17:50-18:20 Tuesday, 2nd July. This will be a great opportunity to ask questions and discuss the practical skills needed to be a more networked and digital councillor. The agenda will be built on the day by the participants and we will have a range of social media experts – including elected members – there to answer your questions.
  • LGA fringe event with EELGA – 08:00-09:00 Thursday, 4th July
  • LGA Innovation Zone session – 12:00-12:45pm Thursday 4th July

In the meantime, of course, you can get stuck into the report here and stuck into the debate by commenting or by tweeting with the hashtag #networkedcllr.

Hope to speak to you soon!!

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