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!



1 Comment

Filed under The Networked Councillor

One response to “Scrutinising the Networked Councillor!

  1. Great blog Catherine and thanks for being so quick off the mark in continuing the #CfPS2013 debate. The discussion about thinking in public has the potential to be really the most frightening for many councils I should think: but perhaps in today’s climate of ‘all change’ has got to be ultimately the way forward.

    Also a brief comment, I’m really (really) hoping that you meant ‘Whither Scrutiny’ rather than ‘Wither Scrutiny’ in the final heading… 😉

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