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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Filed under Beta Report, The Networked Councillor

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