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!