Category Archives: Beta Report

Networked Councillor: Where have we got to?

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!


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More blogging about Networked Councillor

I just thought I should write a quick post to tell you about some of the activities around Networked Councillor in the last week or so…

Obviously, we’re still trying to recover from the terrific (and energy-sapping) time we had at the LGA Conference last week. It is worth saying that Catherine (the busy bee that she is) is currently out dealing with other stuff, but I hope she’ll be back blogging here soon with some update on the feedback to the report.

So here are a few things…

  • There’s been more blogging related to the project, with Leah Lockhart up in Edinburgh talking about the report to councillors in social media sessions she’s been running. As she says “What is now very clear to me are the issues around identity and permission are big for elected members. There is a desire or need for a space that is safe to experiment and practical training to be provided by a neutral body or group.” Read her post here.
  • I missed referring to an earlier post from Colin Noble’s thoughts from the Networked Councillor roundtable event that he attended. He says: “I for one believe that what it’s actually about is being accessible, going to places where people gather and working with your community to get the best out of the system whatever that may be.” Please read Colin’s post here.
  • We’ve set up a Twitter account, in case you haven’t seen it, here. Unsurprisingly, we’ve called it NetworkedCllr – and that councillor’s moniker is Cllr Bloggs. Credit for the joke has to go to Emma Daniel, aka @huxley06.

I’m sure there’ll be more to tell you soon, but until then…

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A big thanks for taking part in Networked Councillor at the LGA Conference

I’m just writing to thank everyone who came along, tweeted, talked and generally got involved in the Networked Councillor sessions (and the ensuing debate) at the LGA Conference.

It was a fantastic few days of conversation – with some very significant learning, and we hope not just for us! As Catherine said on Thursday morning at the breakfast session, this was the last face-to-face opportunity to feed back on the beta version of the report – which will soon be finalised – so it was absolutely great to see such enthusiasm for the #NetworkedCllr concept.

While I wasn’t personally able to attend all the sessions myself (as I was working with the LGA team covering the conference) I noticed that there was great interest in the report and, more generally, in the issue: what does it mean to be a councillor given the technological changes that we’ve seen?

It’s not for me to feed back on the feedback gained (if you’ll forgive that expression) that I’ll leave for Catherine, but for now here are a few things I noticed…

  • Rowan Draper shared the blog post he’s written about Networked Councillor, here:
  • You can play the quiz ‘How Networked Are You?‘ on the Public-i website to get a quick introduction to the Networked Councillor concept.
  • Carl Haggerty produced a fantastic sketch of the session, which you see here:
  • There were also some great observations made on Twitter… I’ll put a storify together to capture some of these ASAP!!

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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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What the Networked Councillor is all about

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.


Filed under Beta Report, Project update, The Networked Councillor