The Networked Councillor – more than Twitter

Monday morning, gathered at the Moller Centre in Cambridge were a small but wide ranging roundtable of policy wonks, local government officers, old hands such as Cllr. Richard Stay from Central Beds Council and myself and a cross section of new and prospective Councillors,  to test out some of the conclusions in a East of England LGA’s Improvement East commissioned paper called the Networked Councillor, which I took part in the research for, lead by Catherine Howe of Public-I Consulting.

Slightly aside but sometimes it can be an extremely small world, as I prepared for the event I thought about a new web site called and the very first UK political ‘Thunderclap’ being a by-election for Brighton Council put up by the Greens; and the next day sitting opposite me at the roundtable is the Labour candidate for that very ward.

The paper and discussion is about trying to move the debate about social media on, as important as the tools are and you need to learn how to use them, social media is not about ‘oh you need to get onto Twitter’. Equally it’s not about technology either Blackberry 10 V iPhone; Window’s 8 V iPad; Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or Flickr – but it is about Democracy and Engagement. Nor is it the silver bullet, the new way to politically campaign and represent your community.

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. People gather on-line but they also gather in village halls and Parish Council meetings. Thus social media and its use is part of the tool set a Councillor needs but no more important than shoe leather and shaking hands.

Of course the other great reason to make social media a part of how you go about being a Councillor, a part of your tool kit,  is that just because you don’t use social media does not mean people are not talking about you, because they are and unless you are a part of that, you cannot hope to address their issues or influence their thinking; so to my mind it compliments rather than replaces other political activity.

One the most interesting strands of the event was the discussion around engagements and how this is changing. reflecting on the day and to some extent testing out some of the points discussed,  in a meeting the afternoon of the Suffolk County Council (SCC) Conservative Group and then again in the SCC Leadership meeting the following day I pondered why is there an ever decreasing numbers of people who engage in elections? Could it be that we as voters and residents are changing, partially because of social media and becoming not so much disillusioned with politics but increasingly dissatisfied with the nature of representation offered.

One of the team writing the report made an interesting set of comments about where we are today with the internet owing more to the egalitarian and collaborative working principles of Californian student life of the 60’s and 70’s than to corporate business. The notion of how to make money out of some of the biggest companies in the world today did not come from how to get rich quick nor the profit bottom line of the transaction but how to connect people such as with Facebook, of course that has made its founders extremely rich but perhaps not where it started out.

The internet and cloud computing is buzzing with sites such as Thunderclap and is the nature of how we expect to be engaged with and socialise on-line in a collaborative way; and is this ability and expectation starting to frustrate people with their interactions with local government and indeed democracy?

So can social media change be the tool to move from being communicative, which I think we are reasonable at, to collaborative which we work hard to be and then perhaps co-productive with our residents, I think we can but it must also be a cultural shift within Local Government in using the tools of social media.

The final version of the Networked Councillor report will be launched at the LGA Conference in Manchester at the beginning of July and for anyone interested in Local Government and Social Media I think it will make for essential reading as a snap shot of this moment in time and a contribution about how Councillors can use Social media as a part of how they go about their changing roles.

I’ll put up a link as soon as it’s published.

About askcolinnoble
I'm a Conservative politician-lite, I dabble a bit in Party Politics with my main focus of working hard and being a strong voice for my community making sure local government delivers quality services and fellow residents get value for money for their hard earned money they pay in Council tax | Where this Gravatar appears and I am expressing my views or liking something I do so in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Suffolk County Council, Forest Heath District Council, the Conservative Party or come to think of it anyone else | But having said the above at an election time and to stay legal, anything I write is promoted by Lance Stanbury on behalf of Colin Noble, both at West Suffolk Conservative Association, Park Farm Cottage, Fordham St. Genevieve, BurySt. Edmunds, Suffolk IP28 6TS

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