The CivicSurf project was funded in 2008. We kept this site going for a little longer and we would have liked to keep it going for even longer.  But it’s not.

We’ll keep the site here as an archive, but we’ll no longer post anything new. Thank you and goodbye.

Capturing meaningful information about public opinion

James Semple, from Seaton Town Council in Devon, asked how the internet can be used instead of town polls to help decide how to allocate public funds.

Whilst there has been a large amount written about participatory budgeting schemes that is worth reading I’m wanting to make the point that blogging software such as WordPress can be used much more powerfully than for simple polls.

Generally it’s probably cheaper to run a paper poll than an online poll.  The expensive bit is making sure that you reach everyone that is entitled to vote and that you do it in a manner that is accountable, robust and fair. It will be difficult to avoid that expense online or offline if you’re looking for a binding poll.

So what about self-selecting online polls? Well they are self-selecting and therefore easily dismissed.

The real strength of using a blog to assess opinion is that it can be deliberative. Invite the competing projects to describe their ideas, to take questions from each other and any other members of the public. Don’t just judge the projects as they stand. Invite them to improve their ideas using the feedback received from other participants.  Later on invite others to express an informed opinion. Let the elected officials then base their decisions on an informed constructive delberation

Why MPs should blog – Carswell

Douglas Carswell is part of a new breed of MP.  He believes in a strong parliament, open primaries, and a recall mechanism to enable constituents to change MP without having to change party. He also believes in blogging.

Yesterday he wrote with two pieces of advice for new MPs.  Firstly to represent their constituents, not just their party.  He links to this article by Fraser Nelson highlighting why 3 Labour MPs bucked the trend and won their marginal seats.  Labour MPs who voted in Parliament with their consciences not their parties.  His second piece of advice is to blog.

Good advice.



Thursday February 25th 2010 in London.

Themes will be relevant to anyone working with local government in the social media/digital engagement space. We are aiming to create spaces for discussion and engagement, the sharing of experiences and creation of new ideas. Conversations are encouraged. We will have lots of parallel sessions and break-out spaces. In the tradition of localgovcamps, you set the agenda in the beginning of the morning and afternoon sessions.

Anke Holst seems to be leading the organisation on this.  I highly recommend you book a space now – use this EventBrite page.  BarCamp offer so much more conversation, discussion and exploration of ideas than traditional conferences.

If you are interested in the do’s and don’ts of getting your members and officers online then you should come along.  Chat to those who have been there before you or even better share your experience if you’ve already been down the road.

“That’s not a blog. Blogs are boring with lots of text”

[Cross-posted from] headerAt least let’s stop using the word blog.

I was in Diss, Norfolk last night as part of our project.  We had invited various community organisations to the library to learn about how they could get involved in the project.  Primarily we showed people like Trevor that he could easily set up a blog for his Diss Badminton Club to help get new members and build more of a club around his existing membership.  We explored ideas with Kevin about how the Mere Players could make more of their newsletters without abandoning their existing Flash based site. With a blog they’ll soon feature in the top searches for Diss Drama.

#SG_ 2009-11-25 10.5002 To help explain the power of using a platform like WordPress I showed people the site I created for my wife –  I explained how that previously her Flickr site had received 2,000 views in a couple of years through the Flickr community, through friends and through flyers.  With a GoogleLocal listing she got some traffic through Google.

Her new site created on WordPress however is just six weeks old.  Already she has had over 2,000 visits, over 7,000 page views and business has gone through the roof.  She is on the front page for Google and Bing searches on “Birthday Cakes in Bath” and that will only improve.

What struck me last night, and not for the first time, was that people still have this ingrained view of what a blog is.  When I showed the cake site to one lady she blurted out, “That’s not a blog! A blog is boring with lots of text.” still promotes itself to bloggers and offers:

“Express yourself. Start a blog.”

It’s a website that is easy to update and optimised for search engines.  End of.  Let’s not label it with something that puts people off.

Carry on blogging

According to some sources there are more than 2 blogs sites created every second.  We went through the 100 million blog mark a year or two ago.  Many if not most of those blogs have stopped publishing.  Many bloggers wonder if it is worth carrying on.  Chris Blattman on the 2nd anniversary of his blog did just that and decided to carry on.  Why?

“I like blogging”

We say at the end of the CivicSurf Guide to blogging that it can be addictive.  It can be an enjoyable activity.

  • it forces him to read more carefully and think more carefully because he is likely to write about it
  • it allows him to share ideas
  • it allows him to influence others effectively.  It makes him

Blog Action Day: Climate Change blogging

DFID Blogs Website
DFID Blogs Website

Just over twelve months ago we were frantically getting the first set of DFID Bloggers up to speed on using WordPress and the difference between blogging and drafting briefing documents.  We were working hard to make sure they had posts up in time for Blog Action Day.

Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion.

Last year it was on poverty and therefore very relevant to DFID’s agenda.  This year – today – the issue is Climate Change.  Again DFID has Climate Change very high on it’s list of priorities.  They are working to help advise the developing world on how to reduce their carbon footprint and supporting it in dealing with the effects of climate change.

So we’ve been working with a group of DFID staff working on Climate Change to get them started this week and to keep them going in the run up to Copenhagen in December and hopefully beyond.

But it isn’t just the Climate Change group that are contributing to Blog Action Day.  Already Sarah Sanyahumbi has posted about late monsoons in Nepal and Neil Squires reflects on how the floods in 2000 that left much of Mozambique underwater make the country understand the need to be prepared better than most.

NALC to get really Local Councillors online

One of the aspects of the ongoing reorganisation of Local Government (i.e. scrapping of District Councils) is that Parish and Town Councils should become relatively more important in our democratic processes. I met Justin Griggs, (@JustinGriggs) Head of Policy and Development, of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) at the recent LocalGovCamp in Birmingham. He’s acutely aware that the image of Parish and Town Councillors (Local Cllrs) is not exactly dynamic and go-getting despite in some cases Town Councils are representing towns like Salisbury with 70,000 residents.

He is very keen to get some of those councillors online. The benefits could be enormous.  Not only would it help the councils start conversations with their communities and boost their profile, but it would also help the councillors network amongst themselves.  Blogs and social networks would be a quick and easy way for town and parish councils to share information, success stories and help each other achieve what they want.  This peer networking aspect of blogging is useful but not often mentioned.

To help NALC along the way we sent them 40 copies of the CivicSurf DVD to go to each of the 38 county associations that filter information down to the town and parish councils.  Hopefully it’ll get shown and a few more of our democratic representatives will benefit from blogging.  Maybe some coaching might be in order.

The not so secret world of diplomacy

Martin Uden, the UK’s Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (South Korea to most of us), is a prolific FCO blogger.  Today he wrote about a meeting he had this morning.

I normally don’t say much about the many private meetings that I hold in Seoul, but this morning I called on Kim Dae-jung, former President of Korea and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  I went to see him to thank him for his continued attention to the imprisonment of his fellow Peace Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, and specifically for his contribution to the website set up for ASSK’s 64th birthday.

We discussed Secretary-General Ban’s visit to Burma tomorrow and the sad fact the ASSK’s trial is to resume the same day.  It was encouraging to see the very clear focus that President Kim has on the plight of ASSK and his strong support for pro-democracy elements there.  Coming from a man who did so much to bring democracy to Korea, I found it truly heartening.
President Kim kindly agreed that I could mention our conversation and his staunch support for the people of Burma.

Martin has crammed an enormous amount of into two short paragraphs that probably took ten minutes or less to write.

  • He mets Heads of State as part of his job
  • The former President supports the plight of fellow Peace Prize Recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi
  • ASSK is 64
  • There is a website supporting her
  • Her trial is to resume tomorrow
  • It is all about promoting democracy

It’s well worth following the FCO blogs.  A little rough around some edges and not every post is of interest, but there are some gems.

Local Councillors Blogging in Oz

The best PR is the PR that is unsolicited and comes out of the blue.

A comment was posted this morning on the IDeA’s Policy & Performance blog:

The CivicSurf DVD is a fantastic introduction. And that’s not just my opinion. We invited our councillors to a 45 minute session and showed the film after a very brief introduction about online communities. The fact that they saw ‘people like them’ in similar circumstances got the key points across very effectively, and it generated some great questions and comments. I prepared a document that gave links to social media tools, blogs by elected representatives and online community websites to encourage further investigation and play. One councillor is now blogging regularly. But all who attended now have a better understanding of the possibilities for online engagement. Long story short, thumbs up to CivicSurf.

It was written by an Australian Local Govt Officer who requested a CivicSurf DVD a few months back.  I’m really delighted that the film helped convince his elected representatives within just 45 minutes.  It is exactly what it was made for.

You can follow the councillors (and some others) on Twitter: @OzGovLocalClrs