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
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.
I was in Diss, Norfolk last night as part of our www.norfolkhomepage.org.uk 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.
To help explain the power of using a platform like WordPress I showed people the site I created for my wife – beautifulbirthdaycakes.co.uk. 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.”
WordPress.com 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
It’s a fairly important part of the DCLG White Paper Consultation process for CivicSurf. The Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity has been blamed by many as a major obstacle to helping councillors use blogs. This consultation is a chance to make your views clear on the matter.
I’ll be reading this over Christmas and posting some thoughts and responding in the New Year.