Posts Tagged “Councillors”

As part of the changeover from Cllr2.0 to CivicSurf we’ve moved the blog to the civicsurf.org.uk domain and changed the design to fit in with the other material we have produced.

There will be a lot of new material appearing here over the next few weeks so please do subscribe by RSS (using the nice orange icon to the right) or by email (using the box on the right) to ensure you don’t miss something useful.

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Cllr Tony Tomkinson, from Clavering in Norfolk, started blogging in January 2008 as part of the civicsurf project.  His main objective was to use his blog to maintain communications with the 25 parish clerks in his constituency.

He used the blog to inform readers of developments from Norfolk County Council that affected his area.  In March he wrote about the possibility of a gravel pit in the village of Haddiscoe. He had been to a public meeting the night before attended by over 100 people from the village.  Over the following week Tony had 400 people visit his blog and within four weeks 37 comments had been left on the post.

I’m sure some of the people leaving comments had been to the meeting but by using the blog they are able to ensure their views are in the public domain.  Possibly some had not been able get to speak at the meeting. Also of interest is that people from outside the village were able to contribute including those with experience of gravel pits.

The post is a superb example of how using a blog a civic leader can gather considered and in-depth views from a wide range of people with a wide range of views.  The blog hasn’t replaced the village public meeting but it has complemented it very well.  Although Tony is prevented by his position as a councillor from expressing an opinion before the Planning committee meeting, he is providing leadership by encouraging discussion and opinion through having a place for that discussion to take place.

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Image of CivicSurf backgrounderI’ve added a page to the site to describe “What is CivicSurf?” The page includes a downloadable PDF (single page A4). Hopefully this might be helpful to any officers wanting to discuss the project with colleagues.

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Draft CivicSurf logo

We asked the opinion of the people on this site and a few Gallomanor friends in local government and the response was strongly in favour of civicsurf.

We’ve even started developing a logo and soon this website will transfer to www.civicsurf.org.uk with a fresh new look.

One of the reasons I particularly liked civicsurf was that it gives a label to something important that was previously undefined. civicsurf is the aggregate of online local information about a town or area. It is comprised of blogs, sites such as fixmystreet.com, local press and public bodies. In essence the civicsurf is like a public meeting occurring online all day everyday. Our project will inspire civic leaders to get involved in that meeting, those conversations through contributing and hopefully leading.

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Cllr Mary Reid x 2
Originally uploaded by G J R

We interviewed Mary for the documentary today. Shane gave us a lead on a top floor staff room, so we got a much nicer location for the interview.

Mary talked eloquently and positively about blogging, gave some tips, and told of her experiences.

Mary took some pictures too, looking forward to reading her post on her blog!

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This project has been called Councillor 2.0 for the last 9 months. We love the name, but ultimately as a project we are aiming to engage civic leaders who are not Councillors. We want to get police chiefs, NHS Trust board members, and senior council officers all using the internet to engage their communities. That’s why Councillor2.0 is too limiting.

So what name to use? We’ve been through a few.

How about Councillor2.0, Police2.0 and NHS2.0? But the expense and time to manage separate identities was too much.

We rejected abstract names like Greenfrog because we have a short time to get through to our audience of member services and communications managers.

What we need is a name that could pique the interest of busy officers and members and combined with a strapline describe the project, which is a series of events showing a film and distributing booklets to get officers and members blogging.

We’re considering two options for the moment.

Reaching Out
Leadership blogging in the Public Sector

or

CivicSurf
Leading through blogging

Why those two you might ask. Reaching out came from the idea that the civic leaders we spoke to who blog most commonly gave one of their reasons as wanting to reach new people, people with whom they wouldn’t normally have contact.

The more eagle-eyed of you will know the source of inspiration for CivicSurf. For me the name emanates from the idea that the first step for civic leaders about to blog is to go online and read what others might be saying online about your area and topics of interest. It is about the online local conversations in which they as local leaders need to be participating and leading. We’re calling those conversations the CivicSurf.

We need to decide what name to use when marketing this project to local authorities and public bodies across the country. We need your input. Which name and strapline do you prefer? Let us know through the comments or via email .

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Yesterday I went up to Norwich to catch up with three of the Councillors who are working on the project. It’d been two months since I saw them last, when they were still finding their feet on getting their blog set up.

 I’d been keeping an eye on their sites which were slowly developing, but wasn’t sure how they felt about their blogs themselves.

The three of them were extremely positive about their experience and interestingly all for different reasons. Peter was please because he felt he had a space for him to speak out, and it was also bringing him in touch with new people and also some old contacts he’d lost track of. Tony found that he was getting interest in an issue by both comments and emails. Jenny, who hasn’t had much commenting feedback actually on the site, has had local people come up and tell her in person that they’d seen it and liked it.

I think in another month’s time they’ll have achieved even more. Interesting, none of them had thought of their blog as an archive, something I questioned them about, but thinking about it they realised it was a way they could track a particular issue.

Peter and Tony both have big issues being commented on their blogs, while Jenny is about to do a leaflet drop with the blog address on, so in another month I’m sure we’ll see huge changes again. 

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he Councillor’s Commission recently reported to government, making in the region of 60 recommendations for central and local government to consider.

One of the areas they took a look at was the support that councillors get to communicate with their electorates. They seemed convinced there was more that could be done to improve on the current state of affairs:

In terms of widespread public communication it seems that councils could do

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much more to utilise technology to enhance access to local councillors (particularly for the younger generation) and the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Local Government Group concludes, that ‘Councils need to develop the use of new media and, in particular, communication with local people through new media’ (Dungey, 2007: 6). For example, Lancashire County Council web-casts most of its public meetings and reports attracting an average of 1,500 viewers each month.

It was suggested to the Commission that councillors themselves should do more to embrace the potential of IT to interact with their communities, for example using blogs and web 2.0

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sites and perhaps extending schemes such as the mySociety HearfromYourMP.com service to provide a ‘Hear from Your Councillor’ service.

Their recommendation is broader

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than getting councillors blogging (as you’d want and expect), but they do think that blogs might be helpful:

As part of their corporate communications strategy, local authorities and councillors should promote the role of councillors using a range of communication tools, for example by:
a) using the media and communications resources of the council to work to build positive relations with the local media;
b) making use of council newsletters and other media publications;
c) harnessing technological solutions – such as email, web 2.0, blogs and texting – to make councillors’ activities more visible.

You can download a copy of their full report here

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Bob Piper is perhaps one of the best known Labour councillors blogging today.

Bob should have been at the e-Democracy conference last week, talking about being a blogging councillor, but was not well enough to come down to London.

Andy Howell has a half hour interview with Bob that’s well worth listening to in which they talk about Bob’s approach to blogging, how he started his blog and the other electronic means he uses to communicate with his electorate, and why he thinks it’s important for him as a politician to be on the web.

Bob’s approach isn’t the one we’ll necessarily be urging people to emulate, I think we’re likely to advise people to talk about local issues a bit more than national, but it has what you absolutely need from a successful blog, authenticity.

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Shane I were at the e-Democracy conference yesterday – Shane was speaking, I just tagged along.  Here are a few of my unstructured thoughts on what I saw and heard.

First up was Stephen Coleman, who I think it’s fair to say was pretty challenging.  I’ve read a few of the reports that Professor Coleman has written about e-Democracy and new technology and there has always been something interesting in them even if I haven’t agreed with what he’s saying.  So too with yesterday’s key note speech.  It’s been my view that Professor Coleman doesn’t much like blogs, and yesterday he said that he didn’t see any point in any more councillor blogs.

Strange as this might sound I think he’s got half a point.

There isn’t much point in any blog that doesn’t try to become part an eco-system, by which I mean you need to read those that are writing about similar themes as you.  In this case councillors (it seems to me) should try to make sure they are connected to others who blog in their locality, they shouldn’t expect to be the hub around which the system works.

But that’s different from saying “lets have no more of these pointless exercises”.  And indeed I think Professor Coleman’s point was rather undermined when later in the day Councillor Matthew Ellis spoke about his conversion to using blogs as a way of connecting with his community.

Matthew told us that 18 months ago he’d been very wary, seeing them as too much trouble and of little additional value.  But 18 months on he’s had 200,000 visitors to his blog and seems to be signing up constituents to being automatically notified of new posts via email growing exponentially.

Clearly Matthew’s constituents are finding something useful in him having a blog and I’m sure that would be true of many other councillors both those already blogging and those that might take it up in the future.

I’m told that the day’s proceedings will be available on 18 Doughty Street at some point, and I also know that David Wilcox was there doing interviews with all sorts of people and I’m sure they will be worth taking a look at too.

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