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Perpetually social council


I feel very conscious that I have been writing a lot about NHS Citizen and not much about other projects like Social Council. One of my personal peeves is the way people are often announcing new things but making less fuss about the work in progress or even the outcomes so here I am trying to address this balance. Its also part of the commitment to ‘think in public’ with the social council programme – sharing what we are doing rather than just selecting the good bits to share afterwards.

This post of a rather delayed update of a trip we made last month – its been sat in my drafts which is a bit embarrassing.  It was the first I have made since Melanie Lockey took on the programme lead internally and she has been hugely busy. The most exciting thing from my point of view is that social council is now firmly embedded within the wider Solihull strategy and its position in that is focused on working differently internally and externally – which I think is a much more pragmatic articulation of the original description of the work. I slightly feel that it is less ‘fierce’ than the original intent but I think time will tell – have we diluted it or have we just made it more approachable? I think the latter – and as I said last time we need to through the focus onto the ‘doing’ which is what has happened thanks to Melanie.

With this the programme has changed shaped slightly and it now covers:

  • 1-2 cohorts of the Networked Councillor programme (We are slightly struggling to recruit members for the networked councillor cohorts but this seems to be early onset election fever so we will be working on this over the next couple of months.)
  • 2 Citizenscape pilots (see below)
  • An internal skills audit (this will both sort out the support for networked councillor but also, we hope, start to recruit people who might want to create social council projects of their own)

This is the stuff that we are working on directly. In addition we are working with the marvellous Emma and her team within the contact centre to explore how we can make the contact centre social – not just using social media but also unlocking collaborative behaviours in the users. Finally we have a really interesting couple of hours with some of the team from Children’s Services to talk about what different forms of engagement might look like there.

This last conversation turned into one about professional practice – how do we adapt the ways in which we work in order to better serve our audiences and ensure that we are relevant into the future. This is particularly critical point for anyone working with young people and we had, I think, a very honest discussion about the difficulties of maintaining personal/professional context online and the tendency for people to keep social media for personal use as a result despite a need for it to be used professionally. This echoes networked councillor research which highlighted that there area number of people who do not lack the skills to use social media but lack the professional context to do so. This is a topic that needs further debate and I hope the team we met with go on to set up some action learning conversations around this as its not something you can teach someone – people need to have time to explore the topic and its implications.

One of the things we did while there was to meet with some of the community groups involved in the citizenscape pilots. Emma, Sarah and the design team at Public-i have been working away on this but I was asked to take part in a discussion about some of the principles behind citizenscape (what a treat!!!). The three questions we addressed were:

  • What do we mean by civic?
  • Who is going to be able to control what content gets included?
  • Who will be able to moderate the content once it is there?

This are all the kinds of questions that you might ask when you set up a community website – with a digital civic space the answers should be slightly different as this is a ‘networked public’ rather than a site which is under the control of a single person or organisation. This is a fairly abstract concept and it was really good to see that the work that Sarah and Emma have been doing to develop this with the community reps meant that in the main part they both understood as well as appreciated this difference.

As a result we ended up with some fairly different answers. Firstly, we agreed that civic was about an individual having the intention of talking to their community. Rather than being defined by the recipient ‘civic’ is defined by the instigator. This is a good way – we think – of helping to keep the space ‘open’ to new participants as it will not be defining what kind of content can be there. However, the group did want to describe the tone of the content and the way in which people should interact – there will be a code of conduct and this is something that I will ask Emma to update us on after her last trip as she has done more work on this.

We are now reaching the point where the Citizenscape site will be going live – will definitely be blogging on that – I’m really excited to see what happens when the theory hits the real world!

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