Council rules of engagement for the social web: V0.0

Well the good thing about this research proposal writing is that it does get me thinking about other things in a massive work avoidance scheme. That and the fact the day is so beautiful means that progress on the main project is slow!!

Anyway, I have been thinking more about the tension that councils face between the need to set content free online in order to respond to the people’s expectations around “web 2.0” (and to benefit from its potential) and the equally strong need to ensure that this content is managed responsibly. This is a major cultural shift for most councils – away from a ‘command and control’ stance and towards something far more collaborative. I am just talking here about democratic and consultative content though there is also a conversation to be had about web 2.0 transactional services I am not the person to have it!

Its very easy to say that its all public content and so should be made publicly available because this is obviously true – but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. The difficulty comes in the complexities of the information and the fact that dealt with out of context many parts of the democratic conversation can be confusing and misleading. Data is only information when people understand it.

There is a huge amount of experimentation needed to work though the question as to how Council’s should present themselves online but I think that there needs to be at least an initial ‘rules of engagement’ conversation within the council so that all the people involved – officers, members and citizens – are engaged in this experimentation. This is the perpetual beta after all and the more people you get testing the better….

So – to start building those rules of engagement these are the questions and principles I would get a council to consider (some of these are from the earlier post of webcast meetings):

  • There is a basic principle that public content should be public – and online this means it should be portable and reusable

  • Context is important – it does not help the democratic debate if people do not have access to the full discussion and its complexities. Therefore content needs to be made portable in a way which keeps the integrity of the discussion intact – perhaps by chopping content into agenda items for instance and keeping links to explanatory documents

  • There needs to be traceability and the means to draw the viewer back to the formal civic space to react to the  content if they want to.  It would be a shame to get more eyeballs and not use them democratically
  • Think about the behaviours you want to encourage as much as the behaviours you want to avoid
  • Individuals as well as content need to be identifiable and traceable – and therefore accountable. This means citizens as well as officers and members
  • Debate is important wherever it happens – but if you want it to end in a decision or action then it needs to be in a format and place that the decision makers can respond to
  • Any moderation must be done in conjunction with citizens and if at all possible by citizens. This is best way of achieving a co-created debate as well as the most sustainable model in the long term

I think these ideas need to be debated with citizens as well as elected representatives and I think council officers need to facilitate them. We are doing something along these lines with Citizenscape so I will report back on progress there once we have run a few of the workshops. Am sure I will change my mind 3 times in the course of that process so will report back on that as well.

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