Conferences and co-operation in The North

I have been out and about again over the last couple of weeks and the deadline for my research proposal is looming hence the lack of posts. I spent most of the weekend in the back of a VW campervan (hired from the excellent VWCampervans) on the Isle of Wight checking citations for the proposal so now seems like an excellent point to try and add a couple of thoughts to the blog. Its a beautiful day and as long as I can persuade my husband to make me another cup of tea then all will be well!

The week before last we were at out review for the eParticipate project which happily went very well and before that I was up in “The North” talking to a couple of councils about webcasting and also the virtual town hall pilot we are trying to pull together. In the course of this I met the excellent folks at Chorley who are doing some really good trials and experiments with social websites (check out their YouTube video). They seem to have hit just the right tone with this – its still council communications but it fits with the channel they are using really well.

This week I was once again in the North but this time it was Sheffield for the annual LGComms conference. It was a really good conference and I hope the team are pleased as it went very smoothly. We did some short reportage pieces from the event which you can view on YouTube and will be doing a longer edited piece as well. I did a workshop on social web stuff as well which I think went well (though clearly you will need to ask the participants!). The session was aimed at trying to put together some kind of strategic response to the now familiar “what are we going to do about Facebook” question. I think enough councils have experimented with these sites now for us all to need to start thinking beyond the thrill of getting 300 new friends to a strategic response which will still be relevant in three years time. Crucially this cannot just be a technology response – we need to have fit for purpose technology but we also need a strategy that addresses the social element of the web. At one level what we are really talking about is a strategy for the networked society.

The Virtual Town Hall project is intended to be a response to this strategic need because a keystone part of any strategy will be the need for Local Government to own the relationships with citizens rather than just chase them from site to site. Another part of a longer term strategy will be how the council organises themselves in order to support this new way of interfacing with citizens (at the same time as keeping the offline methods working too). Three main observations about this:

  • In the same way as every conversation with a member of the public is a communication opportunity (how many times have you been asked about rubbish collections while in the pub!) councils will need to equip all staff who are online to talk to the public appropriately
  • You will not be able to manage all of the moderation within Councils – citizens will need to be involved and used as a resource to do this (which links in very well to the idea of co-creation.
  • The citizen relationship has always been managed from multiple locations within the council but with a shared environment like Facebook you will need to get organised – this probably means a loose coalition of democratic services, community engagement, communications and customer service in order to make this really work

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