Why email when you can blog about networked councillor?

We’ve been working on the networked councillor programme for a while now and so its really exciting to see the first two groups up and running in Suffolk and West Sussex (two more to follow in Cambridgeshire and Solihull as well). I have said all along that I expect to learn as much from these as the participants will and this post is my first action learning reflection on this. This first module is all about digital presence – the objective over the 6 week period is for participants to have a digital footprint which they feel reflects who they are and fits with their communication style and workflow. Its about creating a place to stand in the digital world that feels safe and manageable.

This blogpost is by way of an update on the programme but its also a piece of ‘thinking in public‘ which is saving me the separate job of emailing the team with my thoughts on what we need to tweak for the next group. This is an example of the kind of shifts in workflow we are trying to encourage people to make in order to avoid online engagement becoming an extra job but instead to make it an integral part of the way in which people work together. Why write an email when it could be a blogpost? My hope is that participants will feel like commenting on this – but we shall have to wait and see!  In any case we will check these observations with participants as well as with the rest of the team and the folks at EELGA.

My reflections come under three main headings:

  • Content
  • Shape and structure
  • Logistics and the practical stuff

I think overall the content for this session worked well. I think we need to strengthen it in three places:

  1. More detail on some of the platforms and tools that people could use
  2. Better information on curation and aggregation
  3. A section on workflow management tools (related to aggregation but not identical)

Ideally I’d like to have summary content in the presentation and then be able to go to more detailed slides if the discussion takes us there – these extra slides can later be shared as background reading and would double up as handouts for the weeks when we are not meeting participants.

I think we could improve some of the stuff on the network society at the start and we need to add some examples of context collapse to help people with their thinking.  I really like the stuff on social signals and would like to put in more examples on this (Thanks to @huxley06 for this!).  I am not sure if my use of the word ‘disintermediation‘ is effective or self indulgent – but its an important concept so its staying in there. I might work on the slides to explain it more though.

The struggle in the content is in managing the balance between the ‘big picture’ stuff that people need in order to shape a strategy and the details that people need in order to actually get going. Part of the problem here is with me as a facilitator as I have a tendency to answer any question that gets thrown at me (makes me a nightmare at trivial pursuits) which can fragment the session. For the next workshop Daniel and I are going to try and actively park the technical questions on a question wall that we can then use to either inform the officer conversations or pick up in a more structured way later in the session. I wouldn’t want to shut down these questions as its vital that people have chance to ask anything that they want – but we have to make sure that we deal with them in a structured way otherwise we will not be helping people shape their knowledge.

Shape and structure
Part of the answer to this last point may be in the one to one work with the officers. A big element of the programme is the matching of members with officers who have the necessary social media skills. The idea is that we deliver the strategic stuff in workshops and then follow this up with tailored one to one to sessions on the technical stuff. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • We think members will learn more effectively in this format
  • It wastes less time – members don’t need to know the detail to get up and running
  • This is a great opportunity for members and officers to work together in different ways
  • It builds organisational learning and confidence

The initial work has definitely backed this up but I would like to survey participants at the end of the module to ask them for feedback on this (Siobhan – this is one for the todo list!).

With both West Sussex and Suffolk we have introduced members and officers after the first session with members. I think this is the right order but I think that the ideal would be to have officers join the group at lunch time and then spend a couple of hours after lunch working together. It would be good to try this with the group at Cambridgeshire if other people agree (please comment…hint…hint…).

Logistics and the practical stuff
These are all the boring (sorry!) but important things which if not done right get under people’s skin and distract them from learning:

  1. The diary planning is a nightmare and we need to schedule all of the sessions with both members and officers right at the start of the programme. Once you are ‘in flight’ its impossible to mess around with it and not lose people. With new programmes we should agree this upfront.
  2. That being said – we will have people missing the odd session so we need to decide how best to catch them up. This might be a different approach for different people
  3. We need to have a content plan that takes us through the whole of module/sprint one and then decide, based on participant questions, what we send to them when – this is basically Mel’s suggestion of a timeline
  4. We need to match this content with suggested activities in order to help lure people into becoming more active (this is nudging in public!!!). This means we need to get a team call in the diary once a week to decide this so that we can get those emails going out like clockwork (Siobhan – another one for you)
  5. We have to decide if we are calling them modules or sprints!

Unexpected byproducts, research and measuring things
The central purpose of the programme is to work with members to give them the skills they need to be more effective online. More effective doesn’t simply mean they understand social media though we would hope that they will. For us this is about exploring new ways of working with citizens and increasing elected representatives reach within the communities they want to work with. In order to measure the impact of this we will need to gather data about participants current reach so that we can measure how this has changed over the course of the programme. One simple measure will to ask people to retake the skills survey at the end of the programme.

We also aim to move people from being communicative with the public towards being more co-productive. I am not sure how we will evaluate this but I think it will be about the number of new ideas coming from the public as well as looking at whether more are resolved within the community rather than looking to the council or councillor for a solution. More thinking to be done here. It would also be good to look at whether our networked councillor networks provide better evidence for decision making – I think this is something that we will be able to quantify so will be looking at this.  This means we do need to get organised with making sure that we are capturing content from participants – this is one for Mel and the team to think about.

Finally, I think we need to look at network size – how many people can an individual member work with in this way? I am going to design some experiments around this to try out in module two and three.  I think this question of scale will be crucial not only to members but in the shaping of the future of member support. We will be touching on this question of member support throughout the programme and expect to come up with some interesting ideas.

The unexpected byproducts in all of this could come from new relationships between members and citizens but might also come from a new relationship between members and officers. It will be interesting to see whether by working in partnership like this changes behaviours.

We started this work because simply showing members how to use twitter is not enough to help them start using these tools and its not good enough for the techno-evangelists just to sit around waiting for the rest of the population to catch up. This is even more urgent if we look at the scale of transformation planned within local government – members and officers must have relevant and up to date skills to deliver on their ambitions.  I think this is a parallel ambition to the work we are doing in NHS Citizen and there is lots of cross sector learning here.

This means we need our elected representatives to be comfortable with the network society and I am hugely impressed by the way in which participants have embraced the opportunity to learn even if social media is not a natural or comfortable place for them to be personally. If I could draw I would have illustrated this post with a picture of me pinned to the wall with the force of the number of questions emerging from participants – I hope by the end of the programme they will be confidently answering these questions themselves.

Can’t wait for the next session!

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