What is a networked councillor? We’re going to find out…

We’re involved in an exciting project that is looking at how new technology can change the relationship local councillors have with the public.

We know that the advent of social media in particular has allowed councillors to tap into online networks, changing the way some are communicating with residents. But what is the appropriate level of ambition for councillors as a result? And how can they best take advantage of those opportunities?

Commissioned by Improvement East, the project will culminate in a report that tries to answer these questions and, in particular, start to sketch out what a networked councillor should actually look like. Hence that question in the title, obviously.

Of course we have our own ideas…

The  coming of the Police and Crime Commissioners in particular has helped our thinking greatly. Because it’s an entirely new form of democracy, it’s prompted us to start to consider, if you were starting from scratch, what a democratic relationship would look like in a networked world.

The first thing to stress is that this is not really about technology; it’s about culture change. Technology has made it possible for people to communicate directly without the need for mediators. While councils traditionally use press officers to talk to newspapers, who then pass on the message to readers, increasingly those same readers can talk to councillors and officers on Twitter. That facilitates a different relationship than may have existed before. In other words technology, in removing those mediators, has changed our expectations and our attitudes to local authorities. (Catherine writes about this here).

We think that responding to this change requires councils and councillors to think about four specific principles that help to capture those changing expectations… These are:-

  • Networked – as in able to respond to and link with the networks that are developing online.
  • Open by default – to commit to making sure wherever possible things are done in the open. That includes open data, but also open culture – and working practice that encourages the sharing of ideas. We’ll talk more about this.
  • Digital by default – to recognise that making things digital can help to facilitate a more responsive, two-way relationship with the public, but that it doesn’t mean that you can’t use other ways to get to hard-to-reach groups.
  • Agile – this is really about understanding that with the changes we’ve seen organisations and individuals will need to be more responsive and flexible to change. Again, we’ll be saying more about this!

There’s much more to say, but rather than go on I thought we should finish with a short interview with Catherine Howe, the architect of all this!

As mentioned in the video there’ll be a Networked Councillor event planned for late October. We’ll be sharing more details about that very soon (sorry, I know Catherine said I’d give the date, but that will have to wait). Catherine also said we’d like to find what you think. You can do that by commenting below or by filling out our survey here. Cheers!

Update: the event, which was planned for the 26th of October has now been postponed.

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