Catherine at Councillor Camp: webcasting and the digital future of councillors

Over the weekend Catherine spoke at the FutureGov-organised Councillor Camp that brought together people interested in the future of elected local-authority members.

Catherine wore several hats at the event, including chief executive of the largest provider of webcasting to local government and expert on how local government should be engaging in digital spaces. These two are not mutually exclusive – in fact they are very much related – but as Catherine points out in her post on the event, there is an important debate at the moment going on about how much councillors need to be active online.

Catherine spoke at a session at the event, too, which was praised in a post by Councillor Kate Butler here.

I think it might be worth shamelessly repeating what Kate wrote – partly because it’s very kind and because it offers a nice synopsis of Catherine’s session: “This is a woman of ferocious intellect who talks at the speed of light and in a day of discovery she was my most precious find. Catherine gave us expert insight into gathering evidence on digital exclusion in our wards and how to go about mining for more granular data to better connect with residents. In her session on building civic architecture she urged us to open up the agenda-setting process and create truly open and representative digital civic spaces.”

While Catherine goes over much of what she spoke about in the post, she also makes some interesting points to add to the debate’s more general conversation. In particular she argues that much more needs to be done if we are to meet the aims of behavioural change and channel shift that many are now linking to council’s use of online technology and social media.

Here are her points:-

  • Skills: We do not have enough of the relevant skills to make the behavioural as well as channel shift to digital either within the member population or the officer population. We either need to start widening our recruitment or thinking very hard about the kind of offer we are making to people – and perhaps both.
  • Training and Support: We need to kick it up a gear. Half-hearted sessions on how to use Twitter are not enough – we need to completely overhaul member support.
  • We cannot just create a fantastic collaborative and vibrant online conversation with the public in the way that many of the active Councillors were demonstrating and not think seriously about how we change the process of policy and decision making. We need democratic service redesign.
  • We will not be able to really use social media as a democratic tool without breaking it out of the contextual confinement of being treated simply as another communication channel.

Read the whole blog post here.

Catherine’s point on channel shift (essentially aiming to get more people interacting online with the council rather than in more expensive ways, like face-to-face or telephone) is timely because Dan Slee makes the point today that this may become the most important yardstick by which council communications teams’ use of social media is measured.

Of course, councillors’ use of social media is the chief concern of our work on the Networked Councillors project, commissioned by Improvement East. Soon we should be publishing the beta draft of the Networked Councillors report, authored by Catherine, which considers why it is essential for councillors to become more familiar with social media and embrace the network society. This beta version of this report, which will be published to invite comments before a final version is considered at an event later this year, should be coming soon.

This follows the APCC’s guide, Digital democracy – Building new relationships with the public, which makes the case for police and crime commissioners to use social media in their engagement with the public – and goes on to set different levels of ambition they can achieve in their use of new technology. While the two documents are ostensibly for different audiences they consider many issues that are pertinent to elected representatives in general – and we’d recommend you read the APCC Guide and subscribe to the blog to find out more.

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