This blog has been inspired by some of the work that we (@steventuck and @spencerlwilson) have been doing regionally across Yorkshire and the Humber. Thanks to the support of Local Government Yorkshire and the Humber we have been running social media sessions for councillors, the full details of which can be found at cllrsocmed.
So far we have done two sessions, both of which have been real contrasts and posed different questions and challenges. At the heart of the issue is where do you start and what do you cover. This is a real conundrum for which, it seems, there is no consistent answer. Right at the outset it was clear that there was a real cross section of councillors at the two events, and I am not referring to their political affiliation. When recently facilitating the Local By Social on-line conference discussing councillors and social media I referred to four types of councillors in this context:
1. Perpetual sceptics - unlikely to be convinced (if you can crack the tough nuts, you're home and dry)
2. Curious yet cautious / fearful - with support and encouragement will begin to dip their toe
3. Grab it with both hands and run with it - self explanatory, they are the evangelists and will be key to supporting the curious yet cautious
4. The next generation - future councillors who will walk through the door following their election expecting social media as a tool in the same way that a computer and email are now seen as tools for the job
I think it would be fair to say that our first two sessions have had a good blend of types 1, 2 and 3. I look forward with interest to see if the May elections deliver a raft of type 4's. Whilst not wishing to generalise I think that our two sessions provided a microcosm of the current councillor / social media landscape. This is the whole point of this post - it's tough, it isn't one size fits all and it's a balancing act for anyone seeking to deliver support and development sessions.
On the one hand it is important to explore some of the concepts, understand the benefits and identify the risks. Some councillors wanted to know what all of the fuss was about, why should they even bother with this social media stuff, how was it going to help them in their roles as councillors? Some wanted to discuss and explore the problems and their real fears, some of which were technical, some reputational. On the other hand some councillors just wanted to be shown how to use the tools - "how do I get started" and "what do I do" were common questions. I guess that this all emphasises that councillors are coming to this debate from different starting points, with different needs and with different learning styles. It poses the dilemma - which should come first context / business case (chicken) or let's dive straight in (egg).
My personal view is that there needs to be space for all of this, but our sessions lasted over four hours and I felt we were still scratching the surface. The councillors who co-facilitated the sessions with us (@cllrtim and @simonmagus) were brilliant at bringing the whole debate to life from a councillor perspective - they thoroughly covered the "what's all the fuss about" dimension. I think we only partially satisfied those councillors who wanted to roll their sleeves up and get on with it. We perhaps needed a bit more social media surgery, but we ran out of time.
Since the session @steventuck has pulled together some on-line tools and posted them to cllrsocmed which we hope will be useful to those councillors who just want to get started. In future sessions we hope to look at how we can better strike the balance between context and getting started.
In summary, for others who might want to do some of this stuff for their councillors we have learnt:
- All councillors are different and come at this agenda from different starting points. This may be obvious but will need to be managed as part of any session
- Be prepared to be flexible with your session plans - we don't even bother with a structure now
- Co-deliver with councillors - they have the unique understanding from a councillor's perspective
- Be prepared for a little bit of a hard time - sorry but both sessions have been characterised by a segment where councillors DEMAND to be convinced why they should bother with this. Given that they are already very busy people I think that this is reasonable.
- Have a balance between democratic services and web team officer support on the day
- Get there early to make sure the technology is working
- Have a post-mortem / reflective meeting to share thoughts and learning
- Post your learning and keep in touch