About Me

Full-time husband and dad, Head of Governance and Democratic Services at Kirklees Council. Passionate about democracy, local government, Sheffield United, my mountain bike and punk rock. Views here are my own

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Reflective Goodbye to a Punk Icon

I think it was Johnny Rotten who said "I don't have any heroes" - I hope he did anyway.  I unfortunately am something of a romantic who has heroes (or in this case a heroine).  The heroine of which I speak is the wonderful Poly Styrene - icon, innovator, singer, fashionista - and so much more.  It was yesterday that I belatedly heard of her passing, news which has proven to be a bit of a shock to the system.

I think the shock is partly explained by the stark fact that part of your youth, the person who (amongst others) provided the soundtrack to some of your rites of passage is suddenly gone.  I am beginning to realise that a cruel bi-product of getting older is that your heroes and heroines are on that same treadmill of time, a treadmill that in some cases moves a bit too fast for my liking.  Johnny Thunders, most of the Ramones, Stiv Bators, Malcolm McClaren, Lux Interior, Arthur "Killer" Kane, Ian Dury, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Joe Strummer, Nikki Sudden, Ari Up - all gone.

I guess all of this is an inevitability but for some reason the passing of the people who play cameo parts in your life gets harder each time.  That said, I will remember Poly Styrene and X Ray Spex in my own way. It was 1978 and this strange and intriguing vision appeared on Top of the Pops singing The Day the World Turned Day-glo.  I was immediately transfixed, aided in no small part by my Dad saying "What's this bloody rubbish".  That was the starting point of a brief but throughly rewarding relationship.  Later X Ray Spex became one of the bands I played before going out with my mates to The Limit Club in Sheffield - great times.  As I write this post I am listening to Germ Free Adolescents, looking back fondly on a time when it felt like music such as this was all you needed. In many ways it was, and quite often still is.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Councillor - You've Been Warned

By chance I came across an article in the Independent yesterday with the headline - Councillor, 18, Gets Facebook Warning.  OK, lets unpick this one before I let my biased views come spilling through.

Lets look at the facts.  We have a young councillor - this is good.  We have a councillor who is a user of social media - this is good.  We have a council that rightly wants to manage its reputation and support a new councillor in their new role - this is good.  

The problem is, none of these are the main features of the story.  The portrayal is one of a bureaucracy seeking to clip the wings of a new comer who might have some desires to use these social media gadgets to make "inappropriate comments". 

I think this cameo piece illustrates a lot of the challenges that forward thinking authorities and their councillors face.  The easy headline, which coincidentally portrays the councillor and the local authority in a less than positive light, perpetuates a climate where both retreat into a place that hinders innovation, engagement and dialogue using new media.

Bit of a shame really.  Lots of work still to do then.

Linked Posts:

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Democratic Digital Engagement - A Blueprint for Local Government?

Democracy Dude
This post was born across the Twittersphere - an appropriate product of the social media age given the subject matter.  Social media facilitated off-line contact between two (as it turns out) like minds.

Anyone who is interested in local democracy, the role of councillors, decision making and forward thinking practice in terms of democratic engagement should follow Dave McKenna (
@localopolis).  I did and have nothing but admiration for the work he and colleagues are doing at Swansea.

We have developed a dialogue over the last few months, a dialogue based on our shared passion for local democratic legitimacy and the opportunities that social media presents. Our on-line dialogue very recently progressed to a telephone conversation where we kicked about a few ideas (and our shared liking for
New Model Army) and loosely agreed to do something, but we weren't sure what. 

Three e-mail conversations (and much work by  Dave) later we agreed to share what we have so far.  We have tried to take our passions, interests and day jobs and try and set out some ways in which this whole local democracy thing can be made, well, more engaging, exciting and meaningful to local people.  As we pinged e-mails back and forth the challenge was clearly where to stop (should we present our views in the context of the Localism Bill, what about local politics, what are the implications for officers?...).

We came to the conclusion that the best thing would be to share our initial thoughts in their raw form to, hopefully, stimulate a discussion.  Presented below is the fruits of our on-line and off-line labours. It is a first pass at "Five Essential Features of Local Digital Democracy"

What is Local Digital Democracy?
§  Local digital democracy means using social media to make a bridge between the formal world of local politics and the real world of real people
§  It means being clear that local government is not just about services – it has a distinct and important democratic role with elected local councillors at its heart
§  It means recognising that the world is changing.  Social media is changing the way the world works – local democracy needs to catch up
§  It means recognising that local democracy needs stronger citizen engagement
§  It means building from the traditional ways of doing things and using online tools to make them work better and reach more people
Why Local Digital Democracy is Good for Everyone
  • The council as a whole is more effective, innovative and efficient  - it helps employees get better connected with decision making and each other 
  • The reputation of the council is improved both internally and externally
  • Councillors can raise their individual profiles and get their messages across more effectively
  • Improved citizen engagement makes for better policy development and decision making 
  • Citizens learn more about their elected councillors and can hold them to account better
  • Councillors will have better information and intelligence about the patches they represent.  Better informed councillors can lead the debate in their communities and in the council. 
  • Councillors can make better decisions by getting the right information at the right time
  • Councillors can reach more of their constituents quickly and easily
  • Citizens can quickly and easily find information about the decisions that affect their community and the issues that they are concerned about
  • Officers can conduct research more quickly and easily saving them time and the council resources
  • Young people are provided with a greater opportunity to engage with the democratic process on their terms
  • Local politics can reach a wider audience and encouraging more people to vote and maybe even consider public office - local digital democracy can help attract the next generation of councillors and this will definitely be online!
The Five Essential Features of Local Digital Democracy
1.         Online Councillors
  • Whether blogging, tweeting or facebooking, councillors are the human element of the local democratic process – local digital democracy won’t work without ‘em
  • Councillors have democratic legitimacy through elections – their participation gives online democracy legitimacy
  • Councillors will need skills, knowledge and tools to be key players in democratic digital engagement.  They will therefore need support from their Councils
  • Social media can help local political parties to work more effectively by improving internal and external communiciatons
  • Check out ….. to see what is already happening…  CllrSocmed
2.         Social Council Decision Making
  • Agendas, minutes and reports tell the story of local democratic deliberation and decision making but the way they are presented and organised makes engagement close to impossible to all but the most dedicated
  • By breaking everything down into bitesize chunks, like status updates or tweets, it becomes possible to share, tag and comment.
  • Bitesize chunks can also be made transportable so they can be used on whatever social media platform people are using
  • You can find some more thinking along these lines at Localopolis
3.         Social Council Meetings
  • Council meetings are the live action of the local democratic process
  • Live tweeting and blogging brings the action from council meetings to a wider audience
  • Social media interaction can facilitated to allow online citizens to feedback and ask questions
  • Engagement through social media may be the first step to observation and even participating in person
  • See the Kirklees experience
4.         Social Local Elections
  • Local elections are the most dramatic aspect of the local democratic process but campaigns can be lost in the traditional media in the noise of national politics
  • Digital engagement can create spaces, such as online hustings, for local campaign issues to be aired and debated and for candidates to promote their campaigns
  • Digital engagement also provides a way for election teams to raise awareness of the elections and encourage higher levels of registration and turnout
  • Having social media elections, with social media candidates, who become social media councillors helps a wider group of people make the connection between the ballot box, the individual and their role as community leader and decision maker
  • You can find an example here from Calgary
5.         A Local Digital Democracy Community
  • Digital engagement in local democracy is not the same as engagement in local government – often this is seen as being just about delivering services
  • The promoting of citizenship and online local democracy through initiatives such as Local Democracy Week (I’m a councillor get me out of here) needs a distinctive identity both locally and nationally
  • Every local area has a digital ecosystem that can be cultivated and supported – someone needs to be making sure everything works together to produce the best results
  • Local councils should take the lead locally and act as local democratic hubs, organisations such as the LGA and LGIU need to take the lead nationally
  • National social media platforms, such as the Knowledge Hub can provide the platform for a national democratic community to share good practice and ideas
Underlying local digital democracy are five themes that help the local digital ecosystem to flourish and need to guide those involved:
§  Connectability – Everything needs to be designed so that it connects to everything else (widgets, links, transportability)
§  Customisability – Everything needs to be set up so people can decide who and what they want to engage with
§  Sociability  - Effective digital engagement will require a whole new language for those involved in the local policy process – the arcane language of council meetings won’t work on facebook.  It also means putting real people at the front of engagement, not functions, teams or meetings.
§  Accessibility – Not everyone is online and not every online person ‘does’ social media.  This means both ensuring that non digital remain effective and that opportunities and encouragement are there for those ‘new starters’ that want to engage
§  Openness – This means both being willing to share information and ideas at all stages but also ensuring that there is clarity, honesty and realism about engagement so that there are no false expectations, and clear   

Saturday, 5 February 2011

I Blame the Officers

Last week saw the last of our social media sessions for councillors.  It was a great finish in Leeds where we had a cracking group of enthusiastic and interested councillors from across the region.  Full details of those sessions can be found at Cllrsocmed.  

Over the course of the five sessions there was one theme that was coming out loud and clear - the officers are the problem.  Now let's make it clear, I am a fully paid up member of the officer corps and have worked with councillors a long time.  The officer / councillor dynamic is no different to any relationship, it's complex, multi-faceted and often subjective.

That said, the majority of the councillors who attended our sessions were clearly of the mind that their organisations and their officers were barriers to progressing their social media journey.  It gives me no satisfaction to say that IT, Web, Comms and Democratic Services all came in for some degree of criticism.  Problems ranged from the outright banning of social media, to the lack of developmental support and the provision of tools (telephony in particular) that were not up to the job.  Whilst councillors did not want to be spoon fed, they did want a degree of importance placed on this whole agenda by their own organisations.  The word "culture" cropped up a few times and I think this is important.

I am pretty sure that organisational culture is not entirely determined by its officers.  It is for this reason we turned these discussions back to the councillors in the room.  They and their councillor colleagues provide the political leadership, they take the decisions.  Perhaps they have a considerable role in what happens next on their social media journey.  I got the feeling that some of those councillors intended to take the discussions back into their organisations and affect the necessary cultural change.  I hope so.  Through Cllrsocmed we are hoping to keep in touch with those councillors and find out "what happens next".  Watch this space.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Governance and Councillors - Some Social Media Resources and Ideas

Last week there was a really good Twitter discussion superbly facilitated by @LouLouk as part of the #lgovsm series of Friday get togethers.  If you've not checked them out I suggest you do - 1.00 p.m. - 2.00 p.m. every week.  A priceless opportunity to share your ideas, work and challenges with some brilliant folk who are willing to share.

The theme for the discussion last Friday was Councillors and Social Media.  In advance (at Lou's request) I quickly pulled together a few resources to facilitate the debate.  This post is intended to add to that list and try and put in place the stuff (and people) I've come across so far that might be of use to others.  Some of this will include work I've been involved in at Kirklees, but won't be totally parochial (I promise).  So, in no particular order:

A brilliant and comprehensive account of all matters Councillors / Social Media can be found in the excellent Connected Councillors produced by, what was, the Improvement and Development Agency.  For me this is a brilliant resource that captures all the key issues, benefits and case studies in one place.  For officers and councillors alike it sets out the context in a way that makes the arguments in favour compelling.  My own copy is now dog eared such has been its value to me as a regular reference point.  Good stuff and a good starting point for taking the discussion into your organisation.

No social media session for councillors can ever be complete without a reference to TweetyHall.  Every time we have delivered such sessions we have used TweetyHall to not only explain what Twitter is, but also graft its importance to the representative role by showing politicians in action in the Twittersphere.  It is also a brilliant short cut for councillors who want to follow their councillor colleagues asap - they are all there in one place, brilliant.

Another understandable area to work through is the worries that naturally arise for councillors when contemplating using social media.  I've blogged previously about the "types" of councillor on the social media journey and there are inevitably some who want reassurance as to their role, identity and responsibilities.  I have called these the "curious yet cautious".  There's some good guidance out there to use as a reference point (although in many respects there is no substitute for common sense) e.g. the Blogging Quick Guide and tips on Blogging and Facebook for Councillors.  Personally I like the simple messages - if you wouldn't say it in a public meeting, don't say it on-line.  Seems to get the message across.  If that doesn't do the trick there are some examples out there that show what can go wrong - here's one Dave Briggs blogged about.

When we've run sessions with councillors it's always good to have some cracking first hand examples of the politicians who are using this stuff to good effect.  There are a lot of councillors out there who are using blogs and I only name check the following because I've come across them and thought they reflected diverse examples of the possibilities - Cllr Daisy Benson, Cllr Tim Cheetham, Cllr Simon Cooke, Cllr Andrew Cooper.  All different in their own right and all major political parties covered there - I'm an officer remember.

In terms of some of the learning we've collected as part of working with councillors in the context of social media this has been pulled together as part of Cllrsocmed.  This is basically an ongoing project in Yorkshire and the Humber involving myself @steventuck and @spencerlwilson.  I'm not going to go on at length about this stuff, its all there for anyone who is interested.  In the context of this post I'd suggest looking at the Tips section and the videos that Steve has produced in response to request from councillors at our sessions.  Our learning journey continues and we'll keep posting stuff up there when we get chance.

In terms of work taking place in other authorities I've come across some stuff that I really like and admire.  Anyone wanting to see innovation should look no further than the stuff that Dave McKenna (@Localopolis) and colleagues are doing at Swansea.  Their approach to overview and scrutiny using a social media approach is cutting edge governance activity in my humble opinion.  Similarly, I really like the work that Monmouthshire is doing.  I love their Twitter Q&A work and the councillor fronted budget work they have done using YouTube.  I also note that Blackburn and Darwen (like Kirklees ) are now Tweeting Council meetings and @Tomsprints has plans afoot for Kent.  I would also recommend checking out the work the Michele Ide-Smith is doing in Cambridgeshire which she is meticulously capturing on her blog. I'm sure there are many more, but I haven't found them yet - please let me know.

Turning briefly to Kirklees.  We're rolling our webcasting at a pace now (some real opportunities when used alongside other social media I think), looking at other media for Councillors Annual Reports, have re-designed our councillor profiles on our website to make them more informative and individual to the councillor.  We're using Twitter to promote our meetings, councillor surgeries and overview and scrutiny.  We're currently looking at delivering a different overview and scrutiny offer using social media and are taking an holistic look at the social media opportunities for Governance and Democratic Services as a whole.  I think the opportunities are significant - political group support, decision making processes, support for ward councillors, local government elections, information and intelligence for community leaders, ward surgeries, promoting democracy and democratic engagement..... I could go on.

This has been my own attempt to share what I've come across (I haven't got time right now to share some of the stuff I've found from other countries, that will have to be another post) - please reciprocate, we're all in this together after all.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Its Your Council - Join In (A Positive Footnote)

A few weeks ago I blogged about our webcasting / Tweeting Council meetings experience at Kirklees (Its Your Council - Join In).  The reason for  the post was to share our learning and generate some interest and debate.  Looking back now, I was genuinely surprised at the attention it attracted and the discussions it sparked.  We received enquiries from officers across the sector and were the subject of a case study by those lovely folk at Tweety Hall.

All of this is brilliant in itself, but there is now another dimension to the experience, one that is worth sharing.  You may recall that in the post I wanted to give another perspective on Tweeting meetings, one that differed from the pervading media line that had been reported so regularly elsewhere.  It was the line that focussed on the negatives - councillors not showing respect, not concentrating, using Twitter like naughty schoolboys / girls electronically passing notes across the Council Chamber.  The benefits of opening up democracy, stimulating public engagement and interest, raising awareness around decision making, seeing politicians in action - none of these stories featured.  Where are the positive stories?

Well, here's one - Hundreds Tune in for Kirklees Council Webcasts.   It would have been easy I guess to write more of the same negative stories that have been a feature in the past.  Credit where credit is due - the piece is a very positive one.  
I hope this post provides encouragement to other councils considering exploring social media to open up democracy - there are some good news stories.  Finally, I would add that evidence is invaluable in making a compelling argument - the stats are an important consideration when trying to make the business case.