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 November 2013

Mr Speaker and #LocalGov Digital

 “The challenge is how we reconcile traditional concepts and institutions of representative democracy with the technical revolution which we have witnessed over the past decades or two which has created both the demand for and an opportunity to establish a digital democracy.  Quietly, over past decades, a radically different world has emerged which in time will make the industrial revolution seem minor” - Mr Speaker to the Hansard Society 27 November 2013, Towards a 21st Century Parliament

(Full transcript of the speech here)

Sometimes don’t you find that the planets just seem to line up perfectly.  On 10 December the LocalGov Digital Steering Group will celebrate its one year(ish) birthday.  Indeed a cause for celebration.  Its Chair @carlhaggerty has deservedly received the Guardian’s Public Service Leadership Excellence Award *cheers*.  Speaker Bercow shines a light on Parliament and raises the profile of an issue that means an awful lot to some of us – democracy in a digital age.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the Rewiring Local Democracy work stream of LocalGov Digital will be launched on 10 December *tips hat to @Localopolis*.  Nothing big or fancy at the moment, but all of a sudden it seems a little more relevant.  About time some might say

“For representative democracy to thrive it has to evolve and there has to be a step change improvement in its responsiveness to the electorate and the country at large.”

As a digital democracy advocate, and a fully paid up member of the local government club, I personally welcome the widening out of the debate.  The bedrock and heart of local government is its democratic mandate and democratic legitimacy.  The challenges we face in local government, the lessons we are learning and the innovation that is taking place is relevant to the work of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy.  That said, the real challenge, for the Commission and local councils, is to ensure the focus is on citizen engagement, participation and involvement in the breadth of democracy and the processes that underpin it.  As @curiousc has said before it’s more than councillors (politicians) using Twitter.  The Steering Group believe that local public services must be Open by Default  -Digital by Design, relevant considerations for the Commission’s work.

Officers and elected councillors have done some great work over recent years to test, challenge and embrace digital – the learning is relevant and transferrable.  As Speaker Bercow says, it is important that the work of the Commission is “seen outside of Zone One of the London Underground Network”.  Couldn’t agree more.

It is for this reason that the Steering Group will proactively seek to inform the work of the Commission either directly or as part of public hearings and calls for evidence.  Watch this space.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The End of an Era?

The Beginning
This is a very personal post that just had to be written.  It is intended for an audience of two.  I have just returned form the LGA Conference where I have been doing more of the councillor / social media stuff which I've blogged about in the past.  This post is not about that.

This post is about two gents who I have had the good fortune to work with over the last three years.    Thanks to Ken Eastwood having the foresight to put a councillor / social media session on at LocalGov Camp Yorkshire and the Humber I met Councillors Tim Cheetham and Simon Cooke.  Since then we have worked together across the region trying to raise the profile and discussion around all things democratic and social media.  They have both visited the Council I work for to help me spread the word.  Our work together has been captured and shared here
The End?

Here's my take on Simon and Tim.  Ideologically they probably couldn't be much further apart, but they have quite a few things in common.  They are passionate about being a councillor, they genuinely believe in representing their communities and making a difference.  They want to be representatives in a digital age and they want to support their colleagues on that journey.  They are very funny and have a unique sort of chemistry.  All this I have observed.

For reasons which aren't really material to this post I think today may be the last time that all three of us will collaborate.  As Simon tweeted as we chatted over lunch - it had a bit of an end of an era feeling.  If that's the case perhaps it's fitting we ended on the national stage at the LGA Conference.

As an officer it goes with my territory that relationships with councillors remain professional, neutral and independent.  I think I kept my part of the bargain over the last three years.  That said I think I can also say that we worked well together and genuinely got on - this is a good thing and something I look back on with great pride.  So this is my chance to say thanks, it was a real blast.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Networked Cllrs - Some Initial Thoughts

What better way to end my hiatus from blogging than to reflect back on a Round Table discussion I was invited to attend today to discuss The Networked Cllr research piece.  The session was facilitated by the report author Catherine Howe (@curiousc) who was joined by a cracking panel of experts from across the sector - officers and councillors alike.

On a general note I feel the report has provided a bit of a hallelujah moment in that it has empirically and anecdotally given some real traction to areas which some of us have seen as really important for some time.  I've banged on in the past about councillors and social media and, along with others tried to do my bit to raise the profile of the importance of local representative democracy in a digital age.  All worthy stuff but there has always been a need for an evidence base to move us forward beyond what we intuitively thought was the right path.  I think we now have a sound platform from which to build as the report moves through its next iteration.  Comments and views are welcomed on the report and I would encourage you to inform the work as it develops.

In terms of my reflections, I'll start with some grumbles and then finish with some positives.

  • Officers, Are You Helping or Hindering? - As a fully paid up member of the officer club I get little satisfaction from reporting that we could really do a lot better to support the development of Networked Cllrs.  Over two years ago when we were doing the CllrSocMed sessions in Yorkshire and The Humber there were a number of themes which emerged in all sessions.  One in particular was the reluctance of officers in IT to open up access to social media and the other was the inherent need for officers to develop codes, protocols and rules that councillors should abide by.  I am an officer who understands that an implicit part of my role is to protect councillors but I cannot ignore evidence that indicates in so doing we are putting barriers in the way of councillors embracing opportunities and potential benefits.  I'll probably look at this in more detail in another post, particularly in terms of the need for a different support model for councillors that is better equipped to tackle these thorny issues.
  • Councillors, Are You Leading the Debate? - This grumble follows on nicely from the one above.  Councillors have the solutions to the real and perceived officer barriers at their fingertips.  They take the decisions, have a fundamental role in setting priorities and the culture of the councils they are members of.  If we accept that councillors need the IT tools for the job, access to social media and a support model that facilitates the development of the Networked Councillor then come on councillors start saying that these things are important within your own councils.  Surely a climate where councillors are the best and most effective they can be is one that benefits local residents, the council and, dare I say it, officers.
Moving swiftly on, some observations on parts of the report and todays discussion:
  • The Case is Compelling - democratic participation is declining, election turnout figures demonstrate this.  On-line participation and accessibility  is growing.  There is a compelling case to connect these two issues for the benefit of local democracy.  Whilst not the panacea, the Networked Cllr concept is a powerful enabler.
  • It's Not About Twitter - I am heartened that there is an increasing number of councillors getting more social media savvy - this is good.  I am even more encouraged that we are, hopefully, moving away from discussions about the tools and beginning to focus on the skills and etiquette of elected representatives operating in digital spaces.  A lot of todays discussion was about being effective in those spaces as opposed to "how do I use Twitter?" or "why should I bother?"  
  • Identity and Reputation Are Important - whilst councillors do not want to be bound by rules and protocols (the existing ones suffice e.g. the National Code of Conduct) they are concerned about their identity and reputation in digital spaces.  In particular they want to better understand the rules of engagement in instances where they are interacting with "anonymous" users and those who are "challenging" - trolls.  I would hope that, as the Networked Cllr work progresses, thought is given to striking a balance between equipping councillors with the confidence and support to be effective whilst not binding them with protocols or frightening them off completely.
  • Communicative, Collaborative, Co-Productive - I particularly like the way in which the report findings begin to explore the ways in which a Networked Cllr can be active in digital spaces.  The 3Cs provide a really helpful framework for addressing some of the issues raised above whilst also having the fluidity to ensure that councillors are not pigeon holed.  If I understand the concept correctly the 3Cs are inter-changeable and used as appropriate to particular circumstances.  They also provide helpful context around which to consider and construct development.
  • Networked - Finally, one message was loud and clear.  Networked is not just about digital.  If a councillor is not networked off-line then chances are that he/she wont pull it off on-line.  This is perhaps obvious, but very true.  We mustn't forget this.
I'm sure there is much more to share, but plenty of time as the discussion will continue - join in if you haven't already