Archive | June, 2013

On the road, learning about councillors

24 Jun

Last week, I spent most of it on the road listening to Councillors from around the country discussing the Networked Councillor report and findings. Councillors joined the discussion from rural and urban areas, from all parties and some like me are aspiring Councillors, some have been Councillors for decades.

Key points were:

– The networked Councillor is not the same thing as the digital Councillor. Networks exist on and offline. A networked Councillor understands the different communities within a geographical area and can bring conversations together where needed, knows who the influential voices and active volunteers (the people who get things done). Using this information, the Networked Councillor can work within those networks on and offline.

– As in offline meetings, online conversations can become dominated by a ‘ranty’ few who enjoy aggressive debate…when platforms/ hashtags or offline meetings become dominated by this noise, the majority can become put off. How we manage to listen well and curate conversations beyond these individuals will become increasingly important. This is about skills, about tools and, importantly about how the community or crowd affected by these individuals react to them.

– There is a generational tipping point in the population of Councillors and the expectations of the electorate about being able to communicate directly via social media upon us…how Councils support this transition will vary. There was a conversation about who should set the pace here: Councillors, the public or the council staff? This was contrasted with our views about who *should* set the pace. What do you think? What is your experience?

– A generation coming up now who won’t be able to arrive into politics with a perfectly sanitised past, they will arrive with a digital history from their early teens and networks too. How will we respond to this? Will this improve politics? Or will even more people be excluded before they start in politics?

– Is there an on-duty politician and off-duty politician anymore? I was reflecting on the role of police constable with this issue. So police officers might want to think about the similarities and differences and feedback.

The democratic point that is most important to me about Councils, Councillors and the public and how we all relate online is it offers us the chance to move Councils beyond ‘service providers’ with a relationship with the public that feels very ‘customer service’ orientated to one which is more civic and democratic.

Where a conversation can move between ‘satisfaction’ to ‘service design’ more easily and naturally.

Where Council accounts feel very different from ‘corporate’ accounts because the Council feels like it belongs to it’s citizens. I believe that social media behaviours drive this culture and that is a very positive thing.

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Okay…I am UP!

5 Jun

So, its happened, I have been selected as a candidate for our local council by-election. The area is Hanover and Elm Grove in Brighton. I live just across the road from the ward and my little girl is in reception in school in the area. It’s a brilliant area with amazing people and its been lovely to see friends, colleagues and the parents of my daughters’ classmates out and about. It is going to be an intensive six weeks but they deserve a candidate and a councillor who works hard, knows them and matches their passion for the area. I am determined not to let them down. They have fought against CPZ, parts of the ward have ongoing issues with their rubbish collection day and, they want their energy around community activities like the brilliant breast feeding support group and nursery to matched by the council. I promise to do that.

I know too, that there are two sides to the ward..people living quite good Brighton lifestyles and pockets of real deprivation and isolation. The resilience that the better off areas have in the face of cuts, real term reductions in income and pressures of rising living costs, is not matched by those living in the small estates. Shared issues are:

– Rubbish and recycling issues

– Parking

– Play space

– Support for community spaces and projects

– Protecting vital bus routes

– HMOs – quality/ security of tenure and impact on those living around them

Our positive policies are here.

I was motivated to move job last year in order to stand, my previous charitable sector job was restricted. I wanted to stand in 2015 to fight what I believe are both unfair and unwise policies having an shocking impact on the economy, on people’s health, on young people’s futures. Having worked in policy implementation at national, regional and local levels I was well aware that decisions would lead to a rise in homelessness and, people struggling to managing the basics: This is why I worked to found BHCoatsforKids and I am so proud of Cllr Penny Gilby working to set up a food bank for her ward in the city.I firmly believe in taking action on the issues you care about and working together with the community to make a change.

With the surprise of a Green councillor standing down , the by-election has moved the timetable to fighting to win now.

I am really focused on keeping the campaign positive, focusing on winning the arguments rather than critiquing the opposition. I believe people are fed up of negative campaigns and I want people to engage in the process and vote for the ideas that they like best. Idealistic, maybe? But I believe it takes more strength and leadership to engage in that way and is far more powerful than engaging in traditional adversarial theatre and spite. It sets out a statement of intent about how I will engage with the community if elected. Actions, and sometimes, inaction (like refusing to be drawn into unedifying squabbles) speak louder than words.

The digital element of the campaign and people being able to contact me directly is great. So far I have had some really interesting conversations about how to make the main road (Lewes Road) that borders the ward more bearable for those that use it: planting/ pocket parks/ shared space/ volume of off-licences/ proposed new mini supermarket/ empty shops.  Mostly, those engaging via digital are activists from one of the parties contesting the seat and in addition, there are strike threats in the city, so the Unions are very active too. It’s important to remember though, that reach goes beyond those who actually message or reply. Many people will observe the discussion before joining in.

Being a candidate suddenly changes all your relationships slightly, it is difficult not to react to this but just absorb and observe the impact. Mostly, it is positive. But, a lot of people are depending on your performance. . I am fortunate that my lovely workplace is 100% committed to democracy and is supporting me wholeheartedly in a non-partisan manner…also its lovely to have so many messages from friends and colleagues in the voluntary sector and, happy to face candidates who are like me, keen to win the argument (I will try not to let them 😉 ). Yes, some of the reaction isn’t so positive and some is downright painful, but I am not going to let that change my approach or rock my determination.

I will blog again on Saturday night about HEG13 – fingers crossed for the sun as I am joining story time in the park with my little one!

[Please understand: As a working mother, it is important that I am disciplined with my time, I can’t answer #HEG13 or facebook messages when I am working but I will deal with them as soon as I can. I will also ignore and ultimately block any interactions which I find offensive, or irrelevant to the campaign and policies.]