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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