Networked Councillor – leading in shifting sands

11 Aug

I was asked to share my notes from my LGA innovation zone presentation on the Networked Councillor programme. I focused very much on the strategic drivers and potential scenarios that the social web (both technologically and sociological changes) are brining for civic leaders. It is natural, to an extent, for local government to focus very much on the ‘austerity’ agenda but if this is the sole focus we risk being driven into a purely transactional relationship with the public taking the corporate model of customer relationships to a logical but ultimately democratically destructive one. This model would involve increased hypothecation and the digital relationship would be focused on service provision and the customer service relationship.

And, this at a time, where there is a huge civic interest in decision making, data, and joint action for place. The Networked Councillor research and delivery to date really shows that there is an appetite for an alternative scenario both from the public and councillors who desire a different future and are actively shaping that now: This is a future where the citizen is more engaged with both democracy and service provision and that taxation only forms part of the relationship. This civic relationship can be driven by social attitudes shifts that sccial technology have either amplified or even arguably prompted.

These options are based on corporate scenario planning which I blogged about when I was at Bluelight Camp (thinking about digital leadership in policing) you can see the short video and blog post  here.

There is a growing public desire and expectation for increased openness (transparency) and as ‘big data’ becomes the new cool kid on the block, leaders will need to be alert to the conversations and decision making that is needed to ensure that opportunities (economic and social) are met for the welfare of their communities and that the risks (misuse by corporates to further disadvantage already marginilised groups) are minimised.
There are emerging strong cultural characterics of a digital society are:

  • Networks – tribes of interest and skills Coproduction – the ability to deliver for ourselves as citizens whilst the politicians move obstacles from our paths and give us support
  • Digital – the new digital default is web 2.o – shareable, interactive and with this comes an expectation that feedback is required and can shape outcomes (the rise of the expert within networks)

So what does this mean for networked councillors:

  • Digital natives – comfortable with social technology and culture – understanding virtual tone and body language, recognising influencers and connectors and very reciprocal
  • Able to use networked power or hierarchical power as appropriate
  • Open – able to think in public and allow people to share their stories and ideas budget)
  • Coproductive – mainly characterised a belief that citizens hold most of the answers and ability and expertise to act for their own communities – this is not necessarily cost saving. It could move costs tho into prevention and engagement if an organisational approach but overall tackling things better

Most of all we see a passion for democracy…and many councillors want to get more people involved, confident and voting who come on the course or get interested in the topic. They see digital tools as an opportunity to improve it.

So, the most obvious early effect is disintermediation – this means people addressing you directly in real time rather than going through a process first. So it could be “why hasn’t my rubbish been collected?” or “What is your opinion on fracking?”

You may have always had those questions but now all can see your conversation officers, other residents, other parties, unions etc. rather than overhear the conversation on the bus or in the corridor. This changes the skill set of leadership as your leadership is more observed and your need to be consistent with all stakeholders means that living your values all day every day is more important than ever. No more will councillors be semi-anonymous people quoted in the paper. But, rather, the person that is bumped into frequently online. A bit like the impact digital has had on the police where the village green informal conversations and relationship have reemerged, the public now get the chance to have that opportunity to bump into us again and mostly, that gives local councillors a chance to show their value and reestablish their informal connection to communities that hasn’t been possible (especially for urban councillors) for a generation at least.

If you are interested in the research and the learning and development programme please see the Public-i blog here or contact @curiousc via twitter to express interest. You can also email for more information.



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