Rewiring relationships: Collaborative councils and cyber citizens
Working with Barnet Council. At vanguard of local council. They’ve thrown open their doors and said what do you want to do? Hopefully we can role model for the other 400 LAs in the country. Embraced idea of moving from system thinking to live world thinking, i.e. previously a word of surveys and statistics, ‘best value performance indicator’ reports. Trying to get away from that into the lived experience of place by people. How do you understand people? Their real lives, their real needs.
Previously it was all about “communications”, corporate message. Trying to tackle that. In terms of the past, what we have tended to do is to use communications as a spotlight, not a laser beam – put stuff out there and hope people read it.
Have had some successes already. It’s not all old = bad, new = good. Newsletters can be useful as there are still issues around access to the internet so a mixed model is important. But right now, online is almost absent, yet at least 70% of people in Barnet access the internet once a week.
Are trying to be more visible. Barnet is quite good with traditional methods of engagement: civic network, citizens panel, service user groups, area forums etc. But it’s not enough to expect people to come to us, they don’t have time, physically can’t access the buildings.
Have done over 80 consultations, costing £200k, but that’s about have the budget for talking to customers.
Listening is pretty static – don’t do a lot of listening. Don’t really involve people in decision making. Need to make the case for change in Barnet, why they need to move towards social media. Video on YouTube about why social media is important.
Trained up half comms team in video – feel it’s very important aspect. Dominic has been brought in to blur the edges of the council. Atm, are just a rigid, bureaucratic structure that has little impact. Gov’t used to think that it could do everything, but that’s not the case. Need to provide tools for people to support each other, and to do things that gov’t can’t.
Need to get out into the world and do things that people think are important.
We Feel Fine, search engine of emotions on the internet, so when people feel something it’s dragged into that tool. Can analyse by feeling, emotion, gender, age group, location.
Would love a tool like this for Barnet. But Barnet means ‘haircut’ as much as anything else, so have to be intelligent about search. Barnet Football Club is very active and controversial.
But all these stuff is out there already, people are already putting out emotions about Barnet, how they feel, what they want change. So need to collate that.
Atm, we’re at basic level, we use Technorati and Google alerts. Found a blog called “I pay Barnet Council tax for this?”, blog about a private alleyway being used as a dump – it’s not really a council problem because it’s private, but engaged anyway. So commented on the blog and invited them to get in touch, organised a cross-org team to go down to the ally. Talking to the residents, and got the problem solved.
LeaderListens.com – opportunity to meet the council leaders at the church hall. Videoing the meetings, posting it on YouTube, letting the people in the area know about the event and the video, and inviting them to get involved. Conversation’s not over just because you missed 6pm – 8pm on Wednesday.
Live streaming of council meetings – lots of councils do this but does anyone care? Live chats also not valuable. More about longer-term conversations.
WhereILive.org – half started when Dominic arrived. Prefers open networks, but ended up having to develop a bit of a walled garden – multimedia consultation, rather than full-on social site. People can post comments about where they live, can upload videos, try to get the conversation going so they have different opportunities to get engaged.
Are now on Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter.
Are trying to walk the walk internally too. Got an internal wiki, Got the opportunity internally to talk. (Although they’re not allowed to call blogs blogs!) Filmed a meeting recently with senior members of the council, and put it on YouTube – you’d never see this, but now anyone could watch it.
Perfect future would be more engagement, conversation. Been approaching this strategy in interesting ways. Had a BarnetCamp to collaborate on the strategy around engagement. It was a first try – they hated the wikis. They don’t like editing. Had lots of views but not much contribution, but it did raise the profile and get things working.
We need to engage with people, understand what they are saying, and then turn that into policy, then action, then communicate that change back to the people. Organisation needs to be much more fluid and responsive. Getting closer but not there yet. Change management issue is huge. But are getting more interest from people internally.
Things are far more open and transparent – this is going to happen anyway, on people’s mobile phones. So why not just do it anyway? Need to accept complexity – difficult for gov’t to accept they are one node in a huge network and that there are other people they are going to have to work with. Move away from broadcast, top down,a nd empower people. Embrace social media as an enabler of change. FixMyStreet – from MySociety nothing to do with the councils, but it allows people to communicate with their council without even having to know who in their council their email is going to. Has been very successful, for people, but the council’s rather dislike it!
Need to involve more people, have more conversations. Big problem is understanding of stuff, understanding people’s wants or needs. Moving into an unstructured information world, and it’s hard to know how to deal with all this stuff, but have to get into it.