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Community websites: friend or foe?


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How councillors & council officers can use hyperlocal online networks for engagement & empowerment …

How councillors & council officers can use hyperlocal online networks for engagement & empowerment

Created by Crowdhug as part of the I&DeA's online conference "Councillors Connected"

Published in: Technology

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    • 1. Community websites: friend or foe? How councillors & council officers can use hyperlocal online networks for engagement & empowerment Hugh Flouch Founder, Crowdhug
    • 2. Hyperlocal Websites
      • Hyperlocal websites are
      • focussed on a small geographic area .
      • being set up in increasing numbers with growing sophistication by local residents.
      • provide a platform for locals to speak out , connect and collaborate to get things done in their neighbourhood.
      • take various forms - facebook-like social networks, like Harringay Online - citizen journalist models, blog-based sites and old-fashioned forums.
      • herald a new era of transparency where concerns are aired more frequently and more widely.
      • create unprecedented levels of recording of conversations and actions about local issues.
    • 3. What do Hyperlcoal sites achieve?
      • The best hyperlocal sites can evidence an impressive track record in:
      • Engaging people in discussion and debate about local issues.
      • Facilitating collaboration between residents to take action to shape their neighbourhood.
      • Providing a channel of information about local politics, news and events.
      • Building social capital in the neighbourhood by facilitating virtual and face-to-face relationships
      Getting together online not the end in itself – the best sites are creating better face-to-face engagement where things really begin to happen.
    • 4. Feel the fear & do it anyway
      • Some councillors have quickly seen the benefit of hyperlocal sites; other councillors avoid them because of:
        • lack of understanding about how to use them
        • fear of exposing themselves to unnecessary criticism
        • fear of creating a tide of questions and additional casework .
      • Past surveys in the US have found an increased understanding of complex issues and respect amongst hyperlocal participants, including elected officials.
      • Growing track record in the UK showing their effectiveness in building relationships and creating real change .
      • An ever-growing library of anecdote suggests that councillors can gain real benefits from participating .
      • Use them or ignore them. Unlikely they will go away or grow quiet. Residents are now aware of a their voice and they expect to be heard.
    • 5. Hyperlocal for Listening Leadership
      • Recent Hansard Society report revealed MPs are using the internet primarily to talk to their constituents rather than listen to them or respond to their concerns. A study for councillors would probably return much the same results.
      • A key role of hyperlocal sites is enabling listening . Imagine you could listen in at your local cafe whenever you want from wherever you are and hear what the locals are saying about the council and about what was important for them.
      • Hyperlocal sites can also act as an "early warning" system , giving notice about issues bubbling up in the community.
    • 6. Swim with the tide – find the fish you want
      • Is it enough for councillors to just to listen? Should you also engage ? If you do will you be creating a rod for your own back?
      • There’s a balance to be struck - you can’t respond to everything and residents will understand this.
      • Whether implicit or explicit there’s a workable deal to be done with online communities about how often and when councillors contribute and respond.
      • When responses are made by councillors on Harringay Online, the reaction is usually overwhelmingly positive .
      • Use hyperlocal to help focus your engagement energy . A local politician came to Harringay Online recently with a request - “How can I best use your site to identify opportunities for casework for the residents in my area?”
    • 7. Eight Tips for Getting it Right
      • Learn how to drive! Find out how your local website works. (the website managers will probably help out).
      • Check you’ll be welcome and what the rules of the road are for politicians.
      • Be transparent – when you join and/or contribute say clearly who you are.
      • Shape the deal – agree what members can and can’t expect from you.
      • Only engage if you’re willing to help. Don’t engage for out and out reputation building and absolutely no party politicking .
      • Be mindful of the style . If it’s informal then you can afford to reflect that appropriately in your own style.
      • Consider your response – never write in haste .
      • Be prepared for some criticism. Don’t be defensive
    • 8. Café or Town Hall Foyer?
      • Is running hyperlocal websites the Council’s job ?
      • Some think so and some councils are creating their own platforms for digital engagement.
      • It’s likely that council platforms will work for more formal kinds of transaction, but are unlikely to create the same digital opportunities as hyperlocal sites.
      • A comparison might be between conversations that would take place in the town hall foyer on the one hand and those that would happen in the local café on the other.
      • Town hall conversations are likely to feel observed and therefore more formal and transactional. Many locals will choose not to participate on the council’s turf .
      • A chat in the café, or hyperlocal style - unobserved, more relaxed, sociable, convivial. More likely to encourage participation beyond the usual suspects .
    • 9. One story from Harringay Online
      • In a nutshell
      • In March 2009, a councillor mentioned Haringey Council’s new engagement strategy on Twitter.
      • Harringay Online picked this up and started a discussion criticising a perceived lack of consultation.
      • The councillor responded to the discussion to explain and defend the Council’s actions. He also offered a face-to-face meeting.
      • A face-to-face meeting was held with a group of (75% newly engaged) citizens.
      • Outcomes - specific actions were agreed. One participant described the meeting as the best meeting he’d ever been to with the Council.
    • 10. Why does it work? Ownership Involvement Engagement
    • 11. How can Councillors help?
      • Hyperlocal sites take time and commitment to set up and run, but offer real payback . In some areas hyperlocal sites will emerge without cultivation. In others they will need encouragement .
      • Should Councils be supporting hyperlocal start-ups?
      • If so, what would that support look like?
      • Crowdhug is already in discussion with councils about support packages which include the following elements:
        • Articulating the conditions for success
        • Identifying local champions with the greatest chance of successfully building hyperlocal sites
        • Providing training and support in digital skills, building membership, online community management, community leadership.
        • Website sustainability
        • Councillor & citizen 2.0 training
        • Digital inclusion capacity building
        • Evaluation .
    • 12. Thanks for joining me Hugh Flouch [email_address]