Where do councillors and officers start on this social media journey? There are some great examples where councillors have seen the opportunities, took the initiative and dived in. They are the trailblazers, but in most councils they are the minority. This raises an interesting conundrum – do officers have a role in supporting cllrs to make the most of the soc med opportunities? Well in Kirklees the answer is yes.
A feature of the Kirklees 21st Century Councillor programme is a positive move to look at how social media can be a tool for councillors in their range of roles. It is an area that is increasingly being seen as one that officers who support cllrs should be getting involved in. Other posts on this blog will look at how this work is developing and how social media is becoming an area where officers and cllrs are collaborating in the interests of local democracy and citizen engagement. This post is about an event that was arranged in March 2010 to raise awareness amongst councillors in Kirklees.
Building on the success of social media surgeries developed and delivered in Huddersfield, officers developed a similar session for councillors.
In planning the session serious thought was given to the messages that we wanted to get across. This should be an open session, that was not officer-led, was not about the technology and used language that councillors could relate to. We knew that the pitch was important – we didn’t want to talk about Twitter, Facebook etc from the start, but about communication, engagement, listening, dialogue, brokering. The tools and technology were not the starting point. How they facilitate and add value to what councillors do already was more important.
We only had an hour and wanted to make the maximum impact. To do this we knew that such a session should be councillor-led. Whilst we have a number of councillors using social media in Kirklees we recognised that politics is always a feature of a councillor’s role, particularly in the run up to the local government elections. We wanted to avoid the message getting lost in a political discussion.
We used the wonderful world of social media to solve our dilemma. Through following Cllr Tim Cheetham we asked him to front a session for councillors in Kirklees. We’d already experienced the value of social media before we had properly got started.
We decided to deliver our session on the day of Full Council (the last one before the election) . We knew that all of our 69 councillors would be coming into the Town Hall at some point on that day which we hoped would encourage attendance. We planned a session that was designed to explain how the world wide web was changing in a way that affects us all, including councillors. We promoted it to councillors, and staff who work closely with councillors. We wanted to cover the following:
- some general context about the web
- some basic information about some of the tools
- the councillor perspective – enter Councillor Tim
Out of 69, we had 17 councillors attend, along with 8 officers who work closely supporting our councillors. We had representation from all of the four political groups on the council.
We set up a #tag on Twitter (#cllrsocmed) so that we could broadcast the session to the Twitterati as it happened. We used the Twitterfall at the end of the session to show the ways in which Twitter can be used.
During the session it became obvious that the most important part was the discussion. Whilst we had a structure for the hour we went with the flow – it rightly became a councillor-led discussion. Councillor Cheetham was able to bring the tools to life using real examples that councillors could identify with.
At the close of the session perfect timing (or fate) meant that we were able to hand out the IDeA Guide to Social Media For Councillors that had been published only the day before. Any unanswered questions are certainly covered.
An hour wasn’t long enough. The discussion was really getting going, but we had to draw the session to a close (even we couldn’t delay Full Council). The evaluation sheets that were handed in after the session were really encouraging. The majority of councillors want to find out more and explore the possibilities further. In short, we got a mandate to do more work.
This experience revealed some learning points that cllrs / officers might want to consider:
- Cllrs are interested – they want to find out more about this social media stuff
- Cllrs are the best people to “get the message across” to their cllr collegues – credibility counts
- Officers have a role – creating an environment to have the discussion and following through on agreed actions is important.
The plan is now to deliver more sessions. We will use the feedback we received to shape the next steps. Having generated some degree of interest we intend to look at a more “hands on” approach that will allow councillors to understand the tools, but not be driven by them. We will use the informal social media surgery approach that will be councillor (not officer) led. Our longer term aim is to embed this into our councillor development process and give our next generation of councillors the opportunity to be the best that they can be – 21st Century Councillors.