LGCYH – Twitter Ye Not?

In the final part of the councillor session at #lgcyh we discussed Twitter.  None of the councillors in the group currently used Twitter so without hesitation we pulled up the brilliant Tweetyhall.  A great way to explain what Twitter is from a councillor perspective.

Cllr Cheetham and Cllr Cooke went through how they used Twitter in their councillor role, passing on a few tips along the way.  These included:

– follow as many councillors as you can – this is a good short cut to finding how councillors use Twitter to good effect;

– remember that followers are interested in what you are doing (don’t underestimate the impact of the “human side” of being a councillor);

– it’s a great way of extending your councillor and officer network – help, advice and different perspectives are only 140 characters away.  It’s cheaper than going to conferences;

– it’s quick, cheap and easily links with other social media tools that councillors might use.

Our discussion looked at how councillors and politicians have used Twitter to good effect, including:

– how #tags are a great tool for bringing discussions together into one place (some councils are looking at making ward based #tags a standard);

– the positive use of Twitter by local and national politicians during the General Election, both as a broadcasting tool and as a means of campaigning;

– a good way to quickly and succinctly get key messages to local people – examples of how Twitter was used during the snow this winter struck a real chord with the group.

As with the other discussions, we also looked at some of the Twitter headline stories – Tweeting in meetings,  Stuart Maclennan and talked through issues around responsible use.  Tweeting in meetings seems to be a subject that divides – the consensus on the day was that it is another way of opening up democracy to the wider public.  That said, there is a developing view in some councils that it is disrespectful and is an indicator that councillors aren’t concentrating on the business of the meeting.  Another, amongst many, social media dilemmas for councillors and councils.


LGCYH – For Those About To Blog (We Salute You)

We had a great session about blogging. We were able to get Cllr Cheetham’s blog and Cllr Cooke’s blog up on the screen and bring the session to life.

Having the authors in the room meant we were able to go talk about content, complexity and time commitment with reference to real life examples.  Cllr Cheetham showed how to update his blog from his phone (“it’s that easy”) whilst Cllr Cooke demonstrated that “content is king”by reference to his Great Pudding Disaster.

Cllr Cooke’s puddings sparked a good debate about content and public interest.   Both councillors approach blogging from a similar personal (if not political) perspective.  It’s not just about council business and ward work.  Its also about the person, their interests and challenges.  Both agreed that blogging performs a political education for residents but also allows councillors to “be people”.

Discussion moved onto the tensions that can exist between blogging councillors and their councils.  A challenge now, and for the future, seems to be councillors being free and unfettered to communicate their views directly whilst serving on their councils.

The problems that councillors face with council corporate communications proved to be a hot topic.  Blogging councillors can find the the notion of “my blog, my say” sometimes bumps up against the organisation’s determination to “manage the message”. We didn’t have any answers to this challenge but concluded that residents want dialogue and engagement and could see through the “corporate spin”.  File under “To be continued”.

LGCYH – Angry, Drunk (Er no)

As part of the session councillors got onto some of the do’s and don’ts.  There was a real fun side to the discussion with one councillor giving the “sobering” advice – “my tip is don’t ever blog if you’re angry or drunk”.  To which @simonmagus wittily replied, “If that was case I’d never blog at all”

Joking aside there were some genuine concerns about responsible use and personal and organisational reputation management. Councillors wanted to be able to express their views frankly but did not want to fall foul of the National Code of Conduct and the Standards Board.

We discussed the extent to which fears like this were real or perceived.  They were certainly real for the councillors in the room, although the examples of the Standards Board looking at social media related complaints were few (we could only find 2).

Our resident expert councillors provided some reassurance.  It comes down to common sense really.  On a daily basis councillors need to operate in the public spotlight, having regard to a host of rules, standards and codes of conduct.  Those who do this already are merely applying them to another environment.  The message was “don’t be put off”.

We’ve begun to pull together some tools and tips that hopefully begin to address some of the concerns and questions that councillors have.

LGCYH – Concepts or Tools (Well Both Ideally)

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LGCYH – The Presentation That Never Was

Like all good (obsessive?) officers we did all the prep for the councillor session at LGCYH.  We met, we planned, we met again, we even stayed up until 2.00 a.m. finalising our slides and the areas we were convinced we needed to cover.  Our slides were perfectly crafted, designed to cover all the things that our audience of councillors would need to know.

What did we know.  Quite rightly the councillors framed the discussion, ably supported by our two resident experts – Cllr Tim Cheetham and Cllr Simon Cooke.  We covered a wide range of issues, opportunities and challenges.  These will be captured and shared in more detail in other posts.  The main thing to share (its a real learning point for officers) is that sessions such as this need to be flexible, responsive but most importantly shaped and delivered by cllrs.

That said here’s our slides.

Our Experts

Cllrs Know Best (but officers can have a role) Pt1

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.

21st Century CouncillorA 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.

localgovcamp yorkshire & humber

Pulling stuff together for this Saturday’s localgovcamp in York.