Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

What will Council 2.0 look like?

with 14 comments

In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.

Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…

The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.

As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.

I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?

Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.

With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.

Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.

My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).

Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.

If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?

By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?

Till next time,



Written by Paul Jennings

August 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm

14 Responses

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  1. I think apps like twitter and facebook are great for engaging with councillors and having a voice. They are also a very useful tool for councillors to use to touch base and see what people are saying. It is too good an opportunity to neglect. It is a shame many people working in big organisations are not computer literate, and also many who are regard social media as time wasting. lost chances…


    August 13, 2009 at 8:10 am

  2. @cyberdoyle

    Thanks for your comment. The tools are there to promote engagement – however it is how we use them that counts.

    Times are changing and we need to change with them, social media is having the same affect on organsiations and councils that email did not so long ago.

    We cannot perdict the future, however we cannot stand by and let the future bite us! The more thought that goes into the planning of how we can use tools such as social medai in local governemnt the better.



    Paul Jennings

    August 13, 2009 at 8:50 am

  3. A bit bemused why this piece isn’t called Councillors 2.0.

    We know some councils block access to sites like Twitter, we can guess some are trying to control access at the firewall or router level, and some ‘ban’ it and monitor network activity looking for abuses.

    Councillors can engage with their public using socmed, and some do. The fight for socmed is going on now in the trenches and server rooms of LG (Local Government).

    When those “(socmed)switched on” Councillors rightly question the motives of the “switched off” councils, the future will brighten.

    If you concede that the motives of the “switched off” councils are a direct result of hiding behind IT in order to not having to address their endemic poor man management skills (lack of trust, inability to delegate etc.) … then you might agree that the whole LG socmed debate is a red herring.

    As the use of socmed becomes more widespread, it could happen that the public can sidestep their councils and communicate directly with their councillors.

    That might be a very good thing.

    If the CMS of of the future is not a “collector of documents” but a “governor of streams of knowledge” then it is Councillors ( ok, “Councillors 2.0”) who are the natural wardens and perhaps the orchestrators of these knew types of “knowledge streams”.

    *thinks* If I was a socmed activist I might put all my energy into recruiting Councillors to socmed, and advertising their existence to the world.

    I am, I might – has someone already started?

    *thinks again*
    Maybe Councillors could access data streams directly from government (a la TimBL and “free our data”) and from LG as web3.0 takes hold?

    That sounds like fun.

    Paul Geraghty

    August 13, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  4. I just think the more the councils, parish councils and government engage with the people the better it will be. There won’t be the same need to employ ‘consultant’ to tell them what the people are saying, because they will know.
    An appointment at a surgery can be hard to arrange, but a quick chat using social media apps costs nothing, either in time or money.
    It is too good a tool to ignore through ignorance or fear.


    August 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm

  5. @cyberdoyle – I very much have town and parish councillors in mind.

    They operate at the ‘street’ level.

    And of course some are simultaneously also District Cllrs (guess 20%?) or County Cllrs (5%?) (est. figures from the town I run a CMS for).

    These representatives have good and just cause to directly request gov data, especially if the public identifies them as “the council” incarnate.

    Could be a good thing.

    Paul Geraghty

    August 13, 2009 at 2:07 pm

  6. Paul Geraghty…you rumbled my cunning plan!

    And you’ve hit on the IDeA approach for knowledge management for the sector, too – managing streams, not documents – and helping practitioners create those streams.

    If it weren’t for you, we might have got it away with it.

    Ingrid Koehler

    August 13, 2009 at 8:31 pm

  7. […] for local people rather than the bit of social tech you want to implement.   (Don’t make social media a solution without a problem – great blog post by Paul Jennings […]

  8. Alas, I can’t claim any originality for “knowledge streams” it was a term I picked up at a workshop #iks-project – was pretty much a game-changing concept for me though.

    This was during discussions about how to semantically identify and categore a “knowledge object” – I always want to call them “Knobs” – almost semi-automatically in order that “intelligent agents” can find and consume the content.

    Much of my thinking these day has to do with understanding “what is knowledge?”.

    This was reinforced after I read very enlightening paper recently over at the KIDMM wiki (following threads on KHub) from their 2008 meeting “Making and Organising Knowledge in Communities” by Conrad Taylor:

    Entitled “Introductory Paper: Literary Review”

    Click to access MOKC_LitReview_CT.pdf

    In which Conrad quotes many sources – but I was struck by some of the quotes which describe the transitional nature of much of our “Knowledge”, how it’s importance and relevance ebbs with time, for example.

    The tools may already exist to capture and disseminate the sometimes fleeting relevance of “knowledge” but they each seem to live in their own software paradigm or “IT silo”.

    Be that a wiki, forum, blog, cms, twitter stream etc.

    Twitter is a great case in point. I knew something _really important_a month ago, I told someone, but now its gone.


    Often it’s the context of a conversation which shines light on the meaning of the text, and capturing the conversation which lead up to the outcome is as important as the final “minting” of each version of the document.

    For my money wikis alone don’t do it properly yet. Neither do fora nor blogs.

    Twitter may be one type of stream, but the stream has to stop somewhere, as a bus needs to stop, so we can at least read the bloody thing.

    Paul Geraghty

    August 14, 2009 at 1:01 am

  9. There is a lot of work that is being done by early adopters, both Councillors and also Local Authorities, to embrace social media and develop the business processes to work with them in the future.

    Information is a great example of how we can take advantage of using these tools to deliver a real benefit.

    One of the points above was should councils look to re-structure (i.e. reduce the number of councillors) and look to social media as the public representation in the future?

    I’m interested to hear other view on this.



    Paul Jennings

    August 14, 2009 at 9:49 am

  10. […] What will Council 2.0 look like? – Discussion of how councils and councillors can use social media as an engagement tool blogged by Paul Jennings […]

  11. Some Councillors will be findable by means other than the official council website.

    Of them, those who are also active online, and/or offline – given the right tools and basic support may be able to create their own very localised view of government data. Ward sites.

    (I recently explained to a district councillor how he can link directly to his own ward’s individual DC planning permission webpages from his own blog, nobody in his council told him this)

    Any digital knowledge which flows between the citizen and this “Councillor 2.0” counts “in the stream”, but its value may ebb in time – bear in mind I am talking hours here, not days.

    Given access to these streams can future councils capture, collate and sort this knowledge so that it can be added to the “sum of council knowledge”?

    To my mind the more Councillors there are the more likely we are to find “Councillors 2.0”.

    I fail to how a largely volunteer force of democratically elected representatives is a bad thing.

    If there is a failure it is a shared one, the failure to equip them with the correct Socmed skills and savvy to do the online equivalent of “wandering down to the park, or the pub” and chatting with passers-by.

    Paul Geraghty

    August 14, 2009 at 10:59 am

  12. […] This post was Twitted by alncl […]

    Twitted by alncl

    August 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm

  13. […] What will Council 2.0 look like? « Business Analysed – "The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true." […]

  14. Councillors are (mostly) members of political parties as well as members of the council.

    For a lot of them their social media activities – and other work to engage with the public – is done with their political hat on, using resources and help provided by their party, not the council.

    There are two big benefits of this – it allows you to address controversial and politically partisan issues without the constraints that come with council resources, and also the resources available from parties are often much better than those available from councils. Compare councillor blogging systems such as the Lib Dem MyCouncillor WordPress-based site with the minimal facilities most councils provide, at best, and it’s not much of a contest!

    Mark Pack

    September 28, 2009 at 8:25 pm

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