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wiresAs you would expect, WorkSmart is all over the internet!

The first thing to do is to join the site. Membership is free, and means you get the regular email newsletter. In the future it will also give you access to exclusive member resources – more on that soon. You can sign up here if you haven’t already.

Next, WorkSmart is of course on Twitter, where you can get alerted to new articles published on the blog, and to interesting links as we spot and curate them. Follow @worksmarthq now.

Are you a big Facebook user? It might be that the Facebook page is the best way to keep up to date, and to have your say on the articles and other content that are published there. Like WorkSmart on Facebook here.

How about Google+? I’m not convinced either, but there is a WorkSmart page there, which also has content posted up as it gets published on the blog. Follow WorkSmart on Google+ here.

Last but not least, WorkSmart currently has two (count ‘em!) boards on Pinterest. One features all the posts that are published on the blog – so if you like to get your content in Pinterest, they are all there waiting for you. The other one is where content is curated from across the web, and is called Bookmarks.

So, you really have no excuse not to keep up to date with what is happening here! It will be great to see you on our various channels.

Why local councils ought to be getting social

This article was originally written for the SLCC‘s ‘Clerk’ magazine.

It’s almost impossible to turn on the television or open a newspaper these days without seeing reference to online networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The impact of these technologies in the last decade has been huge, transforming the way people communicate, work and play.

So just how can local councils make use of this technology?

Firstly, we can improve our communications. Lots of people now use online methods to communicate with their friends and families, as well as with businesses and other organisations. If councils want people to see what they are saying, then these new channels need to be used.

It could be as simple as using Twitter to provide quick updates of the work the Council is doing, or what is being discussed at a public meeting. Alternatively we can use different media to tell the same story – photographs are a great way of documenting online what is happening in an area and the web is a great way of publishing them to large audiences.

Second, it can be use to increase participation in the work we do. Not everybody has time to attend meetings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to contribute. By giving people the opportunity to get involved online, we might be able to encourage them to engage even further in future.

This early, online stage could be as simple as giving views on a local issue on a Facebook page, responding to an online survey, or giving feedback on a draft document through a digital form.

Third, using this technology can help us change the culture of our councils, to be more open, transparent and collaborative. Once we start taking even baby steps into the digital world, the possibilities start to become apparent. Increasing numbers of councillors are saving their councils money by using their own devices to work paperlessly, using their iPads for example to read reports and other papers.

Other developing technologies have yet to make an impact on our sector, but they cannot be far away. The transparency agenda has seen councils in other tiers of government sharing their data, whether about council spending or other information. This data is then used by businesses, charities and communities to build apps and develop plans to improve their services.

The so-called ‘internet of things’, where everyday objects, not just computers, have access to the network, is another fast developing area. The concept of ‘smart cities’ is relatively well known now, but what might a smart village look like, when every house, community and business in a parish are connected by a high speed internet connection?

Local councils ought to be considering these issues to ensure they are well placed to make the most of new technological developments, so that they may continue to provide an effective and relevant service to their communities.

Having said all of this, the basics are still important. For example, I would never suggest a council only uses digital communications methods. A balance is required, otherwise people will be left out. However, using digital is scalable and cost effective, so the more of it we can use, the better.

Also, it’s important to get the online foundations right before we start using potentially more exciting channels such as social media. This means ensuring we have an effective website in place and are using tools such as email well – including having an email newsletter that people can subscribe to.

I will be discussing all the issues relating to using digital in the sector in an upcoming series of workshops in 2014, organised by SLCC. Find out more and book your place at http://www.slcc.co.uk/course/digital-engagement/40/

A taster of these sessions will also be provided at the SLCC practitioners’ conference in Spring 2014. More information can be found here: http://www.slcc.co.uk/conference/practitioners-conference/18/

A bit more on #networkedcllr

This morning’s round table, held by EELGA with the support of Public-i, was an enjoyable couple of hours, hearing about how councillors and others involved in local democracy see the future of the role and the impact the internet and social media will have on it.

One of the best things about the beta Public-i report is that it takes the view of ‘networked’ councillors in the widest possible sense. In other words, not just online networks, but all networks.

So we want our councillors to be available, open, accessible, transparent, collaborative and so on – whatever medium they may use is up to them, as long as it meets the needs of the community they serve.

Go read the report – it’s good stuff.

Following on from the session this morning and in addition to my previous notes, here are a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, there is still a clear need for training for councillors in using the internet and social media. This needs to incorporate hands-on stuff, showing people how to log in, which buttons to press and so on; but also cultural stuff, including the netsmarts that Howard Rheingold talks about. How to write, how to know when to respond, identifying trolls, that sort of thing.

Second, we need to put some thought into what the councillor role should be. I think much of what success looks like for councillors will depend on their original motivation for doing it in the first place. For me, as a parish councillor, I see the role making certain tools – processes and structures and procedures – available to me that wouldn’t be otherwise. So it’s a means to an end to get stuff done for the community.

However, it’s fair to say that the role has barely changed in the last decade or so, despite the radical changes to society, the economy, and how people live their lives. If we were starting from scratch, now, to design how our local elected representatives would perform their role, what would it look like? Nothing like it does now, I’d have thought.

I don’t think it’s possible to make existing councillors change their culture or their worldview. If they haven’t been open and collaborative before now, I don’t see how they can be encouraged to change. The effort should be going into designing a role that will appeal to new councillors, who are net-savvy, time limited, mistrustful of bureaucracy, and so on.

So I am looking forward to where the conversation goes next, and hope to get to play a part!