I have been to a number of conferences in the past, but this is the first time I have been to an Unconference. It was also the first time that in the opening comments, we were encouraged to keep our phones on and tweet/take photos and tag as much as we wanted to. Not only that, the agenda wasn’t complete and there were a huge assortment of chairs and sweets everywhere.
I was at Councillor Camp – a gathering of Local Government Councillors to talk about the pros and cons of using Social Media. Not only that, I was at Facebook – the event was being hosted at the Facebook office in London which for someone who uses Facebook as mush as I do was a bit like going to Mecca.
The gathering was put together by Futuregov and was attended by around 100 councillors of a wide age range and across the political spectrum and everyone was encouraged to engage with what was going on. I decided, rather than writing stuff down, I would tweet the main points and then use them to write-up later. That worked for the main presentations, but didn’t work for the workshop/Unconference parts, but that wasn’t a problem.
After a brief introduction by Dominic Campbell from FutureGov , we had a presentation from Facebook themselves, talking about how Facebook has been effectively used as a community platform as well as a political campaigning platform. It had some really good examples, from the Police to engage with communities and politicians to get their messages out. There were two main messages from the Facebook team that I found interesting – Firstly Facebook is not a Media Company, then are a Media Platform – Kinda obvious, but when you think about it, it does change the way you think about it. Secondly was the impact statement, that someone who had used Facebook to engage with your campaign was 57% more likely to be persuaded by your argument. Largely based on American numbers, but interesting none the less.
Another interesting idea was using Social media to show the electorate what their money is being spent on. Be it the new park bench, to the new leisure facility.
Social media can be used by decision makers to explain why they have made the decisions they have. For example, a councillor votes to approve something, they can use social media to explain why they voted that way and providing insight into the decisions.
An interesting example was the council that actually tweets out the decisions that have been made in Council meetings as they have been made. Just think, not having to wade through minutes of meetings to see if anything interesting happened.
What is more, rather than hide away when serious discussions are afoot (say around budgets) take control and develop a hashtag and encourage people to use it. Then you get all the feedback in a way that you can monitor, and actually use the feedback to perhaps shape the outcome. Brighton and Hove did this and they believe they had a much more effective budget because of it. I think more people would actually buy into the decisions with interaction like this.
Another even more radical example was that some councils webcast their Full Council meetings, can you imagine that, the public being able to see their elected Councillors making decisions and being able to see it with their own eyes without having to read the press interpretation.
One councillor told us about hos we has started to hold a Skype ward surgery and has been able to meet another demographic of his community that he would not normally talk to. I thought this was great and will see how this can be taken advantage of here in Gloucester. Maybe not just Skype can be taken advantage of here.
Then came the Unconference part. Rather than having a full agenda, the organisers had got about 8 conference rooms and asked us to come up with topics to discuss and put them on a post-it. with 4 rounds of 8 rooms we had a good chance of hitting something we wanted.
I put up a topic of how to get a Parish Council to engage with social media, so I attended that one first, then went on to engaging with people who don’t necessarily have “E” capability(Perhaps elderly, or unable to read and write), or had no access (especially with library’s closing). I then went to one on campaigning with social media and finally a session on managing the social media / Life balance.
For me, the biggest lesson is that Social Media has the ability to break down the walls of a Council and to break down the barriers that have traditionally surrounded the Council as a whole and to make councillor much more accessible and accountable. I would go as far to say that if a Councillor is not willing to engage with social media, even in a most basic fashion (especially if the council provide the capability, IE Laptop, IPad, Smartphone) then are they meeting the needs of their constituents, are they fit to be councillors in this communicative age? What about a council that refuses to engage with modern media, that fails to exercise the ability to be seen to be accountable? If a council actively refuses to engage with social media, is that council fit for purpose?
It’s not all roses of course, Social media is not without risk, there is the opportunity for a Council or a Councillor to say something wrong. But isn’t there in real life. If you’re talking to a resident, you might say the wrong thing. There are basic rules/good practice, IE think twice before pressing send – don;t send anything you would not be willing to send face to face and don’t tweet after a few beers.
I had a fantastic time, and learned a lot which considering I’m a prolific user I was pleasantly surprised by. It was the ability to exchange ideas and the sharing of where councils and councillors had tried and implemented what at the moment I can only aspire to. There is one thing, I will be pushing hard for Quedgeley to change its current attitude to social media and while Gloucester City and Gloucestershire County councils are good with their tweeting for promotion, I think they could go further and I hope to keep encouraging them to do so! There was so much more on this that I have already Tweeted, or have written notes for, but I will keep them for a later post to discuss.
Another plus was the freebies…
My Takeaway lesson I think has to be the use of blended media, the online world has so may tools that it is easy to use all of them to make it interesting.