Yesterday we introduced talked a little bit on how Councillor James Cousins started blogging. This post feature some Q&A’s on his blogging activities.
- What do you wish to achieve through blogging and is it any different from traditional methods of engagement?
Ideally it will be a source of information for residents and provide a channel of communication.
There are a lot of similarities with more traditional methods of engagement, for example we do a lot of leafleting. Those leaflets, hopefully, are informative and contain details of how councillors can be contacted. The online version is simply more accessible and more transparent. The difference is largely the medium, rather than the content or message.
The really big difference, perhaps, is that this requires residents to opt-in. I’m putting something online that they have to actively visit. With pretty much all the other forms of engagement there is at least an element in which that choice is removed: residents do not have the choice about a leaflet or letter through the door, the email I send or listening to me at a meeting (short of fingers in the ears). This is totally opt-in.
- What is in your opinion, the biggest problem/issues faced by your constituents that you wish to address through traditional and online channels?
I’m going to cheat on this. “All politics is local.” While I live on my patch, I’m not local to everything. What I want to do is put myself in the position of being there for residents to contact me if they need their help. Their biggest issues may well be small to someone a few roads away with a different problem.
If you force me, it would have to be crime. Crime always comes towards the top of people’s concerns, and we do a lot to fight crime. We also have very low crime for an inner London borough, and fear of crime is totally disproportionate – I’m keen to do get two messages out:
1. that we are effective in preventing crime and dealing with it when it happens, and
2. that we are much safer than most people think.
Having said that, engagement is more of a medium than an action. It’s the activity that follows rather than the engagement itself that tackles the problems.
- Does it interfere with your current duties as a councillor in terms of time and cost of running? Does the council pay against the cost of hosting?
Not really. I’m fairly good at time management and planning. I don’t particularly draft and re-write posts, and type fairly quickly so they are banged out relatively rapidly.
I foot the cost of running, but WordPress is free so it’s only the hosting costs, which I was funding for email anyway.
- Do you have to restrict to certain guidelines set by the council when blogging and twittering or any other social media?
No. I did discuss this early on with the council, but I was clear from the start that it would be a personal blog and would not be funded or supported by the council. I took this decision mainly because I wanted to be free of restrictions the council would have to impose. While I do not intend the blog to be especially political, I am there as an elected representative because of my political affiliation, and want to be free to make political points when I want.
Additionally there is part of me that believes these things should be separate. A lot of people are ignorant of the role of a councillor, and the separation helps reinforce that I am part of the council’s political leadership rather than an officer.
Hope you’ve found it useful!
Liz is a researcher who is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society.