While doing this research, I often remind myself not to get lost and blinded by the gleaming new opportunities offered by technology. Being someone who is possibly technology bias, sometimes its hard not to be.
But with the impressive social media initiatives that some councils are diligently working on (even over the holidays and way into the night), for example Barnet Council @BarnetCouncil, Stratford District Council @StratfordDC, St. Helens Council @Sthelenscouncil and Kirklees Council @KirkleesCouncil and Hillingdon Council @Hillingdon (to name a few), I feel its hard not to get excited and start imagining the opportunities and benefits that we can achieve with these new initiatives.
But I’ve also found that with all the hype and excitement, UK local governments are still very much in the early stages of developing guidelines and acceptable practices when engaging with citizens online. A lot of experiments are still in progress and everyone is working hard to understand how to best utilize these new shiny toys/tools. We are pretty much in a race against the next new ‘Web Phenomenon’ so it is no wonder why everyone is rushing to get onto the bandwagon.
At the moment, local governments are opening their doors to Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, MySpace and blogs. These seem to be the initial social media pulling agents due to their popularity. Though after a closer inspection into these accounts, on average, it seems even though these efforts are commendable, they are not attracting genuine public followers or fans that they crave.
The questions that spring to mind are: –
- How can we see the tangible benefits of each implementation?
- It might still be early days, but how will local authorities get constituents to sign-up and become aware of these services?
- Will these accounts followers be mostly web developers, consultants and social media enthusiasts?
- Are we just finding another way to dump yet more information online?
- Are we using popular social media channels as ‘a more sexy’ channel to the old information that could be found on current local government websites?
- Do local councils REALLY want to ENGAGE with their constituents?
- Are local councils really listening and getting feedback from your constituents?
I often think the simplest solution is usually the most effective, which is why I felt the urge to share this article I stumbled upon this article written on May 11th, 2005 by a guy named Robin Good.
I’m not sure whether or not this has already been implemented in the UK local government but I thought its such a brilliant idea, I have to put it out there and get some feedback. His idea is to use wikis and blogs as instruments of citizen participation. I’m interested in his idea because I feel it might be the answer to some of my research questions, for example: –
- How can local government interact or engage with citizen’s online?
- How can citizens initiate their engagement with local government?
- How can local government ‘listen to citizens online’?
- How can local government allow citizens to participate effectively online?
- How can local government encourage user-driven content using available resources online that can reduce IT costs for local government?
- How can local government create an open platform for citizens to interact with both the authorities and other citizens?
- How can local government create the online ‘buzz’ that encourages citizens to participate in local issues?
- What is the simplest way of connecting with citizens who are already online with issues that might concern them?
- How can web 2.0 technology and social media such as wikis, blogs, rss feeds, facebook, twitter and comment feeds be used to create citizen engagement online?
- What practices can local government adopt from commercial consumer communities such as My Starbucks Idea and Dell IdeaStorm to improve their communities?
- How can we learn to get citizens to participate from Obama’s online presidential and transition campaign?
Though there are many more questions that are still puzzling me, I feel Robin Good was onto something. We can already see the benefits of our government 2.0 wikis such as Government 2.0 – Best Practices , Cool Local Gov Web stuff , Social media innovation in government
Could this be the channel that could create the Local Gov 2.0 buzz? Let’s talk about it. Please leave your comments.
Liz is a researcher who is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society.