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Wikis and blogs as instruments for citizen participation

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 ;-p

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: -

  1. How can we see the tangible benefits of each implementation?
  2. It might still be early days, but how will local authorities get constituents to sign-up and become aware of these services?
  3. Will these accounts followers be mostly web developers, consultants and social media enthusiasts?
  4. Are we just finding another way to dump yet more information online?
  5. 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?
  6. Do local councils REALLY want to ENGAGE with their constituents?
  7. 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.

Wikis and blogs as instruments for citizen participation- YOU MUST READ THIS!

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: -

  1. How can local government interact or engage with citizen’s online?
  2. How can citizens initiate their engagement with local government?
  3. How can local government ‘listen to citizens online’?
  4. How can local government allow citizens to participate effectively online?
  5. How can local government encourage user-driven content using available resources online that can reduce IT costs for local government?
  6. How can local government create an open platform for citizens to interact with both the authorities and other citizens?
  7. How can local government create the online ‘buzz’ that encourages citizens to participate in local issues?
  8. What is the simplest way of connecting with citizens who are already online with issues that might concern them?
  9. 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?
  10. What practices can local government adopt from commercial consumer communities such as My Starbucks Idea and Dell IdeaStorm to improve their communities?
  11. 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.

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

9 comments

  1. Hi

    Great article in learning what local authorities are using new social media tools such as Twitter. I am going to pick on Twitter however, as I still need to be convinced of the benefits of using Twitter?

    Perhaps many local authorities are using Twitter just because it is a hot topic at the moment, without thinking about the benefits of using this tool?

    Working at a local authority I feel that the following questions still need to be answered, and I would be interested in hearing readers thoughts.

    1.)What benefits do you feel using Twitter can bring a local authority?

    2.) How would you explain to senior management at a local authority what Twitter is, as the majority of employees and most local authorities would not have heard of Twitter?

    3.)Why would citizens sign up for a council twitter feed, do they really want to know that a new council press releases is available on their twitter account.

    4.) Why not use a RSS feed over a twitter account, as they both do similar things?

    5.) Any other benefits of using Twitter for a local authority?
    5.) Can twitter feeds be personalised to the user, so they only receive information (i.e. latest payroll vacancies) from the local authority that they are interested in, instead of receiving all content.

  2. Ian, I think Twitter is a good fit for local government. Some may prefer to get updates via this channel (rather than, say, email, or having to regularly check the Council website). I like the 140 character limit, well suited to portable devices, and just succinct. It also allows for real-time updates (traffic alerts, or event reminders, for example). I agree that it has less value when just a feed of press releases, but there may be instances where this is an appropriate use of the tool. I like to think of it as a RSS feed that talks back. My thoughts so far are here: http://stapisi.com/tag/twitter

    b3rn’s last blog post..Guidelines for local government employees online [3]

  3. Thanks for this post Liz. Clearly 2.0 has a role, but for my money we should be using 2.0 fro what it’s best at; wresting control away from the centre. In this context, I believe, that means local authorities being prepared to let go the reins and facilitate local residents’ use of 2.0 technologies to encourage participation. As you know, at Harringay Online we have a growing list of successful engagement/empowerment achievements. This model can be successfully replicated elsewhere and will give LAs a far better “return on their money” than they’ll get from trying to control the means of engagement.

  4. Some interesting comments and angles regarding the use of Twitter, but is it any different to Instant Messaging? The only advantage of LA’s adopting Twitter is that there are no costs for using this communication channel which will help reduce I.T. costs. Some of my comments regarding Twitter

    From the original post by Liz the only tools that would be of True benefit to Local Government that would help increase engagement and collaboration between government and citizens are the following.

    1.) The examples used by commercial consumer communities such as My Starbucks Idea and Dell IdeaStorm. This could be used for citizens to provide their ideas and thoughts on how their to improve their communities, how the LA could improve tourism in the area etc.

    This would provide an interactive brainstorming session that the LA could gather ideas on topics they may not have been considering or on new ways on achieving goals.

    2.) The article at Stap isi Comment everywhere. User Generated Content (UGC) is the key Web 2.0 tool I feel that should be integrated into LA’s website. Following the lead set by the Guardian newspaper and integrating a comments system throughout the website with user profiles, tags and clippings combined with a usable design (as many LA websites are still far from usable compared to the private sector) will help LA’s reach out to their citizens, and allow them to comment on topics that interest them and allow them to connect with fellow citizens on the LA website with similar interests.

    What Web 2.0 tools are you using at Harringay, and what benefits have these tools brought to the local authority? You mention “that means local authorities being prepared to let go the reins and facilitate local residents’ use of 2.0 technologies to encourage participation”

    Can you explain what you mean by this? and how you actually achieve this statement with Web 2.0 tools, and which model are you using?

    Ian Vaughan’s last blog post..Why do Local Authorities Need to use Facebook?

    • Hi Ian,
      Some good observations. Glad to see you’ve got some good response from people on this blog and ur own. Hope they’ve answered most of your questions. Look forward to seeing more from ur website. Just FYI, Hugh from Harringay is not an official LA website. It is a very successful community website setup by residents with a strong number of 1100+ members the last time I heard. It has won awards based on its achievement so far. Hugh is just suggesting that LA’s shud use the same methods he’s been using on the HarringayOnline community website. Hope this clear’s things up.

      Liz

  5. I think there is a ton of potential for blogs and wikis; I’ve written several articles on this topic but, like much of the blogosphere, so far it is mostly ideas. I think there is even a role for the Salesforce Ideas application (and use of CRM products in general) to “customerize” town government/services.

    I do have practical experience with a town blog though. WestwoodBlog.org has been running for a year now and it is considered useful by many in town. I estimate 10-25% of residents visit it regularly, but I have not been able to get as much participation as I would like. Our neighboring town, Dedham, has myDedham.org which is much more active. Both sites are private/individual efforts–frankly, I don’t think they would work if they were official organs of the town.

    I tried to start a wiki. Very hard. Few people know what wikis are really and fewer are comfortable with that level of participation. And I’m NOT living in “luddite land” here about 13 miles away from Boston. But people have better things to do than participate in town government, issues, politics, etc. Except when it matters to them.

    I think a blog can help percolate issues so “it matters” sooner. My biggest complaint with town meeting is that all the issues have already been decided or framed, so showing up once a year is a pointless exercise–except to vote yes or no. I believe the blog can provide a means to participate in a discussion and bring local issues onto the radar screen which can lead to an earlier debate and an earlier realization by residents that they should care about something. This in turn can lead to that desire to participate which can then be expressed online or in person.

  6. Some interesting comments and angles regarding the use of Twitter, but is it any different to Instant Messaging? The only advantage of LA's adopting Twitter is that there are no costs for using this communication channel which will help reduce I.T. costs. Some of my comments regarding Twitter

    From the original post by Liz the only tools that would be of True benefit to Local Government that would help increase engagement and collaboration between government and citizens are the following.

    1.) The examples used by commercial consumer communities such as My Starbucks Idea and Dell IdeaStorm. This could be used for citizens to provide their ideas and thoughts on how their to improve their communities, how the LA could improve tourism in the area etc.

    This would provide an interactive brainstorming session that the LA could gather ideas on topics they may not have been considering or on new ways on achieving goals.

    2.) The article at Stap isi Comment everywhere. User Generated Content (UGC) is the key Web 2.0 tool I feel that should be integrated into LA's website. Following the lead set by the Guardian newspaper and integrating a comments system throughout the website with user profiles, tags and clippings combined with a usable design (as many LA websites are still far from usable compared to the private sector) will help LA's reach out to their citizens, and allow them to comment on topics that interest them and allow them to connect with fellow citizens on the LA website with similar interests.

    What Web 2.0 tools are you using at Harringay, and what benefits have these tools brought to the local authority? You mention “that means local authorities being prepared to let go the reins and facilitate local residents’ use of 2.0 technologies to encourage participation”

    Can you explain what you mean by this? and how you actually achieve this statement with Web 2.0 tools, and which model are you using?

    <abbr>Ian Vaughan’s last blog post..Why do Local Authorities Need to use Facebook?</abbr>

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