#digiCC – our report on digital engagement workshops

session 2 table 1 (2) (771x800)Last week we (Bruce Ryan and myself) published our report into a series of digital engagement workshops we ran for community councilors through 2015 across Scotland. Well, Bruce did most of the running, but I was there in the background.

The aim was (a little) to show what can be done with social media and public participation. We had some great guest talks from Alistair Stoddart of @DemSocScotland covering participatory budgetting and related concepts. (And we are truly grateful to the representatives from the Scottish Government being willing to get out there and face the questions).

But the main aim was to give the community councillors a chance to share challenges and experiences. We hope this will lead to some at least keeping in touch with each other – creating the beginnings of a network of support. Community of practice is too strong an expression right now, though it would be nice to get there.

Empowerment of community councils or their successors is creeping up the agenda. I hope this work is helping in a small way to prepare the ground for devolution of power within Scotland if and when that happens.

The report is over at the relaunched community councils support website here (good use of the new .scot domain I think).

More details and lessons learned over at Bruce’s blog: Digital engagement workshops report

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Background information on Community Councils in Scotland

Reading and fixing this may be a nice diversion for democracy nerds who are feeling a little bit overwhelmed by IndyRef.

In the course of researching how community councillors have been using the internet, we’ve had to document how community councils work, and relate to local government in Scotland. I thought it would be worth pulling this knowledge together – so I’ve now added a static page on Community Councils to this.

Possible extensions include:

  • comparisons with Parish Councils in England – and with the equivalents in other EU countries
  • A summary of the many attempts are reviewing, renewing and reforming Community Councils in Scotland.

However, I want to keep the focus on information systems and use of technology. There are already plenty of good local participation blogs out there!

Enjoy (in a quiet way).

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Is it all deliberate dereliction of duty?

Bruce Ryan has picked up on some thoughts on why community council(lor)s are not online – worth a read.

Bruce's IT-ish world

The results of our 2014 survey of Community Councils’ internet use have gathered some interest, especially after Peter wrote about the massive churn in online presences.

(Click the graphic to see a full-sized PDF.)

The rings’ outer diameters represent the numbers in each status in 2014. Inner diameters represent the amount of ‘churn’, i.e. the sum of the numbers that left or entered this status since 2012. The rings’ outer diameters represent the numbers in each status in 2014. Inner diameters represent the amount of ‘churn’, i.e. the sum of the numbers that left or entered this status since 2012.

We’re not the only ones who are concerned that Community Councils do function as they should. Without them, as Paddy Bort and others have pointed out, Scotland is effectively bereft of true local democracy.

Ever since we discovered in 2012 that CCs generally use the internet poorly, I’ve wanted to know why, so that that this situation can be reversed. My MSc dissertation began to explore this question, looking at some human factors driving individual CC members to use the internet and preventing them from doing so. It’s clear that there…

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Community councils online? Up to a point, Lord Copper

CC activity by LA Scotland

The level of activity varies widely between the local authorities

Some readers may be aware that during the blog silence, I have in fact been involved in a bit of research, looking at different aspects of the use of the internet by Scottish community councils.

The latest output has been the to publish the results of our 2014 survey of what they’ve been up to – I guess it’s time to blog!

We (that is Bruce Ryan and I) had carried out a survey of community councils online in Summer 2012 and found some pretty poor figures. We wanted to see we had been unlucky, or if things were getting any better over time, so with a bit of funding from our university we repeated the exercise in May. As well as simply counting websites, the surveys also estimates how up-to-date and actively maintained the sites were.

The public web presences of the 1369 potential Community Councils (CCs) in Scotland were covered. We found 655 websites, most of which were not up-to-date. We also went on to look at social media use and found 116 Community Councils had public Facebook pages, and around 30 were using Twitter. Pretty small figures…

The churn beneath the static figures

Bottom line: we found that there has been almost no positive change since 2012: 307 out of 1369 (22%) have up to date presences – 292 of which seem to be actively maintained – this is virtually identical to the figures of 308 and 290 in 2012.

This low level of use of the internet is bad enough, but worse, we found that of the 308 sites that were up to date in 2012, by 2014, 139 (45%) were either out of date or had gone completely offline. On the other hand, of the 490 out of date community councils, 85 were now up to date, and 53 had new online presences – so 28% of up-to-date presences are relatively new.

Now – it’s great that 138 community councils have started to maintain websites since 2012! But…

This high level of churn implies an increasing number of digitally disengaged Community Councils, or at least council members with poor implications for their computing and political self-efficacy – and the messages they will be passing to their communities about hw difficult it is to make digital engagement work.

This presents two challenges:

  • Can anything be done to ensure that the ‘new’ web presences have a better chance of lasting? And,
  • Can we do anything to find out why the 139 community councils are no longer able to keep an up-to-date presence? It would be great of that could stop any from sliding from rarely maintained to not maintained at all, or offline altogether.

What can be done?

There is a general awareness that there are issues with local government in Scotland that will have to be addressed no matter what the results of the independence referendum. – see for example the report of the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy (though we were disappointed to note that community councils were only mentioned in passing).  We hope our survey will provide evidence to policy makers wishing to make improve the impact of the lowest tier of local democracy in Scotland.

One interesting area we are starting to explore is what seems to be motivating the active community councils – we’ve defined three working models or archetypes. More later.

Over the next weeks, I plan to blog a bit more to explain the more of the background to what Community Councils are, some of the implications of our survey – and what we can do about them (including introducing our new CCN+ project ‘Hyperlocal engagement online’)

  • The 2014 report, which includes a number of recommendations, can be downloaded here.
  • The 2012 version, which contains an extended overview of the place of community councils in Scotland can be found here.
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Cloud Security Alliance EMEA preconference seminar

The Cloud Security Alliance held its 2013 Congress here in Edinburgh – and I had the privilege of attending the pre-conference symposium on 24 September which focussed on the specific risks that exist within the public and private sectors in the UK. The event aimed to integrate activities and to outline the opportunities and risks that exist within Cloud infrastructures.

This is quick and dirty blog post that summarises my notes, so bear with me. These are my notes – and may reflect my misunderstanding of what the speaker was saying. If something sounds wrong, it’ll be my mistake.

Continue reading

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