(UK) local government, Web2.0 and social networking

On a trawl through the internet I came across a range of resources looking at how (local) government should (and shouldn’t) be responding to the opportunities and challenges that are presented by social networking sites (such as Facebook, Twitter) and Web2.0 tools (Ajax, RSS etc).

In February, a couple of bloggers looked at what happens if a council does not have a presence.

ThePickards looks at examples from the NE of England, showing the problem that happen (eg for South Tyneside) by ignoring FB: someone else, probably critical of you, will occupy your space. On the other hand, Newcastle gives a nice example of a simple presence, kept up to date by RSS feeds from the main website.

Next: despite the negative title, Simon Wakeman comes up with some simple guidelines an examples of how to balance the need to be on Facebook etc with practical guidance building on existing best practice. Firstly he starts with the obvious: create Facebook pages that people actually care about. And secondly, reach out to existing users, which as he points out takes some thought:

Just because you have a presence on Facebook (whether it’s as a corporate body or for a specific service area), that doesn’t mean you’re automatically using Facebook to its greatest potential as a communications tool.

Try searching out people in your area using Facebook already. Look for groups that are concerned with your area. Try to spot activists among the groups – who seem the most active and vocal?

Once you’ve done this think about how to engage with these people appropriately – and I don’t mean send them a message saying “I see you’re from XXX, why  not join our group?” – the skills and subtleties of engaging with residents through social media are as complicated as the more traditional media relations that councils are so familiar with

One a slightly more techie level, I came across this campaign to start making one part of Web2.0 more meaningful.

This subject must be in the air – Simon Dixon just blogged about it this morning too, pointing out that having a simple feed is just the start of it. Naturally, Edinburgh‘s RSS presence is nowhere to be seen.

Guidelines and research

Some people are sitting in the background thinking about the bigger picture (sorry about the mixed metaphor). First of all, the NCC has Stephen Dale‘s introduction and overview (from IT Advisor 2008):

  • Take-up of e-government services in this country, compared to others such as Scandinavian countries, has been slow. It may be that trust in an organisation is a factor in consumers choosing to use new channels. Use of social media is one way in which a local council could become more transparent, accountable and possibly increase citizen/customer perceptions of trust.The cost of participation is trivial, where anyone can blog, or upload their clip to YouTube, or their photos to Flickr. However, this is not to trivialise the difference between having a digital presence, whether it be a blog or a video clip, and actually being heard. This is where local councils can make a real difference, by utilising Web 2.0 technologies to enable the voice of the community to be heard. This promotes the ideals of citizen empowerment.

Even though it’s an excellent overview, I’d say that there is a possible confusion of issues: Web2.0 technologies (eg consuming and creating RSS feeds) can be used independently of social networking sites and services, and similarly, it is possible to treat social networking purely as a communication tool with no consideration of the underlying technologies. Someone (a councillor?) coming at this overview afresh might get confused.

(Also, even though Facebook is dominant in the UK, this is not the case wordwide – as shown by a review of the stats. The lesson: make sure you’re building in the right place before you start expecting your audience to come)

Finally, the W3C eGovernment Interest Group (which I recently came across) is drafting some general guidelines:

  • Live version.
    eGovernment refers to the use of the Web or other information technologies by governing bodies (local, state, federal, multi-national) to interact with their citizenry, between departments and divisions, and between governments themselves. Recognizing that governments throughout the World need assistance and guidance in achieving the promises of electronic government through technology and the Web, this document seeks to define and call forth, but not yet solve, the variety of issues and challenges faced by governments. The use cases, documentation, and explanation are focused on the available or needed technical standards but additionally provide context to note and describe the additional challenges and issues which exist before success can be realized.

I await developments…

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
This entry was posted in Daily Links, e-government, egovernment, research, Techie, UK and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to (UK) local government, Web2.0 and social networking

  1. Some useful links Peter, and a good point about the differences between Web 2.0 technologies and social networking services. Much of the attraction of the latter is that you don’t need to know about the former!

    The drive towards freeing data to allow mash-ups will no doubt continue to gather momentum. In the past I’ve been able to hack a pseudo-RSS feed of Edinburgh’s news and am told that a proper one is on the list of to-dos. There’s also masses of potential around mapping council services which could offer real value to citizens.

  2. Peter says:

    Hi James – thanks for the input. I’m glad to hear that Edinburgh has plans – I hope they go beyond putting press releases on an RSS feed! As you point out, giving access to geo-tagged stats has great potential (even better if the OS would allow us to use their data). I’d love to see what Greener Leith for instance could do with the data. They’ve already latched onto PlanningAlerts.com

  3. Pingback: Local government and social networking | Spartakan

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