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is bad enough, but worse, we found that of the 308 sites that were up to date in 2012, by 2014, 139 (45%) were either out of date or had gone completely offline. On the other hand, of the 490 out of date community councils, 85 were now up to date, and 53 had new online presences – so 28% of up-to-date presences are relatively new.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

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.
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6 Responses to Community councils online? Up to a point, Lord Copper

  1. Looking forward to reading it, Peter.

    You’ve cast me back to several years ago when I was providing web and online services for ASCC and I floated what to me was the obvious idea of preparing a funding application to create a “web site kit” of some sort for CCs to use. If set up correctly (WPMU) every CC could deploy a web site instantly.

    The idea never went anywhere because it got to the heart of the problem, e.g. it’s not that CCs can’t access digital resources, it’s that they won’t.

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