Digital tips for new councillors (part 1)

This set of 11 helpful digital tips for new councillors comes courtesy of our lovely friends Dave McKenna and Carl Whistlecraft @LDBytes as part of their Rewiring Local Democracy work. They ran a great session at #localgovcamp and used it to produce the following top tips for new councillors on getting down and digital. Thanks Dave and Carl for letting us reproduce your blog here...

Our question for the session was ‘What advice would you give to new councillors who want to use digital?’  This was not particularly about councillors who had never used twitter before (although it works for them as well) but for those who perhaps already know social media but want to find out how to use it in their new role.

The consensus was that digital does make better councillors but you have to know why you are using it; that it’s not just about broadcasting messages – you need to engage and respond.  We also thought that digital should be part of every councillor induction but, just in case it isn't where you are; here are some tips to get you started.

1.     Find out your local rules.  We certainly got the feeling that social media for councillors is on the rise but not yet everywhere.  Some councils still ban twitter from meetings for example whereas others encourage all their councillors to go digital (Lambeth sounds like a great example).  If you don’t like what is going on with you then you should...

2. Change your local rules.  Ask the people who run your council why things can’t be different, hang on a minute, you run the council don’t you?  Not sure what you are asking for?  Here is a handy checklist to get you started.

3. Check out what support is available.  Again, there can be big differences between councils, and between different councillor roles (Cabinet and scrutiny for example) but see what is available.  Make sure that officers are producing the kind of content that you will want to share through social media.

4. Listen before you speak.  Social media is a listening tool first and foremost.  Also it is important to get to know the terrain before you contribute.  We also heard some very good advice about pausing before you respond – you are publishing in public after all.

5. Don’t annoy people by campaigning.  Even at election time.   People want to hear about what you are doing to improve the area but will get turned off by constant recycling of ‘party lines' on social media.

6. Be careful when tweeting from meetings.  Not everyone thinks this is a good idea or likes to see councillors tweeting when they “should be listening”.  You should play this by ear (see point 1).   One thought we had was that an official twitter feed from meetings provided by officers would reduce the need for councillors to tweet (see point 2).  The officer stream is good for providing the commentary (which is by its nature factual) while the councillor value is in providing personal insight and views. In an ideal world we would like to see free wifi provided in council chambers and everyone encouraged to use social media (see point 2, again)

7. Use twitter.  As an organising tool – you can link to campaigns using hashtags and even start campaigns.  As an accountability tool – let people know what you are doing and maybe even, how you are voting.  As a way to link to useful people in your area.  Often councillors are given lists of other councillors to follow but what about the local CVS, partners, private providers, the hyperlocal websites, the movers and shakers etc etc.  We think every councillor should be provided with a ‘who to follow list’.

8. Find the councillors who are already using digital and speak to them.  Councillors learn best when they are hearing it from other councillors so find out who does it well in your area or the next area or wherever.  We think Council’s should involve social media savvy councillors in delivering their induction training.  It has worked in Kirklees – check out cllrsocmed to see what we are talking about.

9. Make sure you know what to do during an emergency.  We heard examples of how councillors both helped and hindered by using social media during emergencies such as floods.  Make sure you have the right advice before giving it to others.

10. Don’t forget the non- digital folk.  You need to use the right channels to reach the right people but actually you, as a councillor, are brilliantly placed to do this.  We heard about how church halls can be used alongside facebook pages to reach out wider.  You are in the perfect position to connect everyone together.

11. Promote digital democracy.  As a digital councillor you should be a champion for the ways in which digital can get people involved.  We talked about online registration as one very good example – but we all need to be on a mission to get people involved and voting.  Always.

If you're heading to LGA conference in Bournemouth this year (or even if you're not - you can get involved online), Dave and Carl will be conducting a session in the innovation zone on Wednesday 9 July 1.30-2.30pm where you can come along and have a chat with them and with other councillors in the room and via Twitter about getting to grips with digital.

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