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Solace Summit: Open Network and the value of the social web in solving problems

By October 12, 2012 No Comments

Next week sees the annual gathering of local authority chief executives at the Solace Summit, held this year in Coventry.

As ever, a number of Public-iers will be there. While I’ll be lending a hand with social reporting, Sarah, Mathew and Dave will be talking about our Open Network engagement work. And last but by no means least, Catherine will facilitate an open conversation, bringing together the five workstreams that will run through the conference.

The workstreams will explore different aspects of ‘leadership for a sustainable future’ at a time of pressing concern for local government. As ever, we’ll be keen to talk about how intelligent use of digital and social media can help on this road, but I was taken by a remark made recently by Martin Reeves, Coventry City Council chief executive and the current Solace president.

On his blog, Dan Slee recounted Martin’s speech to the 10 by 10 WM event, where great examples of social-media innovation in local government were shared. Martin told the room that he had just spent several days with other chief executives considering the issues they face. Not once, he said, had social media been mentioned. As Dan pointed out, Martin is one of a pioneering group of senior figures in local government who are using social media, so his remarks are perhaps even more telling. But it is what Martin said next that is most important. Here’s a quote from Dan’s post…

“How do you need to change that?” he asked us. “Stop being evangelists. Stop talking about the technology. Talk about the solutions. Talk about the solutions that may just have social media as part of it. Then you’ll get people listening.”

Dan Slee, SOCIAL MEDIA: Why solutions, not shiny matters most

As Dan has said this feels like a really good encapsulation of the challenge facing anyone now thinking about what social-web technology means to government – and it is food for thought for a company like Public-i. People are moving away from seeing social media as something they need to be introduced to or take account of and beginning to demand answers from it.

That’s great because it means the conversation is now about doing, rather than talking. Of course, it’s also a gauntlet thrown down at our feet. For Public-i that starts with the Solace Summit. The message we’ll be bringing with us is that local authorities now have an opportunity – even a responsibility – to change the relationship that they have with their citizens.

While technology will make that possible, it’s being driven by need. Few chief executives may mention social media next week, but they will be talking about how councils can ask citizens to do more at a time when local government finds itself doing less. If they are to do this local authorities must define a relationship with citizens that’s focused on solving problems together. We think it will require a more open and more networked approach to communication and engagement – something we flesh out in more detail here, introducing the Open Network approach we’ve developed with our friends the Democratic Society and OCSI.

This approach is about trying to get the most from technological, economic and social change – responding to these positively and using the opportunities they provide at a time when fewer resources are around. It’s in this context that the social web has value, whether or not it’s ever mentioned.

If you’re going to Solace Summit and would like to talk about Open Network you can speak to us (Catherine, Sarah, Mathew, Dave or me) or to Anthony Zacharzewski of the Democratic Society at the conference. Or you can give us a call (01273 821 282) or email us straight away.