Yesterday was my ninth day in my new role as a Project Support Officer at Public-i and I spent it attending a Networked Councillor workshop at West Sussex County Council. Now that I have figured out where the tea and coffee are kept, and learnt to avoid the office lift at all costs, I have been spending my time at work getting under the skin of Networked Councillor. I have been working my way through the background to this ambitious project; getting to know the processes and the administration which support it, so I was looking forward to seeing the delivery of one of the modules.
At this point, I should really hold my hands up and come clean; I am an almost blank canvas in the world of social media. Yes, I have Facebook (after all, how does anyone procrastinate effectively without it?) but my forays into Twitter and blogging had always fizzled out unceremoniously after a couple of half-hearted attempts. However, I am passionate to the point of obsessive about public policy and its creation. I attended the session yesterday therefore in a sort of dual role; as the new girl trying to understand her job but also, in some senses, as a delegate.
The thing that was really brought home to me is just how important this new world of social media and digital networks is (or should be) to policy makers. There are an untold number of interested and motivated people out there who are organising around issues ranging from the local to the international. This is an incredible resource which our local policy makers can tap into. In fact, with public engagement from traditional participatory methods falling, it seems to be not just sensible but vital for our policy makers to join us on these platforms.
Growing online networks bring many prospects for increased democratic engagement, but I think the most exciting is the opportunity that elected officials have to work with us (the public) to find solutions to problems collectively, rather than telling us about decisions after they’ve been made. This is known as co-production, and is a key theme of the Networked Councillor programme.
Of course, these grand visions are all very well, but first it’s vital that councillors are given the tools they need to make the most of these resources. That’s where Public-i comes in; to bridge the gap and bring together elected officials and the public in the digital space. The delegates yesterday were a mixed bag in terms of technological know-how; some were already comfortable with social media platforms, some were complete beginners, but all of them left feeling enthused about the prospects that the digital world holds. With on-going support from Public-i and their support officers, I am confident that all of them will soon be tweeting, blogging and updating fluently, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
After yesterday’s workshop I feel more impassioned than ever about the work we do here, and also motivated to increase my own social media presence. Now, if only I had something interesting to say. Funny cat picture anyone?