“Magic dragon to scrutinise local council!”


Attending local council meetings

In Cambridge we have a system of localised area committees that sit alongside the full councils at district/city level (Cambridge City) and at county/shire level (Cambridgeshire County). The way the committees are parcelled out doesn’t entirely sit with the wards I consider my neighbourhood – I sort of sit between the East and South (in part due to living on the boundary between the two. Hence in part keeping tabs on what happens at both.

I took Puffles along to the last meeting of the South Committee  – written up here by Richard Taylor, where former councillor Amanda Taylor blogged about social media users refreshing local democracy. In a nutshell there were four of us tweeting throughout what was a packed meeting. They are not always like that – this one happened to have a locally contentious issue: Addenbrookes Hospital staff parking on residential roads. The depressing thing was that no one from the hospital’s management was there to respond to concerns.

So…what’s on my mind?

Initially to get a few things off of my chest – but beyond that to say to my local councillors that as a city, Cambridge is nowhere near reaching its potential; and I want to do something about it. Hence trying to get some coherence around my ideas for CambridgeL!VE.

Initially I want to get local public sector organisations and voluntary organisations in a readyish state (or at least ‘aware’ that something is going on) come the autumn when everyone gets back at school, college and university. I’m trying to get some things rolling locally – both through TeaCambs and through stepping up as a potential school governor at my former primary school. (They have 3 “community governor” vacancies & find out next month if my application has been accepted). My broad vision is bringing the City together – & I want to use digital and social media to help people and organisations do this. But there are barriers – big ones. I want my local councillors to know about these and use their influence accordingly.

Getting organisations using social media

Puffles was given permission to gatecrash a regional VCS gathering at Homerton College by one of the speakers who I met during my civil service days. The social media presence there seemed to be minimal – as did the interest in some quarters unfortunately. This for me is reflected in the lack of a social media presence by the local umbrella group, Cambridge CVS – despite me pushing for them to take this forward in a meeting earlier this year.

I’m upfront in that I have a vested interest in delivering social media awareness training. Yet even if I was working elsewhere in a different field, with the knowledge I have chances are I’d still be jumping up and down about this. What I’m not asking the councillors to do is to commission me to go out and deliver lots of training and awareness-raising sessions to all and sundry. While that might suit me financially, it won’t necessarily be right for the City. Something’s got to come from the grass roots. The question is how.

Social media surgeries with Net2Camb

Well…we already have some of the infrastructure in place. Net2Camb has already run a successful social media surgery – one that I volunteered at in early July. While the facilities are splendid (at Cambridge Online Centre), the location is out of the way for many people. I think there is a role for both Cambridgeshire libraries and schools to host future surgeries. After all, they have the computer rooms suitable for such things. Is there any way we could get interested parties together to organise and run future surgeries?

Having something like this could help bring together various local organisations and community groups too – depending on how they were advertised and organised. It could also allow groups such as Transition Cambridge and Cambridge Cycling Campaign (which are on the whole quite good with online work) to share their learning and expertise.

It helps if councillors in particular give a lead on social media. The problem at the moment in my neck of the woods is all of my local councillors in my ward have taken a step back from social media use. On the entire East Area Committee there are only a handful of councillors that use Twitter – I’m not sure what that figure is for Facebook in terms of fanpages for roles as councillors.

Repeating the social media seminars for councillors

Some of you will be aware that I delivered a free social media seminar for Cambridge Councillors earlier in 2012. I’d like to do something similar again, or perhaps facilitate workshops for party activists – say one for local Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at one, and another for local Labour and Green activists. The simple reason being that at a national level the former two are in coalition and in the latter two there is already some overlap on political activism – especially on the back of Compass’ decision to allow people from other political parties to join.

Linking the schools, colleges and community centres together through social media.

Cambridge has a handful of council-run community centres – and at the bottom of that page is a list of other centres that can be hired out. At the same time we also have Cambridgeshire.Net which is run by the Cambridgeshire County Council. Is there some room for co-ordination, consolidation and expansion here? I want to adopt a similar principle Sian Berry of the Campaign for Better Transport made about ensuring people have better access to information via a platform that is accessible, easy to use and intuitive as a means to encourage people to act upon it. In her case it was regarding using buses locally – arguing that if people had realtime access to buses, they were more likely to use them. I want to see if we can use this same principle for groups and events – a point I make at the bottom of this post.

Linking the schools – in particular the primary schools – I hope would help break some of the silos that can sometimes grow up around them. It may also help with co-ordination of local events. I couldn’t help but notice how many local events clashed with each other over the summer, having a noticeable impact on numbers when straightforward earlier planning could have nipped those problems in the bud. At the same time it could potentially allow people to find out about other events happening at other schools and colleges, breaking some of the silos and allowing children to get to know others from beyond their school, thus potentially making the transition from primary to secondary school less traumatic.

There’s also what I like to call the ‘complementary effect’ – where people involved in one activity have a natural predisposition to another. Several years ago a number of by old ballroom dancing friends would often go to a late night salsa club after a ballroom social, or perhaps go and see a dance performance as a group. Being able to bring information about what’s on, where and being put on by whom increases the likelihood of this happening. It’s the casual local browser that I’d like to think would benefit individually, and the various groups and communities too.

Social media being a complement to, not a substitute for face-to-face contact

It’s always a risk that people see social media as the latter – or as an additional channel to get messages out to people. Social media for me has been brilliant because it allows interaction. The ‘social’ in social media implies a conversation. It allows the continuation of an existing conversation that may have been started off face-to-face. Having worked in workplaces where nothing happens until the run-up to a monthly meeting, social media allows for more people – people who are genuinely interested – to get involved. It also allows for much greater transparency. Whether it’s gatherings of people who are part of a group, a gathering of people from different groups at a forum or something more formal that’s council-related, I want to lean on Cambridge City Council’s community development officers to embrace social media so as to start making those connections.

But we put stuff up on notice boards!

Where are your notice boards? The council has lots of them, but I can’t help but feel they are not in the most ideal of places. Just as with social media, you’ve got to go where the people are. While costs mean it’s more straight-forward to have them on council/public sector property, it doesn’t mean that they are the best places to actually have them. The southern side of Coleridge for years has lacked a place where people can meet up for coffee during the day until Balzano’s completed their extension recently. (Puffles is there regularly). Since opening, the place has become a little beehive for a people to meet up – especially new mums and the recently-retired. They also have a huge blank wall that could be ideal for a community notice board. In my anecdotal experience, people are more likely to take notice of what’s on a board inside a warm local coffee shop than outside a windswept park or a supermarket.

The refurbishment of The Bun Shop just up the road is also somewhere that would be ideal too – I’ve already suggested it to the owner. This place serves filled rolls to the Clifton Road industrial estate as well as being popular with Hills Road Sixth Form College. In both of these places you have got a captive audience. Ditto with the larger bus stops and stations – Cambridge Railway Station, The City Centre/Drummer Street, Cambridge Regional College to name but a few. Can we have a review that allows notice boards to go beyond the community centres to where there is a natural receptive audience?

I’m intending on putting some of these points to Cambridge City Council’s Eastern Area Committee on 2nd August 2012   .


One thought on ““Magic dragon to scrutinise local council!”

  1. I think there is a role for both Cambridgeshire libraries and schools to host future surgeries. You will be pleased to know wi-fi is coming to our local library, Rock Road. Should be in by the end of the year, we were told by TPTB (we being the Friends of Rock Rd Library).

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