This event, funded by Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute for Informatics and Digital innovation and supported by Scottish Government, the Improvement Service and the Democratic Society, turned out to be a great success. We were quite optimistic – there was a waiting list. However, I was full of trepidation – as it turns out un-necessarily!
We’ve received several emails thanking us for arranging it, and one delegate told us it was ‘the day CCs were reborn’. That remains to be seen but I am sure it was the day that new relationships between community council members were born – and that was the aim of the day! This KnowledgeHub group is intended to be the district nurse, teacher and careers guidance officer helping a community of practice around digital engagement to grow to maturity.
The rest of this post describes what happened – analyses and calls to action are in progress.
Registration – starting questions
As they registered, delegates were asked to name their most significant problem around CC digital engagement. Answers included ‘obtaining email addresses and keeping contact legally’, ‘CC members being older people and unsure about the e-world’, ‘geographic factors – distance, hills, low population’ and ‘lack of community interest/engagement’. Here’s the full set of answers:
Delegates were also asked where they currently go for help This was so that other delegates could see new sources of help, and so that answers could be included in a ‘how-to’ guide. Here’s what delegates told us.
The final starter question for delegates was what they wanted from today. This question was mostly so we could know whether our plans were on the right lines, but it will also be very helpful if and when we run other workshops – there certainly seems to be a demand.
Session 1: Discovering major problems
We have investigated some of the barriers to and drivers of CC digital communication and engagement, principally in my MSc research. However, this work was limited to a few Edinburgh CCs that mostly already digitally engaged – only 1 CC in this research didn’t yet have an internet presence, and it was just about to commission one. So the big hairy mammoth in the room is still investigation of why so many CCs remain offline and why so many more CCs have retreated from internet use.
However, give that several delegates had said they had little or no internet experience as community councillors, and that many had said they wanted to learn more about channels they currently didn’t use, it seems likely that the problems they have experienced are similar to those affecting ever-offline and newly-offline CCs. Here’s the answers delegates gave:
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Intersession presentation: Improvement Service
David Barr of the Improvement Service then spoke about its current work for CCs. I could try to precis his words but it’s probably better to simply give his presentation. (A video of David’s talk is on YouTube)
Session 2: How can CCs use the internet?
The aim of this session was to discover how CCs can and do use the internet, and hence share solutions to the problems they had encountered. It also gave, we believe, a pointer to what CCs felt they should be doing, resources permitting.
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Intersession presentation: The Community Empowerment Bill
Kathleen Glazik, of the Scottish Government Community Empowerment unit then spoke about the Community Empowerment Bill. An audio file of her presentation is in preparation and will be uploaded as soon as possible. Highlights will be in a later blog post.
Intersession presentation: The Democratic Society
Alistair Stoddart of The Democratic Society spoke about his organisation’s work, covering topics such as CollabGovScot and Post IndyRef Events. Audio and highlights will be uploaded as soon as possible.
Session 3: Channels and solutions
The aim of this session was enabling delegates to talk about the subjects that were important to them, and building relationships with other delegates who were interested in similar topics. From the choices made at registration, 6 groups were created: (1) Facebook (2), Facebook/analytics, (3)Twitter and other SocMed, (4) websites and blogs (5) solution finding and emails (6) training.
The Twitter group came up with several thoughts, as shown on this flipchart sheet:
Intersession presentation: Leith Central Community council tweets, Communities of Practice
Leith Central CC began to use Twitter to try to connect with its citizens in Autumn 2014. Marion Donaldson and Leah Lockhart spoke about how this had changed LCCC’s communication for the better, and how it had affected them as CC members. This work was supported and monitored as part of a small research project – I (Bruce Ryan) did the legwork, supervised by Peter Cruickshank.
Another facet of this research was investigating whether there was a community of practice (CoP) linking digital engagers in 3 neighbouring community councils. We found out that there is, but it’s patchy and fragile – a secretary’s resignation effectively took out one of the CCs – and there is no active management of the digital engagers’ practical knowledge. The report on this work is here. We hope research how such CoPs can be strengthened and joined up so that knowledge and good practices are widely shared, encouraging and enabling other CCs to take up digital engagement and combating some of the digital divide that so misaffects CCs. The presentation on this work is here, and there is a video on YouTube.
The final session was to give delegates a chance to air any other issues that concerned them, comment on the day’s events and consider where to go next. Points included creating a road map into the future, sharing a list of CCs that currently use Twitter, issues around data protection and FOISA paralysing CCs, use of SurveyMonkey, (lack of) proper briefing for trainers, sharing skills and contacts, a template for CC websites and issues around communication via CCLOs and LAs.
I am very grateful to the facilitators, Edinburgh Napier University’s IIDI for funding the day, Peter Cruickshank for many things, but mainly to all the delegates for coming and making such great contributions to everyone else’s work. Thank you all!