We’ve published our report on the autumn digiCC workshops – you can find it on the national website for CCs at http://www.communitycouncils.scot/read-the-report-of-the-digital-engagement-workshops.html and in the library belonging to the KnowledgeHub group for CC members at https://khub.net/documents/10440977/0/2015+digiCC+workshops+report. (You’ll need to join the KnowledgeHub and then the CC members group to access that library.)
The programme was a great learning experience in many ways. Firstly, I’ve begun to understand more about CCs outwith Edinburgh, including the problems specific to small, rural CCs. (By the way, you should check out Prager and Holstead’s work in this area.) Secondly, the workshops confirmed across Scotland the need for CCs to have enough members to run their online presences, and the types of training these people will need. Thirdly, I got to visit four new places, and so start new working relationships with local and hyperlocal government ‘characters’.
Of course it’s not all about me! I’m please to say that delegates told us they learnt about many things, including
- finding out that CCs and RTOs have similar problems around digital engagement
- website creation and use
- how other CCs operate, and differences in their adoption of digital tools
- use and context of social media
- tools for community engagement and local democracy, e.g. participatory budgeting, charettes, Facebook polling
- availability of support and resources, e.g. national CC website, the KnowledgeHub, grants
- variations in support for CCs between LAs
- the need for succession planning
- data protection and security
- the Community Empowerment Act.
The workshops also helped initiate some relationships between CCs in different LAs, so that skills and knowledge may begin to flow. To be honest, this was the major point of the workshops! We were pretty sure that a day of exploring ideas would not be enough to learn how to ‘do’ Facebook, for example. So we deliberately steered the workshops away from being teaching events. Instead, we encouraged sharing of ideas and experiences, even bad experiences, so that attendees could learn from each other what does and doesn’t work in practice.
Further, while we know that there are many CCs that don’t use the internet well – or at all – there are some who are doing great digital things. And there is a fair number that are using the internet to inform their citizens. So the ‘answer’ to CC digital engagement is out there, but it’s fragmented, with different pieces being held by different CCs across Scotland. So our aim was to bring the pieces together so that CCs themselves can begin to complete this jigsaw, and maybe make a better picture altogether.
The other main aim was to learn from CCs themselves what drives and inhibits their use of digital engagement with citizens. Perhaps the most important finding is that in general CCs do not have the human resources to create and maintain online presences. It takes time and human effort to post content, and to work with whatever citizens say in response. Quite a bit of workshop time was spent considering how to recruit more people with interests in digital onto CCs.
We didn’t come up with any magic bullets but ideas included encouraging young people interested in politics (perhaps those taking Modern Studies courses) to use CC work to improve their CVs. From what I’ve seen of CCs with full digital engagement suites, key to building up digital audiences is being seen to do community work in person. For instance, one CC organised litter-picking and anti-dog-mess mapping events. These showed local citizens that the CC means business, and enabled the CC to give out its digital contact details, so citizens could – and wanted to – learn more about what it does.
Having said that human resources is the biggest issue, there was also a clear appetite for training in how to use modern blogging systems to create and run websites. Most delegates were very appreciative of demonstrations that websites can be set up in about 15 minutes! Of course, CCs will need to plan the pages and types of contents they will publish. I’d suggest a minimum of a blog of local news and CC work, a page listing the CC members and other local representatives (including the CC’s contact details and meeting arrangements), a page for meeting agendas and minutes, and a page about the CC’s planning work.)
So my next task in this area is to create videos showing exactly how to set up a basic CC website using wordpress – watch this space!