SPLAT! A week of horrendous insomnia followed by a 5am alarm on Saturday saw an exhausted version of myself lumber on to a London-bound train for Councillor Camp at Facebook’s perky Covent Garden HQ. With my ipod on shuffle for the first time in a long time, the glorious diversity and discovery feeding the pleasure centre of my brain was fine preparation for the day to come.
Councillors from all over England* of every political persuasion covering an age range from twenty somethings to switched on seventies gathered to talk about how to do digital better. A pleasant surprise was the mix of social media evangelists and sceptics on a scale from those who exploit every platform and channel available to those who were yet to be convinced of the value of any. This made for lively conversation and none of that boring old preaching to the converted nonsense. BIG TICK.
Highlights from the day’s mix of lightning talks and unconference sessions
@merici‘s talk showed us how not to do the same old things in the same old way. Using food to bring people together in one of the crucial swing states during the last Obama campaign, this was a lovely example of grassroots community engagement. She followed this up with a session on making video cheaply and easily to share and drive the message home to those all important undecided voters.
@markpack ran – no, sprinted – through 10 questions to test just how seriously your council takes digital. Examining the use and abuse of copyright, smartphones, SEO, HR and IT skillsets, email and putting up silly barriers to access and content sharing. This presentation will be enlightening to many in the public sector and in commerce alike.
“Why I voted as I did” – Apologies but I can’t remember whose presentation this came from but it struck a chord with many of us. It’s from a Cincinnati councilman’s blog where he outlines his precise reasons for the votes he casts on the council. Devastatingly simple but effective transparency, accountability and engagement.
And then there’s @curiousc. This is a woman of ferocious intellect who talks at the speed of light and in a day of discovery she was my most precious find. Catherine gave us expert insight into gathering evidence on digital exclusion in our wards and how to go about mining for more granular data to better connect with residents. In her session on building civic architecture she urged us to open up the agenda setting process and create truly open and representative digital civic spaces. By her own admission she comes from approximately 10 years in the future but for me her thinking traces the changing shape of council services, the new, emerging citizen activism and the evolution of our roles as councillors. Catherine plans to blog on the three sessions she facilitated so I’ll add links when she’s had chance to draw breath and write.
UPDATE: Catherine Howe’s post as mentioned above – http://curiouscatherine.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/councillor-camp-links-and-love/
A few points in conclusion
1. The keyword of the day was AUTHENTICITY. It’s a word that deserves its caps. Without it we can’t build trust and – crucially for politicians – influence. We need the straight line of the >>- authenticity->trust->influence-> arrow to target the real issues in our wards and work with our communities to make the world even a slightly better place. Whatever our political stripe as councillors that’s what we all want.
2. Whenever I mix with councillors from other areas at events, seminars and conferences I always want to know who’s in control of their council and who’s in opposition. Of course those of us in opposition hope to be the leading group in future but until then our priorities are somewhat different. I’m just going to throw that out there and come back to it later!
3. In the final discussion of the day, one of the two women panellists had to drop out unexpectedly and a call was put out for a quick replacement. A nice chap swiftly volunteered further skewing the gender balance 4:1. In my sleep deprived state I mused on a world where that perfectly nice chap would say, “Hang on, do you want to ask some of the women to step in first?”. Or a world where women don’t hold back and get their hands in the air at least as quickly as the nice chaps. Or even a world where the organisers would proactively encourage women to step up. Dream, dream, dream.
I don’t remember much about the journey home but I soon found myself in pyjamas on my sofa with the last of the Christmas port watching Brigitte, Borgen’s fictional Danish prime minster, repeatedly having to assert her authority over a junior minister whilst fretting about her role at the heart of her family. Public life can be tough for women but that’s a post for another day.
UPDATE: Really useful and interesting posts from other attendees
Cllr Bill Chapman, Surrey Heath – http://surreyheathchapmans.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/councillor-camp-for-social-media/
*Councillors from all over the UK were invited but for whatever reason – distance, forecasts of heavy snow – only English representatives showed up.