I’ve been asked to take part in the IDeA event “Councillors connected: social media online conference” to talk about the opportunities for local government / voluntary sector collaboration, through new media. This is how I’ve started off my session, come and join the discussion at www.communities.idea.gov.uk/login.do if you’ve got other thoughts …
With the introduction of the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) there is even more emphasis on local authorities to show they are working effectively with partners, including their local voluntary and community sector (VCS). The growth of new media tools brings exciting opportunities for this, but also some significant challenges. Have you thought about how new media tools might help you to work more collaboratively with the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and what you can do to enable that? What can be learnt from how the VCS are using new media?
The local VCS will always be a key partner for local government. Working directly with the local community gives the VCS a unique insight into the needs of your residents, particularly those who are reluctant to access public services. The CAA asks local government to demonstrate “how well do local priorities express community needs and aspirations?” how better to do that than by working collaboratively with the VCS?
Here are just a few of my initial thoughts on how new media tools can be used to work with – and learn from – the VCS, I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas:
- Intelligence gathering – are you listening to what organisations in your area are saying on the web? Some organisations are starting to use the web to talk about what matters to them, what is working well and what isn’t. Listening to these conversations can give you valuable information about what matters to local people. Tools like Addict-o-matic and Google blog search can make getting started with listening easy.
- Sharing data – local government has valuable data about its area (demographics, needs, business, crime, education) and the services it provides. This kind of information can help voluntary and community organisations do their work more effectively but accessing it is often difficult. Why not use applications like Google Maps to present this information in an easy to understand way; one example from the VCS is this map of volunteering opportunities from Hillingdon Volunteer Centre.
- Seeking opinion – are you using comment features or discussion forums to get feedback from voluntary and community organisations on key issues and consultations? Many organisations are volunteer led, opening up these discussions online allows people to respond at a time convenient to them.
- Collaborative working – the low cost / free and easy to use nature of online collaborative tools make it easier than ever to work with others across traditional organisational boundaries. Joint working between local government and the VCS can only get easier.
Despite the obvious opportunities it’s not as easy as announcing a start date and expecting an immediate return; the reality for voluntary and community organisations is that many are still struggling with even the most basic ICT. Almost 50% of registered charities have an annual income of less than £10,000, have significant support from volunteers and are just struggling to do what they do every day. Technology is a low priority and most organisations do not have access to ICT expertise to see how it can work for them. Time needs to be invested in promoting and explaining these tools to organisations, new media isn’t going to totally replace traditional communication channels any time soon.
But will the fact that more and more people are using new media in their social lives (social networking, sharing photos, listening to podcasts) increase the speed at which they use them in their professional lives? I guess it all depends on the individual, and because of that it’s difficult to predict how the VCS will take up the new media baton.
Local government needs to consider its own role in helping voluntary and community organisations make the most of new media. What are your thoughts? What are you experiences?
(David Wilcox has also written an interesting blog post on this topic, which can be read at http://socialreporter.com/?p=557).