This post shares some ideas about how those working in scrutiny can get started using social media. It also doubles as a write up of a session at the recent scrutinycamp as part of a @ldbytes discovery day. Well, my take anyway. Feel free to disagree.
Using Social Media for Scrutiny
There are 25 people sat in a circle in a room not far from the Houses of Parliament. "How many of you would like to use social media for your scrutiny work?” Nearly every hand goes up. "How many of you actually do use social media for your scrutiny work?” Nearly every raised hand goes down.
This was the most telling moment from my session at the recent scrutinycamp about how councillors can use social media for scrutiny. Instead of the discussion I thought we would have, we went down a different track and used the time to talk about the difficulties of using social media for scrutiny and, more to the point, how we could overcome them.
There were a number of things I think we agreed on:
- There are some very good reasons for using social media for scrutiny
- Social media is just one channel among many – not a solution to all engagement needs
- Using social media means working differently - not additional work
- Care needs to be taken about what you share but if anyone can operate with tact and political sensitivity then it’s a scrutiny officer!
- There are a number of councillors using social media really well, for executive and ward work for example, but not so many using social media to support their scrutiny role
People also saw a number of barriers:
- Some councils lock down social media for staff (yes really)
- Centralised council comms
- The poor public perception of councillors using social media in meetings
- Lack of knowledge / experience in teams
10 Ideas to Get Started
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, drawing on the discussion, tweets and other conversations during the day here are some initial suggestions about how scrutiny can get started with social media in places where it is not already happening. It’s mainly about officers but this is a conversation that very much needs councillor input as well.
- Be clear – start with exactly what it is you want to social media to do. Identify the specific practical ways that social media can help your scrutiny work. Sharing details of meetings? Gathering evidence for inquiries? Live tweeting events? What?
- Start small. You don’t need a social media strategy – you just need a pick one or two things to start with and make those work. Find out what others have done and copy shamelessly.
- If you do have an enlightened comms / digital team – talk to them. They can offer advice on how to get things up and running.
- If your comms team are a bit more, er… centralised then talk to them anyway about what you can do. Make use of the corporate accounts if you can – they will no doubt have a wide reach. Not everyone thinks that team twitter accounts are a good idea (although I do) – there are other ways to get things out there.
- Find out which of your councillors are using social media and talk to them about using it more for scrutiny.
- Make sure your content is shareable. You might not control the social media channel but you probably control your content. Councillors like @cahalburke in Kirklees tweeted that they do use social media to publicise scrutiny webpages but these pages need to be right. Talk to those who use social media about what works for them. Or check out this checklist here.
- What about personal accounts? We talked about the blurring between professional and personal when it comes to social media - if you tweet as a ‘semi professional’ outside of work why shouldn’t you tweet the link to the latest inquiry report or meeting? We are all citizens as well.
- Organise training and support sessions – as one councillor tweeted in: ‘the best training can be informal, as and when, from friends and colleagues’ (@fionamgordon)
- Are you going paperless and giving councillors ipads for meetings? Well that’s a great hook you can use to hang a conversation about social media in meetings
- Use social media to learn about how to use social media for scrutiny.
The final point is perhaps the most import. You need to be talking to your colleagues in other councils about how to do this stuff. There is no perfect set of rules and things keep changing. Social media is the best way to share and, as the best way to learn social media is to do social media, you’ll be gaining new skills at the same time. Sorted.
Start with twitter. Follow @cfpscrutiny or @ldbytes for general digital democracy tips, or even me (@localopolis). See you there!
Thanks to Andrew from @cfpscymru for live tweeting