Improving Community Council digital engagement

Community Councils (CCs) are sadly semi-mysterious things that probably have an unfortunate image to those who know what they are. According to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, under which Community Council schemes were established, ‘In addition to any other purpose which a community council may pursue, the general purpose of a community council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible, and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable.’ That’s fancy talk for people in a community getting together to gather local and hyperlocal information and opinions on city council services, activities, plans and decisions to share directly with the city council. That is the ideal situation anyway as many CCs have too few members and uncontested elections meaning a sort of lack of democratic legitimacy. Community Councils are brilliant for so many reasons- allowing citizens to share issues and thoughts directly with their city council, giving citizens an official channel to organise and get involved in local politics and to help a council gather sentiment and information in a way it could not reasonably do itself.

But are Community Councils doing all they can to reach out to their communities and to be as inclusive and transparent as possible? Where web and social media is concerned the answer is no. In a paper published earlier this year out of the Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation at Napier University, ‘Hyperlocal e-democracy’? The experience of Scotland’s Community Councils we get a picture that the web presences of CCs could do with some improving. Of 1,166 CCs functioning (of a potential 1,369), 658 were online with a website with only 307 found to be keeping content up to date. Though the paper focused on websites, one of the authors, Lecturer and Lead Investigator extraordinaire Peter Cruickshank, has researched the social media presences of CCs which are equally low (see Peter’s Twitter list of CCs as an example.)

Tonight I’m attending my local Leith Central Community Council (LCCC) meeting, which is something I try to do every month, and this meeting is special to me. I’ve been working with CC member Marion and Napier researcher Bruce Ryan (Bruce is one of the authors of the paper above) to put together guidance and policy for LCCC to start building awareness and community using Twitter, the existing LCCC blog and other social media that is fit for storytelling. We will present our draft paper to LCCC tonight and, if there are no objections, we will get cracking. The goals are to connect better with local people, let them know LCCC exists, that they can take part and to gather intelligence about local issues by looking at what is being produced by citizens online. So hopefully the CC grows and the thoughts and opinions coming out of LCCC to Edinburgh Council become stronger and more representative. The work we do will help inform a collaborative study Bruce is taking part in called Hyperlocal Engagement, will help LCCC become an exemplar for CCs (and I would argue local authorities) in digital engagement and will help me learn a lot more about CCs generally. I’ll be sharing my organic community engagement, digital storytelling and online community management skills with Marion and Bruce- and anyone else who wants to take part. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress here!

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