This week saw the launch of a new local government digital engagement project – Let’s Talk Central by Central Bedfordshire Council.
The Learning Pool online innovation / social media / loafing around team – that’s me and Breda – were delighted to be involved.
Essentially, Central Bedfordshire is a new unitary council, and the concept of Central Bedfordshire hasn’t really existed before, so there is a job of place shaping to be done. Using an informal, online way of getting residents views seemed a good approach to take and so we have been working with Karen Aspinall, Alan Ferguson and Rechelle Graham to do just that.
We helped to develop a strategy, build the tools – including a cool WordPress based engagement hub website – and develop some policies for online interaction for those that work at the council. On top of that, we provided some training on how to use this stuff, and are providing ongoing support as the project continues.
Here’s a quickish video that explains the site and how it works:
If you’d like to explore the idea of running a similar project at your organisation, just get in touch!
Could there be a better example of blasting public money out the window, than Central Bed’s self congratulatory “prolefeed”, of which this is just the latest example. If the council thinks there is a lot of place shaping to be done, perhaps they could start with pot holes, manning police stations, and teaching children to read and write. I look forward to welcoming the 3 idiots involved to the private sector very very soon
You may or may not have a valid point. However, your inability to express it in a civil, coherent and sensible way means that you are destined to be regarded as an idiot I’m afraid.
If any local council is going to spend money better then it needs to talk better to the people it serves. Yes there are clear things that need to be done and one of them is investing in that conversation so money will be well spent.
Great work Dave; making it dead easy for people to get involved in how their local region is run can only be a good thing.
@Mark Wilkinson Perhaps it would be useful for you to share his own experiences and views on the new site, so you can get involved in a constructive manner?
“Could there be a better example of blasting public money out the window”.
I am sure Mark, that even with your limited abilities, you could come up with quite a few but I dare say that consulting with the public and soliciting their views wouldn’t be one of them.
Your suggestions would be as welcome as anyone elses so why not put them where they will be listened to. After all, that is what the project is about.
Mark – you don’t seem to have a particularly good grasp on the work local authorities do and how important it is for them to enter into dialogues with the individuals and communities they serve.
Quite aside from this, your sneering private-is-better-than-public-sector intimations are misplaced and misguided (the banks did a great job, eh?) and your lack of respect for other people by calling them idiots – irrespective of who they are – makes me think you accidentally arrived on this excellent blog instead of the Daily Mail website.
@mark wilkinson If You’re not happy with the way CBC deal with potholes or education (police staffing levels aren’t their responsibility), you could always make you views known to them using, er, their public consultation efforts.
Or perhaps you’d rather be able to bitch about /not/ being consulted?
Could this be a spill over from the lollipop lady row? Or maybe another Mark – http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23690569-why-kafkas-council-wont-install-a-lollipop-lady.do
Anyway do hope you will respond. This must be a better space than the Daily Mail site.
You miss the point spectacularly.
There are 800 services that local government offers. Potholes and teaching children are just two (the police look after policing, by the way.)
If you want your council to do something about them you need ways to talk to them and let them know. The days when councils had two inconvenient ways you could do this are long gone. The letter and the personal visit to the office during office hours may work for some people they sure as hell don’t work for everyone in 2010. A digital way as this does brilliantly does just that. A good idea, no?
I’m sure the same shortsighted ‘what a waste of money’ argument was levelled when the first telephone was installed at the council too.
Looks like you’re taking a bit of flak here Mark! First up, I’ll declare my interest – I work with Dave at Learning Pool and we’ve worked with Central Bedfordshire on this project.
I think you’re right to say that local authorities waste a lot of money but Central Bedfordshire are certainly not one of them. While some councils have paid literally millions of pounds to achieve the outcome CB were looking for, this project has been completed in weeks and on a shoe string. I’m very proud of the project and am confident that it helps the council represent its people in the best way they can.
The guys at CB (who are not idiots and would do well in any private sector organisation) have done a great job here and we should be congratulating them on an innovative and efficient approach – local government should be doing more of this not less.
am amused by the idea of “prolefeed” – are you suggesting “poshfeed” as an alternative??
Presumably all the articulate people are busy using other channels? Oh no – that’s right – the online community is actually more likely to be constructive and also more likely to be civically engaged – can’t imagine why talking to them would be useful.
As a local authority we have both a responsibility and a desire to actively engage with our local residents so that the Council can take policy and services decisions that are genuinely informed by public preferences and aspirations.
The web offers us free, quick and easy to use mechanisms to connect with lots of people, listening to their views, answering their questions and explaining the work that we are doing. In our first week over 300 individuals have visited http://www.letstalkcentral.com and we have had over 60 comments on the site.
In terms of potholes, we do rely on our residents reporting potholes to us. Obviously there is finite funding to repair them so potholes do need to be prioritised and the worst ones repaired first. Between January and April 2010 (after the snow) the Council spent over £180,000 filling in an average of 500 potholes every week to improve our highways.
So, if you have already done so please let us know about the potholes near you that need repair – you can report potholes, damaged pavements and streetlights to our highways team by telephoning 0300 300 8049 or email [email protected] or do it online at http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/transport-and-streets/highways/default.aspx
You will then be able to track the progress of your report.
I should declare my interest then as the owner of a sizeable hi tech manufacturing business in Central Beds. My “endeavours” directly generate annual taxes, local and national, to pay for 20-30 public sector workers.
Council dialogue/consultation with citizens is little more than a means of internally validating predetermined “activity” of the council. The public in the meantime are blitzed with PR campaigns, posters on buses, road signs, magazines etc to convince the taxpayer, perhaps against all common sense, the success (not the value) of that activity. This is how local goverment has come to offer 800 services, thanks Dan Slee!. Presumably every one of those 800 services at some stage has had someone say “great service from the council on this” on a web site, so you’ll all move on to recruit more staff for the 801st.
Finally Paul McElvaney, you say the budget for this is a “shoe string”, would an estimate for your shoe string of say 30 Grand be about right ?. That’s the council tax for everybody in my road, sorry it’s just a shoestring.
I would just like to say thank you to all those people on Mark’s road who see the value in investing an such a sensible project.
I obviously can’t go into the specifics but I can assure you that Central Bedfordshire has completed this project for a lot less than 30K so you can rest assured that your council taxes are being well spent. I actually think this is a fantastic example of coucils using the right technology and using it wisely – certainly when you consider that a council like Birmingham has just paid £2 million for a website… and more effective I’d say!
Mark – you seem to miss the point here about how local government works. Firstly, the vast, vast majority of the 800-odd services provided by local government are statutory – it’s set in law by Westminster that these activities have to be carried out.
Likewise, councils are democratic organisations. This means they have to engage with residents, and businesses, in the area to get feedback. Again, this is an activity councils must do.
You have quite a cynical view of previous attempts at engagement by the council, and perhaps you are right to do so – if you read other articles I have written on this blog you’ll see I’ve been quite critical in the past of local government activity in this area.
So I’m surprised to see you so negative about this particular effort. Your estimation of the budget is way off, by the way. It’s not for me to say how much it has cost the council, but it’s a hell of a lot less than the figure you have guessed at. Secondly it is an even bigger hell of a lot less than traditional efforts would cost. This is actually an attempt by the council to undertake an activity it has to do anyway with an approach that will save money and allow more people to take part. Surely it is better to have a website to which citizens can respond themselves, than broadcast adverts of the sort you mention?
Also, how can you say this project is about people congratulating the council on its services when already many messages have been published on it which are pretty critical of the council? If this was in any way the sort of PR exercise you are claiming it is such messages wouldn’t be published, surely?
I’m sure that many of the things you talk about are valid criticisms of some local government activity, but here you are tilting at entirely the wrong windmills. You also owe those involved an apology for the thoroughly unpleasant remark you made in your opening comment. They’re human beings with families and mortgages just like you and I – and wishing them out of their jobs really isn’t on.
I don’t think any council and will be in a position to afford expensive above the line advertising campaigns in the future to communicate key messages.
It may well have happened in the past, but the focus for all private/public sector has to be to use low cost communication channels and what could be better than a website (wordpress, open source, low cost), with a co-ordinated Facebook, Twitter and Flickr presence (all free).
We had no choice but to pay, don’t confuse compulsion to pay, with agreement that it is spent wisely. The rationale of Talk Central is to measure the effectiveness of the preceding PR campaign. Any negative views simply means the PR campaign needs to be stepped up, until we can all agree the Emperor IS wearing clothes. It says it at the top of this page. The task is “place shaping to be done “…..place shaping ?????, I’ll tell my neighbours they can look forward to some place shaping instead of say a holiday, I guess they’ll be fine with that.
I bet I don’t win a prize for suggesting Chris Allen works for a Local Authority?. The reason: his reference to “investing” in this project. It’s SPENDING 30 or 50 grand on a silly website, not investment. Wheeling out the old excuse “investment” is standard council practice for failure, along with “raising awareness”. Carry on “place shaping” while you can get away with it….lets hope its not for too long
Mark – it’s clear you aren’t actually interested in making anything better or having a constructive conversation about this. More fool you.
Everyone else: let’s stop feeding the troll now.