Posted tagged ‘engagement’

An engaging conversation

June 21, 2012

Our week of local government introspection continues with part four today, and as yesterdays post seemed at first to be similar to one earlier in the week, so today’s touches on yet remains separate to another post, namely that around digital engagement and innovation.  Before exploring this link let’s start at the basics.

Starter for ten: What is engagement and why bother with it?  A pair of very simple questions perhaps but worth asking.  Engagement in relation to local government centres around how we involve local people in the planning, running and evaluation of our services, and comes in a number of forms and methods.  Popular engagement techniques include surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, workshops and interviews, but can also be as creative as World Cafes, PinPoint, Open Space facilitation or Planning for Real.

As for why, well if you have to ask this then perhaps you’ve not been around local government for too long.  The business case is fairly simple: firstly we are told we have to, secondly it helps us builds a two-way relationship with residents and thirdly good engagement actually opens up a huge world of knowledge which we otherwise may not find out about.

We’ve often remarked that you should never throw away your drainpipe trousers as sooner or later they will come back into fashion, and so it seems to be the case with approaches to community engagement.  There is no one single way of doing this, and so successive governments have tried various ways to encourage or force local authorities and residents to engage with each other.   (more…)

Double Yellow Lies?

January 10, 2012

Double yellow row is driving me up the wall

Over the Christmas break I spent some time visiting the in-laws in London, and in doing so learnt three things. Always lock the door when you have a shower; try not to freak out when you find your clothes put away for you from your suitcase – including your underwear; and apparently there’s a bit of a row going on in Westminster about parking.

Westminster Council are sparking a bit of a media storm with their decision to replace some of their single yellow lines with their doubled-up counterparts, meaning it will be harder for some to find off-peak parking spaces. The council say that this will mostly be where drop-kerbs are located, and so will make the area much easier to access and use for wheelchair and buggy users.

Of course, this view isn’t supported by local opposition to the scheme, which is claiming that 1191 off-peak spaces will disappear and further complaining that this news was only released on 24 December, when many were packing up for Christmas and not able to respond to this in the news.

Not taking into account the fact that the internet doesn’t close for Christmas (so they were more than able to respond if they felt that strongly), and not taking into account the fact that the two interpretations of the positives and negatives are so far apart that neither is probably truly objective any more, there is something fundamental to this story which is to put it frankly angering me: the supposition that the council is not doing this for the right reasons.

Regardless of ones stand on this particular scheme, the accusations being thrown at Westminster Council are staggering, and occasionally verging on libelous. There are those who truly seem to believe that the council is trying to actively destroy their own area of the capital in any way possible, and is determined to put every small business out of business. (more…)

Listen to what’s inside

September 13, 2011

Can local officers help with translation?

Last week we took a look at how Council’s respond (or not) to social media.  Our argument was that generally we don’t, and the comments received pretty much back that up.  This got us thinking about other simple ways in which local authorities could make better use of their organisational ears in order to take the local pulse.

Usually when officers want to find out what local people are saying they will run some form of engagement or consultation exercise.  The quality and usefulness of these activities is a topic for another day, but in essence they involve officers going out into the community in some way to find groups of residents and other stakeholders to ask them what they think about something.  This often takes some time to do and can cost a significant amount to organise, although arguably this money is very well spent and can save that same authority ten times as much by ensuring the services delivered better meet local needs.

However, this still involves reaching out to local people and hoping or expecting them to get in touch; how about turning this around and reaching inwards for a change?

Those readers who currently work in local government (and at a guess, most of our readers do) will be able to conduct their own quick field test by looking around their office and seeing just how many of their colleagues live outside of the borough in which they work.  A solid mixture is normal, but generally speaking a decent percentage of any workforce lives locally.  In fact, in many places schemes are set up to promote precisely this, with positive discrimination offering opportunities for positions and additional training for locals.  If schools are included in the mix, it would not be unusual to see anything up to 40% of council employees having less than a thirty minute commute, which adds up to a significant number of opinions to gather. (more…)

Stupid, selfish and lazy

May 11, 2011

A picture speaks a thousand words... Or four

A good friend of mine recently sent me a link to a video of a talk by a guy named Dave Meslin. You can view his talk here.

We’re not normally ones to idly link to other people’s work on our site but his talk about apathy (what it is and what it definitely isn’t) is well worth a watch. We don’t necessarily agree with it all but there are some great points that are worth considering for every local government employee.

Whilst I don’t want to pre-judge your viewing enjoyment there was one thing in there that really struck a bell with me. Towards the end of his talk Dave says that one of the problems is the way we (and here I think he means everyone in Government) think about members of the public.

Too often, we, in the words of Dave, think that members of the public are:

Stupid

Selfish

Lazy

The way we think about the people we serve undoubtedly colours our work.

How often do we stop what we’re doing and re-evaluate our pre-conceptions about the people we work for? Too many times in life I’ve heard people, and sometimes even myself, say things along the lines of:

‘What do they know anyway?’

‘My life would be ok if it wasn’t for the stupid residents’

‘I’d get more work down if it wasn’t for yet another complaint from the councillor’

This isn’t always the case but what if the assumption was the other way round? If our first thought was something like:

‘I’ve just heard something from a resident I didn’t expect; what should I do differently?’

‘My job is to serve the residents first and foremost; if only I didn’t have so much paperwork etc to do I could spend more time providing services for them’

‘Good job the councillor raised that on behalf of their constituent otherwise we might have missed it.’

Maybe I’m overegging the pudding a little but I thought it was a useful corrective to a sometimes easy trap to fall into.

Thanks Dave!

http://www.ted.com/talks/dave_meslin_the_antidote_to_apathy.html

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com 

Talking about talking

March 15, 2011

 

Be careful or the public might tell you what they actually want

Here at We Love Local Government we love a good guest post, and here indeed is a guest post worth loving.  If you’ve got something to do with local government you’d like to write about from any angle (even if you think we’d disagree with you) then e-mail it to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com.  Until you do though, read this and enjoy.

Reading the recent WLLG post on the way in which councils talk to local people brought back some unpleasant memories for me. I used to be a scrutiny officer. Without knowing much (ok, anything) about the art or science of “community engagement” I and my colleagues, with backbench Members, periodically organised public meetings to inform scrutiny committees’ views on various topics of local interest.
One particularly good one was on the subject of a high-profile local community event. The council and a number of other “local partners” – including the police – wanted to make some significant changes to the way it was run. Predictably, local people – including the organisers of the event – didn’t. Predictably, there was a massive bunfight, generating far more heat than light. We found it difficult – practically impossible, in fact – to get through the agenda, because attendees kept butting in and heckling. It was all the chairman could do to keep order. In the end we got through it but it was a hairy experience and I, as a relatively junior officer, wiped my brow and silently vowed to myself that I’d never do it again. (more…)

Invisible You

March 3, 2011

Surely we know what we're talking about?

For Valentines Day my other half gave me a very unexpected and welcome surprise by writing a piece for us on how involved she felt she was and wanted to be with her local Council.  She shared that she had very little to do with the council, instead trusting them to do what was needed as well as they could.  Whilst some people felt that this was an old fashioned view which doesn’t exist any more, I can assure you that it is alive and kicking at home!

It got me thinking about how much time and effort we put into engagement with the public and whether or not it is effort well spent.  I speak with a small degree of knowledge having worked I the public engagement arena for almost 16 years in one form or another, both in the public and voluntary sectors.

In my current workplace we are constantly developing things which affect our residents: action plans, strategies, policies, procedures, and headaches amongst others.  As is the way with any hierarchical organisation the real work is done by operational staff who generally know their onions, and base their thoughts and ideas on extensive theoretical and practical knowledge mixed with a healthy dose of experience.  They rarely suggest anything outrageous, and generally strive to do what is best.

These plans and projects then begin their slow crawl through the bureaucratic process to get signed off and implemented: this often involves a variation on taking it to their team, their line manager, their service head (and their team), their director (and their team) and potentially on to the chief exec and then on in turn to elected members and/or mayors and their advisors.  None of this is quick, and with each new person or group comes a perceived requirement to change a bit here or ask a pointless question there.

And of course at the final hurdle comes the usual phrase: have you done any consultation with the public?  No?  Well, go away and do it and then come back when you have. (more…)


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