Going out on a cold night


A gold plated forum

One of the fun things about having more people read this blog and in turn follow our twitter is that we now have some ‘official’ council followers. Included in this group are @SouthamptonCC, @Copelandbc, @BraintreeDC and @Merton_Council.

In return we have ‘followed’ some of these council’s twitter accounts and even been impressed with their tweets.

An interesting one came through from Merton a few weeks back which I thought deserves some comment. The tweet is rather inelegantly pasted (my bad) below:

Merton Council (@Merton_Council) 26/11/2010 10:51

Want to get involved with local decisions? Why not come along to Merton’s community forums next week. http://tiny.cc/ydslm

At first glance it would be hard not to be impressed with this tweet. Merton Council (which is in London) are trying hard to engage local residents in their decision making process; this is something the doyens of the Big Society would celebrate and something that I, as a Local Government Officer, 100% welcome.

Involving residents in the decision making process is important; it might seem a bit capitalist but local residents are our consumers and if we don’t know what these consumers actually want and need from our services it makes it very difficult to deliver them well.

However, the tweet got me thinking; have I, a relatively engaged and interested local resident, ever been to a local community forum? Indeed, do I even know if there is a community forum in my area? The answer is no.

Is this the wider problem? Am I typical of the British Public not wanting to go out on cold winter nights to take part in my local decision making process? Probably yes.

So many questions and so few answers.

My diagnosis is as follows: People will only make an effort to take part in the decision making process when there is something they really care about, or something that has a direct impact on their well-being, being discussed. We also won’t turn up unless we believe attendance will provide the opportunity of change. If this is the case then you won’t be able to shut the door as people cram into a building.

What does this mean for Merton Council’s twitter feed? I’m not a communications officer but how about a simple statement about what is to be decided followed by a call to attend. This is hypothetical but how about:

The council wants to shut the local library: have an opinion? Why not come along to Merton’s community forums next week.

I guess, but have no way of proving, that the turnout would be higher and the discussion more meaningful.

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2 Comments on “Going out on a cold night”

  1. citizenr Says:

    I’d be interested in whether Merton will implement the suggestions of its residents or be crystal clear to them about how many of their frontline staff they are making redundant. I believe the chief exec is one of those with a large pay packet.

  2. localgov Says:

    This is a field of work close to my heart. You are spot in when you make the point that people get involved around specific issues rather than general, abstract concepts. Yes, some will only want to look at the bigger picture but in general people want to focus on those things which they see as directly affecting their lives.

    For example, if I try to go out on the streets and engage with people on a public realm strategy I’ll get nowhere. However, if I ask them what they think of potholes, flytipping, graffitti, dog poo and street cleaning I’ll be inundated with responses and interest.


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