ByMichele Ide-Smith

Dissertation research: perceptions of using social media for community engagement

I’ve talked about my MSc dissertation research before on this blog. In fact I originally set up this blog to explore some topics related to my research. Having had a bit of a break after completing my dissertation in August 2010, I have decided to publish it here, spurred on by the kind words of a fellow academic researcher Catherine Howe.

My research question was:

How do the attitudes and perceptions of citizens, Council officers, Councillors to the use of social media for community engagement compare and contrast?

My Master’s Degree was in Human Computer Interaction. If you have a particular interest in research into social media and civic engagement (and quite a bit of time on your hands), I’d recommend the full dissertation (PDF, 2.4 mb).

But if you are a local government officer or someone with less time and patience, then I’d recommend the 10 page (that’s the smallest I could manage!) Executive Summary (PDF, 50kb).

I also wanted to add a little disclaimer. The primary research data was gathered from semi-structured interviews with 18 participants. For purposes of confidentiality the data is not included within either document. Because the research question focused on a relatively new research area, it was challenging to find participants with significant experience of using social media, let alone those with experience of using social media for civic engagement. Whilst the collection and analysis of data followed rigorous qualitative research methods, the quality of the data collected was not as high as I had hoped for. I would therefore advise some caution in the interpretation and application of these research findings.

Please note that the usual Creative Commons copyright license I display on this blog does not apply to the two documents linked above.

You can find me on Twitter if you have any questions, comments, or would like more information about my research.

ByMichele Ide-Smith

In the hotseat…

This Thursday 13th January between 1-4 pm I will be in the hotseat, quite literally! I’m hosting a online question and answer session in the Local by Social Online Conference about the social media project I have been involved with in Fenland, Cambridgeshire.

The project aimed to improve engagement with customer groups who were hard to access in Wisbech. The project has been delivered with funding from the Local Government Delivery Council’s Customer Led Transformation programme.

You need to be a member of the Communities of Practise to participate in the hotseat discussion. To become a member of the Communities of Practice platform you will need to register and  join the Customer Led Transformation CoP. You can then join the hotseat discussion thread where you will find the full project case study and some vox pop videos with people who contributed to the project.

If you would like to know more about the project or ask me anything about using social media to engage customers, do come and contribute to the online discussion on Thursday 13th January, between 1-4 pm

By way of a little background, I’ve written about the project before in these posts:

Update on social media project in Wisbech

Fenland social media project

Digital engagement framework adapted for local government

Digital engagement governance

And you can also visit the project blog or take a look at a presentation I did for the Local by Social online conference last November.

ByMichele Ide-Smith

What Localism might mean for local gov web managers

I’ve been sifting through a few papers on localism including the Communities and Local Government (CLG) guide to Decentralisation and the Localism Bill, the LG Group briefing and some internal papers which interpret the much awaited Localism Bill. Broadly speaking, Localism proposes a shift in power from central government, to local communities through the ‘de-centralisation’ of services. By way of some background, it is helpful to read the Conservatives green paper on Localism.

I’m currently working on a web strategy and I’ve  been tracking Localism and the Big Society agenda for a few months, as it will have some significant implications for local government web managers. Now that the Localism Bill  has had its first reading in Parliament, things are becoming slightly more tangible. But it’s still hard to grasp exactly what impact this is going to have on local government websites and web strategies.

This post brings together some of my initial thoughts on the potential implications for local government web managers. I’ve broken down these thoughts in relation to the actions in the Localism Bill. I’ve used the CLG guide as my main reference point. By way of a disclaimer, my thoughts don’t necessarily represent the policy or plans of the organisation I work for, or the area I live in. This is just my way of trying to make sense of what seems like a fairly significant change for local government.

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ByMichele Ide-Smith

Budget consultation approaches

Following the Spending Review, significant spending cuts are becoming a reality for many public services. The issue of how to engage citizens in budget consultations to define local priorities is becoming all the more important.

Redbridge have re-launched their YouChoose application for 2010, which allows residents to balance a complex budget using an interactive tool. The tool reveals consequences of your budget choices as you change the sliders to reduce the budget in different areas. There are four main areas to manage the budget within, which drill down to more detail. For example the consequences of reducing funding for Culture, Sport and Leisure results in libraries being closed. Using the tool requires quite a bit of time and may not appeal to people who have limited time on their hands to contribute their views.

Redbridge budget consultation tool

This week Cambridgeshire Constabulary launched a budget balancing tool. It is similar to the Redbridge concept, but with a far simpler interface.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary budget balancing tool

As a resident I gave it a go and had a few thoughts about the approach.

Personally I find these budget calculators a useful educational tool. They help demonstrate how complex budgets are allocated across different areas and how the spending cuts will dramatically affects budgets and therefore the challenges faced by the public sector. They won’t be for everyone though.

Judging by the comments on the Cambridgeshire Constabulary budget tool, some people find the exercise trivial, whilst others find it useful and insightful. Other people worry about the impact of their decisions and whether they are sufficiently well informed to prioritise budgets. The comments also reveal some interesting political perspectives and, occasionally, what I found to be less than palatable opinions. But that’s what a democracy is all about I guess!

However, as a resident what I would really like to do is enter into an active discussion with other residents, politicians and the organisation whose budget I am making choices about. For me these tools are the start of a consultation and conversation. I know that this approach would require resources for facilitation and moderation, but in my mind the type of decisions that need to be made to address the budget deficit require that depth of engagement. I would like to see these tools linked into hyperlocal websites, or a platform that is designed for deliberation, rather than leaving me wondering how residents’ choices are being reviewed and considered by those setting the budgets.