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UK: Socitm2010: the Need for Citizen Engagement
Source: publictechnology.net
Source Date: Monday, October 11, 2010
Focus: E-Procurement
Country: Europe
Created: Oct 11, 2010

Social media technologies need to be high up the ICT agenda as local government meets the challenge of increased citizen engagement.

That was one of the rallying cries from John Barradell, chief executive of Brighton & Hove Council as he opened the 2010 Socitm conference in the town on Monday. “I'm 50, I spent 25 years in IT and I didn't get social media,” he confessed, adding that it was part of the changing role of public sector CIOs to convince colleagues that social media was about more than “what I had for breakfast or who's going to win Strictly Come Dancing.”

But this is a common perception, he conceded. “It took conversations with a colleague from communications to convince me why there are opportunities and potential, what the relevance was to me and my role,” he explained. “The tipping point comes when you realise that the content of social media is whatever you need it to be. There is no need to say that you had bacon and eggs for breakfast, which is what most of our middle aged people probably think Twitter is about. It's actually an extremely effective way of communicating.”

Barradell told delegates at the conference that Brighton & Hove had been the first authority to have a social media council office. “That's not just someone who issues missives from the council and sends out press releases. It's someone who's involved with and takes part in the digital community. It's now very common for us to get broken street lights spotted and get them fixed without anyone having to fill in a form. We are a social organisation.”

This goes as far as setting personal targets for council officers. “All of our director in Brighton & Hove have objectives based around their use of social data, sitting alongside the ones you're expect to see alongside customer development and delivery,” said Barradell. “They are expected to interact with the city.

“A key requirement across the public sector is the need to use not just traditional broadcast mechanisms, but to have better engagement, working with and responding to the communities that we serve. CIOs can help to embed a culture of communication across councils and change the way we meet with, talk to and engage with our citizens.

“There is a feeling that as public servants in senior roles in government, we should somehow be faceless and behind the scenes,” he concluded. “But that has changed. We need to be seen and to engage.”
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