Public meeting live on facebook

Dudley Castle

Dudley Castle

Bums on seats at public meetings can be a real challenge for any local authority.

Unless there is a big local issue to engage people, a date with local councillors in a community centre on a rainy Wednesday night can be a tough one to keep. Equally, people lead busy lives and a public meeting is one too many balls to juggle along with work, family commitments and Coronation Street.

So when Dudley Council came up with the concept of community forums, making it as easy as possible for people to get involved was a top priority. There’s 10 held at community centres and village halls across the borough every other month.

They reflect the council’s desire to become a “community council” and the authority is keen to build on local democracy and transparency and give people a greater say in how their council is run. After all, there are lots of stories to tell from the borough’s communities about the work people do, and there’re lots to let them know about how the council can help them continue that work.

Turn out is good, but how do you get more people interested without having to leave the house? Step forward the biggest social media tool on the planet.

The two thousand or so people who like our Dudley Borough Facebook page regularly share posts and let us know when we’ve got things right and, well, not so right. So we decided to use the platform to give people the opportunity to ask questions and raise issues, and discuss them with senior politicians, they were more than happy to take part. It’s a meeting of people and it’s in public, and the early response has been excellent.

The idea has also attracted regional, national and global praise from the media and communications professionals.

Armed with a coffee and a PC Councillor Pete Lowe, deputy leader of Dudley Council, sat for an hour discussing local issues and answering questions as they came in on the page. On the first one, we had over 1,000 post views and 17 individuals actively take part – more than any single attendance at a physical public community forum. Numbers have stayed steady ever since and the council has gained a real insight into what makes people tick and offered up useful pointers for people including how to access up to £5,000 in funding for community groups. Importantly, people have been able to do all this without leaving the house.

In more recent forums we’ve shared key messages and discussion topics on twitter as they crop up during the hour to widen the audience. The Facebook forum has also now been added as an official council meeting with Cllr Lowe and the communications and public affairs team tasked with maintaining and improving the way they work. The online session is held before each round of 10 forums covering the 24 wards of Dudley borough with the offer of further face to face discussion with elected members if they need it.

The key to their success is buy-in from senior politicians and a genuine desire to hear what people have to say. Luckily we have both in Dudley.

by

Chris Howes

Communications and Public Affairs Officer,

Dudley Council

You can follow and connect with Dudley via multiple channels:

Facebook

Twitter

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LinkedIn

Photo Credit: ringsofsaturnrock via Compfight cc

Using Flickr to build local pride

 

One Midland council’s use of flickr has brought into sharp focus for the benefits of engaging with residents.

Nearly three years on from its initial launch, Dudley Council’s flickr site continues to grow at a rapid rate and attract hundreds of thousands of views.

Dudley Council communications officer Jason Whyley, who has been instrumental in establishing the channel, offers a snapshot behind Dudley’s success.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than sharing photos with people that are interested in what you do, and we have all done it.  Photos can spark emotions such as pride, memories of good times and reminders of the lessons we need to learn.  One of the challenges for local authorities using social media has been how to turn images into a tool that can be used to engage with local people.

Since launching in 2004, flickr has emerged as almost certainly the best online photo management application in the world today, boasting 51 million members and 6 billion images. In April 2010 Dudley Council decided it was time to begin building our relationship with this online community. It has now been 35 months and our channel continues to go from strength to strength, growing an impressive 190 percent in the last 12 months, attracting over 126,000 views, and now includes 11 themed community interest groups.

http://flic.kr/p/9QLD2i

Dudley narrowboat

At Dudley Council we put our success in the use of flickr down to a mixture of innovation in the content we provide, focusing on topics that are of genuine interest to this community, and adopting a crowdsourcing style approach when using our channel. Our approach is simple, we obtain ideas, content and intelligence by soliciting contributions from the online public at large, rather than from traditional sources such as employees or outsourced third-party providers.  We have found that our approach has enabled the council to expand the range of talented individuals that we can work with, while also gaining a deeper insight into what people really want from us.

 

Over our 35 months on flickr we have constantly found new way to evolve our photo sharing site and build its audience.  Our success stories include using the channel as a way to reach the wider community and signpost them through to critical news on the council website and our other social media sites, such as winter affected services and consultations. We have used the channel as a way to call on the community to help provide intelligence, including information relating to the stabbing of 16 year old Christina Edkins on her bus journey to school.  Flickr has provided us will valuable insight when monitor the mood of our community, for example tensions around EDL and UAF visits to the borough.  The channel has also given us a great avenue for engaging with local residents on hard hitting topics, including those from the borough’s safe & sound, community safety partnership.

We have found our users’ motives for contributing are social contact and intellectual acknowledgement, and for the council it has been a valuable approach for gaining acceptance and buy-in by the community.

Flickr has also enabled us to change the way we work with the media and our partners.  Through distribution on flickr we are now able to instantly send our press photo, a summary and a link to the full information, to media contacts, specific community interest groups and partners.  The success of the use of flickr for engaging on media issues has enabled us to develop a dedicated media centre that sits within the site, which has been commended by local media organisations.

Probably our biggest success with flickr, to date, has been around the building of community pride and has included working other privately run interest groups within the borough.  We have used flickr to profile good news stories that come directly from the community, for example, a sketch book collection found by a member of the public in a charity shop that contained some great borough paintings from Edward Fox. Setting up local history interest groups, such as the borough’s links to the Titanic anchor, adding images from the borough’s archive relating to our proud heritage, and featuring interviews with former business owners.

Furthermore we have used flickr to create a range of interest groups that focus on what it means to live in Dudley borough, ranging from mayoral and civic pride, green space sites and even seasonal changes that make parts of the borough look even more impressive.

Our approach to flickr has given our online community confidence in our commitment to the borough, our place in it and our willingness to share.  Now we work in partnership with our online community who have the desire to freely share their images with us through our share and promote group, for use in the promotion of the borough – A group that gives us first hand evidence of the pride local people take in our area and more than that people who want us to share that pride with the world.

 

by Jason Whyley,

Dudley Council

 

Picture credit