This article was first published in last week’s Local Government Chronicle (in print and online) along with articles on the recent Local by Social Midlands event we supported LGID to run with Coventry City Council as well as the thoughts of Martin Reeves, Chief Executive at Coventry.
The times they are a-changin’. Social media and the web are no longer seen as something trivial or able to be ignored. We have met with an almost perfect storm of government financial crisis, social change and a revolution in web technology.
Senior politicians and officers alike are increasingly aware of the unique importance of the web to deliver change inside and outside of government.
Whether coming to it through transparency, democratic engagement, public service transformation or social innovation (Big Society, if you will), there are opportunities for a shift in the way government works and the trust and relationships it is able to form with its citizens.
It is this shift in ways of working and ways of relating to citizens that is key to this new web-powered world, not the technology. The technology is relatively cheap to create and easy to implement -it is the opportunity for new ways of empowering staff and citizens to come together and think creatively about new ways of solving problems and meeting their needs that makes our times truly exciting.
For too long, local government has been fixing the system it is trapped in. While there is no doubt efficiencies and improvements have been made, there is now an opportunity to reinvent the system and create a new one. One that allows local government and all the creative experts within it to focus solely on what matters – the public, rather than public institutions or restrictive performance measures.
I want a new kind of democratic engagement, led by naturally collaborative, action-oriented leaders encouraging entrepreneurial risk-taking within our public services. People such as Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark in New Jersey in the US, who has more than a million followers on Twitter and whose videos receive enviable reviews on YouTube. Why? Because he engages, he inspires, he’s open and he uses the web to connect with the people who put him in office, listening and working with the people of Newark.
I want a transparent government, now very much a reality in places like London and Lichfield and coming to a council near you from January. Liberated from the depths of government, open data is being used to provide public information in new and interesting ways to the public to build trust and guide decision making in ways previously (and presently) unthinkable.
I want a truly participative government, one where consultation actually means something, as people are freed to talk about the things that matter to them rather than what government insists on. One where, free to provide ideas, debate issues and connect with or without government on community blogs and forums, citizens have an effect.
I want a collaborative government, working to redraw the line between citizen and state, empowering individuals, families and communities to take on responsibility to determine and deliver on their own needs in a big society. A government that realigns power to the people, using technology to support that change, ensuring that sufficient capacity is built in communities to ensure a continuation of high-quality services, whoever runs them.
This requires a significant shift in mindset and ways of working for local government, which will not come easy. Old habits will die hard. But the opportunities before us, powered in part by the web, must not be passed by.
It is for politicians and officers alike to open up, relax and embrace this new world. Get to work!