Social media, blogs and city government

How and whether city government should use the internet to do business seems to come around every year – this year, Patch has a story by Anna Schier – I’m quoted since I’m (still) the only Northfield Council blogger.  Last year about this time, it was Griff Wigley’s webinar on the topic and a Northfield News story.  My previous posts pretty much cover what I think – search this blog for “social media.”

Northfield has spent 2011 upgrading its technology infrastructure and updating the website is planned for 2012.  I’d like to think 2012 will also be when the City starts using technology to increase accessibility, transparency and accountability in local government.  If there are particular kinds of information or access you’d like to see Northfield offer, let me know.

 

9 Replies to “Social media, blogs and city government”

  1. First of all, how did you make it ‘snow’ on your winter scene and down the page? pretty cool; no pun intended… (Does NPI mean “no pun intended” in blog text?)

    To the subject: what I’d like to see… but I would imagine this would be perceived as being fraught with dangerous ground … would be for some of the questions asked at the Council open mike to be answered.
    Supposedly,if you submit your question to the clerk with name, address, phone number, it will be answered ; not always the case, and if answered, not in a timely fashion.

    Or what about this? A place on the City website for questions to be asked and the appropriate staff person would answer?
    Example: Why did the City decide to switch to “white light” ?, and what are the reasons, costs, safety issues, etc.

    I think this kind of interchange might make people feel more connected to City Hall; and also be more tolerant of decisions made, rather than complaining.
    Example of erasing complaints: a clear explanation of why it is simply impossible to keep from plowing in elderly people’s just shoveled driveway… multiple times in a snowfall.

    What about on-line ward meetings?

    But I’d like to know what you, as a Councilor, would see as productive?

    1. The snow is courtesy of wordpress – simply one of the settings one can choose. I believe the “storm” ends January 4, although I hope we will have snow for at least 2 months after that.

      Answering questions: I like this idea and know that other cities use Twitter for this – tweet a question and the answer comes by return tweet. Certainly also possible via Facebook or website. If it happens on the website, I’d like to make sure it was prominent enough for people to be able to ask questions easily and that answers would also be obvious to all. But then, I like to learn stuff from other people’s questions since they often think to ask what I so not.

      On-line Ward meetings: Or even on-line forums with individual council members. We know that having multiple council members meeting on-line is an open meeting law problem, but what about having council members available in their own web space to push info out, answer questions, etc. An on-line ward meeting – perhaps considering one or two issues in a particular time frame or live chat or on-line office hours.

      What I’d like is any method that gets people talking to me. I’d like to push city information out to residents, but I really want to hear back – I learn a lot from casual interactions with residents, particular questions from constituents, and people who come speak at Council meetings. I only think to ask some questions, but different people with different perspectives and situations can help me (and everyone else) understand issues better and, we hope, make better, fairer decisions. Which circles back to the question of what residents want to know or do.

  2. Although I’ve posted infrequently in the past year, solely because I’m now on the city council and have less time to write, I’ve been (or was) an active blogger since 2007 on Duck Fat and Politics. As I conclude my first year on the council, I hope I’ll have a little more time to blog. I’m not sure, but maybe…
    Patrick

  3. Betsey/Patrick,

    I posted this comment to the Patch article but I’ll repeat it here.

    I think these two quotes are good examples of the City of Northfield’s misunderstanding about social media:

    1. Brian Erickson: “It’s just another venue to try to help people get the information.”

    Yes, social media can be used to broadcast or provide access to content but that’s very limiting. It’s real benefit is in how it can be used to increase civic engagement and participation; and leaders can use it for leveraging their influence and building trust.

    2. Erica Zweifel: “It’s a lot for an elected official to have to bear, I feel, having every minutia out there.”

    Elected and appointed officials, as well as staff in leadership positions, should not use social media to publish the minutia of their daily activities in diary-like fashion. Rather, its use should be selective and strategic, with an emphasis on short storytelling in their own voice.

    And let me add:

    * I’ve been working with the City of Edina for several months on a large citizen engagement project: http://edinacitizenengagement.org/

    * See all my Locally Grown ‘online citizen engagement’ blog posts on the subject starting from late 2008: http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/tag/citizen-engagement/

    * I’d be happy to meet with Councilors and/or staff again about this issue.

    1. Griff, there are lots of excuses for not using blogging, social media and the city website strategically and effectively. They probably all boil down to reluctance to change habits of communication and hesitation about the consequences of new practices. It will take shifts in attitude, mentoring, allocation of resources, and a commitment to success which can persist through election cycles and staff turnover.

      For me, and I’ve told you this more than once, it’s mostly time and high standards which keep my blogging relatively limited. More information is not necessarily better, in my opinion, and I don’t want to add to the cacophony of the internet. If I’m going to blog, I’ve got to think what I put out there is worthwhile. Because what gets blogged is accessible from anywhere forever, I also want to think about what I say rather than simply keep churning out stories (reread the bit about sense of humor in last year’s post about social media – not a small problem, in my opinion). The great thing about blogging is that I can tell short story bits in my own voice. The challenge of blogging is determining which voice is my public voice and which stories I may tell.

      Privacy is important and not controlled by passwords and security software, but by what I choose to write and especially what I choose not to write.

  4. Betsey, I think your style and frequency of blogging works great. Strategic “short story bits” in your own voice is exactly what’s needed from someone in your leadership position as a council member. And I’ve love to see other councilors do something similar.

    I think it’s just as important to have a City Hall citizen engagement plan that includes the use of online tools, with some social media use.

    1. Yes, I read this, Griff. I think it’s a pretty fair picture of the benefits and the pitfalls of government use of social media.

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