Wednesday, May 04, 2005

More on Councillor websites

Michael Cross has returned to the issue of local Councillors managing websites in his Guardian column this week.

He covered the legal issues last week and he returns to it briefly again. But he also touches on the issue that I think is the most important one:

"....members' websites should be clearly signposted on council home pages, rather than several pages down.

The fact that so few authorities do even this suggests that the real problem is not legal but attitudinal. In the modern consensual world of customer-centric local government, feisty politics can be an embarrassment. A web team promoting Market Snodsbury as Britain's finest holiday spot is not inclined to give space to a tirade about teenagers urinating in bus shelters. But if that is important to Market Snodsbury's elected representatives, they should be given e-space to say it."

Personally, I usually find political cynicism a bit wearing, but Michael's observations are extremely astute here - and it reinforces the notion that 'it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in'.

Cllr Mary Reid (who is working on the National E-Democracy project) argues here that trust in politics can be rebuilt partly by building trust in individual politicians. I think she's right. But I think that political parties are not usually eager to have their messages qualified and complicated by individual elected representatives. When I worked for one of them (guess which one!), I never heard anyone saying "what we need is a few more articulate independendly-minded Councillors to get people more engaged in local government."

And finally, I've found that many Councillors only have an abstract view of how a website can help them in their work. In a lot of cases, they don't fully grasp the ways that managing a site can improve the way they work .... until they start managing a site. For this reason, I think that one of the biggest changes that can be made to local democracy is for as many people as possible to work on coaxing individual Councillors to put their toes in the water for the first time.

1 comment:

Bob Piper said...

Absolutely. I'm getting sick og banging on about this, but even the most computer literate person would find it nigh on impossible to find out from Sandwell Council's website that individual councillors actually have sites also. I've managed a fair few hits, but mostly they are referrals from my blogsite, rather than the other way round. We have yet another member development meeting next week where I will raise this yet again... but it's dispiriting. No wonder Members lose their enthusiasm.