51. There is a lack of clarity about the law relating to engagement
Please add more details about this hurdle to effective social media adoption and use here
Why is this a problem? Please provide details and links to resources which help make the case for the importance of overcoming this hurdle
How can we overcome this hurdle? Ideas, links, resources & shared learning about your experiences of this particular hurdle are encouraged and welcome.
The Civil Service code has five key principles for participation online that allow engagement.
Last updated - 25th January 2009 How the Civil Service Code applies to online participation
1. Be credible
2. Be consistent
3. Be responsive
4. Be integrated
5. Be a civil servant
There is guidance available from ICELE which clearly sets out the (considerable) extent to which councils can support councillor use of social media tools.
From the executive summary of the ICELE document:
The Department for Communities and Local Government have also made a number of signals that they wish to take down the barriers that prevent Councillors from using social networking sites and blogs in their work:
As part of their efforts to promote local democracy, councils must become more active in challenging media perceptions of local government that distort reality. Some of this, as we propose in recommendation 7 can be helped by local authorities actively promoting the role of councillors not only in the local media but in ways that are in their direct control: through council newsletters and other publications, and by harnessing new technologies to reach particular local audiences.
For individual councillors, the internet offers opportunities to extend contact with constituents in innovative ways; the possibilities offered by social networking have hardly begun to be explored. MySociety.org, the charitable organisation which promotes ways of using the internet for civic purposes, this year launched Fix My Street – a web-based system which passes on to councils residents’ environmental concerns. Another of MySociety’s initiatives is Hear From Your MP, which maintains e-mail contact between members of parliament and constituents.
An extension of this approach to Hear From Your Councillor could offer a breakthrough in communications.
While we recognise that not everyone has internet or digital broadcasting access or mobile phones, new technologies are producing a communications revolution. Local government as an institution, and councillors, must not take a minimalist approach to this sweeping change but enhance the opportunities to the full. As Professor Coleman whom we have quoted elsewhere rightly comments (Coleman, 2005), e-democratic trends are emerging whether we want them or not.
“The choice is not between governing in an age of the internet or not, but how contemporary governance can utilise and behave in step with the digital opportunities that surround them and the digital expectations of an increasingly on-line generation.”
Extracts from the DCLG White Paper July 2008 "Communities in control: real people, real power"
“1.35 The answer lies in empowerment: passing more and more political power to more and more people, using every practical means available, from the most modern social networking websites, to the most ancient methods of petitioning, public debates and citizens’ juries. In this way, democracy becomes, not a system of occasional voting or an imperfect method of selecting who governs us, but something that infuses our way of life.
“12. But many councils should do more to promote participation. So, we will introduce a new ‘duty to promote democracy’ to help councils promote involvement through clearer information, better trained staff and more visible councillors in the community.
“A new duty to promote democracy
“1.45 As a first step to recognising the principle that political activity is valuable, we will place a duty to promote democracy on local authorities. This builds on the work carried out by the Councillors Commission29 and complements the ‘duty to involve’ that we introduced in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007.
“1.46 This means that local authorities should no longer be seen as just units of local administration, but as vibrant hubs of local democracy, with a statutory duty to promote democratic understanding and participation. We will empower local councils to present themselves as democratic centres, with a new culture which sees democratic politics as respected, recognised and valued.
“1.47 Drawing on the best examples which already exist in councils, we will encourage local authorities to take a range of actions that, together, will achieve this. These could include:
“7.5 The Commission established as their founding principles that:
“7.9 We will amend the ‘Widdicombe rules’ (section 2 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989) which forbid council workers, above a certain salary band, from being active in party politics, so that only the most senior council officers such as chief executives and chief planning officers continue to be barred from political activity along with other ‘politically sensitive’ posts. This is a demonstration of our desire to rehabilitate politics as a legitimate and worthy activity.
“However, there is still too much confusion and reluctance within local government about how far councils should promote and support councillors’ activities. We want to clarify this and ensure that any guidance makes clear the legitimate support which should be given to councillors, including to those with disabilities.
“We recognise the need to review the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Government Publicity93 and other central guidance which sets out which activities are deemed party political or official. We will formally consult on potential changes to the Publicity Code, and associated guidance in the autumn. This will include guidance which relates to support for disabled people.”
Extracts from DCLG Research Report "Online Social Networks" – October 2008
“Social networking and media also help with the localism agenda. It offers another communication channel for local communities to have their say on local issues. It would help ward members as ward champions reach other segments of their community – perhaps those they would not normally reach for example, Norfolk County Council has helped to establish a campaign to get councillors blogging (www.civicsurf.com).
“Such approaches provide for a better quality of information about local views and allow debate between community groups on issues. With a more open and engaging way of consultation more people may be tempted to contribute as it doesn’t require them to attend a meeting or even take up a great amount of time.”
Extract from the Department of COmmunities and Local Government consultation paper on reviewing the publicity code
“2.11 To achieve this, the Publicity Code should not prevent councils from producing publicity that explains clearly the political control of their council, who leads the council and the political composition of the council.
“2.12 Nor should it be seen to prevent members having, in the interests of their constituents, a public voice funded by the taxpayer to inform their community about what activities they have been undertaking in their role as councillor, in either any particular role they fulfil on the council, or as a representative of their ward.
“2.13 The Publicity Code should not form a barrier to members using publicly funded publicity to discuss, in the interest of their constituents, matters that are of personal interest to those members, nor should it bar them from providing useful and pertinent contact details and links to other bodies. All publicity funded by a local authority, or which they assist others to publish, is subject to the statutory prohibition that it cannot appear designed to affect public support for a political party.
“2.16 Those who work in local government should feel confident about operating in a political environment and giving elected councillors the support they require. The response to the Councillors Commission report announced the Government’s intention of introducing a new duty on local authorities to support democracy and encouraged councils to take a range of actions as part of their new responsibility, including:
“2.18 We want to ensure that councils, and councillors, do not consider themselves unduly restricted in the types of communication that they can engage in. To ensure that councils will not be inhibited in their new duty to promote democracy, councils will need to be prepared to publicise how to get involved in local decision making processes, will have to target publicity at groups that are under-represented in the democratic process and make the most effective use of advertising.
“In summary, the current Publicity Code provides as follows: A local authority discharges its functions corporately and it is inappropriate to publicise the activities of particular councillors except when councillors are representing the council as a whole. Personalisation of issues or image making should be avoided and the publicity should not be liable to misrepresentation as being party political.
Overcoming this barrier may take a while. Are there any ways staff can work-around this barrier effectively until more permanent solutions are in place?
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