England & Wales HR, workforce and communications, Technology

individual councillor newsletters, a case study of @councillorlewis

Catherine Lewis was shortlisted for ‘Online Councillor of the Year’ at the 2011 C’llr Achievement Awards. As an independent councillor, Catherine is without the clout of a party machine – her support then has been nurtured through dedicated personal interactions and consistent community involvement.

As I recently blogged, a new report from the Pew Research Centre in the US concludes that “public trust in government is strongly tied with their engagement and involvement in their communities”.

This compliments the belief that residents who think local government does well in sharing information are also more likely to be satisfied with their local representatives.

In the case of @councillorlewis, the weekly newsletters she emails out are nice examples of how council and councillor information can be shared – an example of a newsletter can be seen through this link.

What I like about these mailouts are that they’re non-party political (of course as an independent they wouldn’t be) , very colloquial and highly localised to what’s going on, firstly in her ward, and then in Torfaen County Borough Council more generally.

Email is still the richest form of digital communication by far – so ever since reading the Obama for America case study I’ve been interested in the role that it can play in building trust with formal politics and empowering people to take more control of their community and local services.

As Matthew MacGregor wrote of the 2008 Presidential campaign, “Barack Obama’s campaign was so successful because it took its lead from the candidate. As a community organiser, Obama learned to work with people and empower them. The real lesson of Obama’s use of the internet is not that you can tweet or go on YouTube, but that you can organise – by engaging people and turning them into advocates for a cause. It is not technology that wins elections, it is people. And new media allows campaigns, candidates and causes to organise people like never before.”

In the example of Cllr Lewis then, it can seen that she’s not simply using email to put her message out there,  her newsletters are attempting to be a key organisational tool, creating a network of supporters that can, in time, become increasingly active in the local community – whatever shape or formality that may be.

The issues Catherine covers aren’t necessarily council priorities, but parking problems at school times, holiday programmes, burglaries and cardboard collections are issues that do matter and appeal to the day-to-day lives of many people.

What all this shows is that the web2.0 technologies really can be used in many different ways to help councillors engage with and deliver to their communities – it’s a case of councillors finding their local online network, listening to their issues and then working together, through whatever technology best fits, to find a mutually-beneficial solution.

Catherine’s website is also really interesting. She built it with the help of her husband (which is inspirational in itself) and includes pages such as ‘my role’, ‘key priorities’ and a wonderful little street index for all postcodes in her ward.