Continuing my theme of posts on the ‘new political literacy’ I thought it would be interesting to interview Luke Bozier, MD of myCllr, to find out how he believes the service can strengthen local democracy and what it can do to put citizens better in control of their lives, communities and local services. What follows is a transcribe our conversation with some screenshots added to make the page look a bit more appealing.
RD: What’s the idea behind myCllr?
LB: Plenty of attention has been paid over the last 2-3 years to how national politicians, parties etc. can benefit from the right kind of web presence, but not much attention has been paid to how councillors themselves can benefit from that technology. It’s always good, for all of us, when politicians regardless of the level they represent (councillors, MPs etc.) are more open and accessible, and the Internet provides the most efficient way of making as many politicians accessible as possible.
So the idea behind myCllr is to enable that increased accessibility via the web, using a core set of tools and website templates. Any councillor in the land will be able to have not just a website, but an interactive, meaningful website, allowing constituents to post their issues in a visual map-based interface, and allowing the councillor to build a track record of all the work they do in the area.
RD: Where does your understanding / experience in online democratic engagement come from?
LB: I’ve worked for eight years, pushing forward how government agencies and politicians communicate with their stakeholders using the Internet. I had my first government contract at age 19, with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – they accepted a proposal to carry out the first ever e-consultation in the UK, and it was a big success. Before, and since then, I’ve worked for other government agencies, the British Council, a United Nations world summit, and various politicians in the UK and abroad. In 2006 I was asked to work for Tony Blair PM, advising him and the party on how they could radically change the way they communicate online. I remained with Blair and the party until he left office in 2007.
Since 2007, I have mainly worked with centre-left politicians. In 2009 I led the e-campaign for presidential candidate in Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, which was successful in raising quite a lot of money in small donations from Afghan expats living in the West.
RD: What issues/problems do you expect myCllr to cover?
LB: We did some focus group testing of the concept, and found that where there is a ‘bugbear’ on somebody’s street, more often than not citizens will ignore it and leave it somebody else. The people we asked said that if there was a simple way of reporting an issue like graffiti, a broken park bench, a tree stump in the street that hasn’t been removed, then they would be more likely to report it. So, as MyCllr was built based on the feedback from citizens and councillors, we’ve built a simple way for citizens to report those issues direct to their councillors – by pinning it on a map and describing it in 200 characters.
RD: How do you expect myCllr to be incorporated in to a councillors daily workflow?
LB: This is, I believe, part of the beauty of the concept; councillors who use myCllr can build up a public track record of their work, and respond to concerned citizens, without spending a great deal of time each day. As each ‘problem report’ or ‘councillor report’ can be no more than 200 characters, it takes very little time to report the work you’re doing or respond to a citizen who has posted a problem. We see it as something councillors can do around the same time they sit down to check emails or look at casework.
RD: Is this a free or charged-for service?
LB: We’ve decided on a subscription business model (rolling, £20 per month), which I feel will enable many more councillors access to the platform as they don’t have to worry about web hosting, maintenance or upgrades – it’s all part of the package.
RD: How will citizens hear of myCllr and understand how it can be used to engage with councillors?
LB: Initially, it will take a bit of time to build the platform’s profile up to a point where citizens feel that it is the best platform through which to contact a councillor. In the meantime all myCllr sites are optimised for search engines, so if somebody enters a Google search containing the name of their ward, we’re hoping that if their local councillor has a myCllr site then that will come up quite high in the results. We’re tweaking the technology to help make that happen.
In the future I think people will tend to hear about these things from friends in the area who might have already used it, as well as directly from the councillors themselves.
RD: Bottom-line, what do you feel are the advantages to a councillor of using myCllr?
LB: There are a number of benefits for councillors from using myCllr. The main one being that throughout the time they are a councillor, with a little bit of input every so often, myCllr will build up a visual track record of the work they do in their ward. This is invaluable I feel. Most councillors don’t shout very loud about the work they do, and are therefore often underrated. Not many councillors are going to put out a press release or long blog post about fixing a relatively minor issue on a street level, but pinning it on an interactive map is a simple exercise. Over time those small actions add up to a substantial track record of work.
Beyond the track record built up from the interactive map, a councillor using MyCllr will have a quality web presence, which in today’s internet age is invaluable. The features include a blog, photo gallery, online calendar etc. which will help any councillor to communicate effectively online.
RD: Any examples from testing?
LB: We’re still in beta testing, and feedback from councillors has been positive so far! This is very much the first version of a product which will be developed continuously, and we see this v1 as the foundation for even better more feature-packed and most importantly, more useful, platforms in the future.
myCllr is being launched to the public on January 24th – I would love to hear from any councillors who use the service. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me at @robandale or give me a call 020 7554 2855.
If you’ve made it down to the bottom of this article you may be interested in the online councillor event we are running next week
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