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How my council is encouraging us to “get involved”

Right now, I’m here at Brighton and Hove City council’s first Get Involved event, an opportunity to tell the public about what it is they pay their council tax for and perhaps how they might spend it better. The day will be devoted to showing how to be involved with the council, health and emergency services in the community.

What brings me here? Well I am very interested in how governments can use digital technology to enhance democratic particpation especially in the UK but also, I responded to a call out for volunteers from Sussex Community Internet Project (SCIP) to show the community groups and local authority organisation present how social media works and how it might help them.

One of the straplines of the day is “Let’s talk Politics.” In such a democratically apathetic country, I’m not sure if this message is doing the trick in terms of  pulling in the punters, although I really hope this changes. This is why I’m interested in uses of the web to improve engagement with local (and broader) decision making.

Interestingly, Brighton and Hove City Council recently employed it’s first social media officer and I’d like to meet them and talk about what exactly the are doing to improve the council.

As I mooched around the stands, I headed to the one marked ‘scrutiny panel.’ I asked the woman on the stand how they tell the public about this valuable but little-known-about service and encourage them to use it – and unsurprisingly she said how hard this was. I asked if she used technology and she said they put information on the website but scribbled things down frantically when I mentioned Twitter and Facebook.

Now this Scrutiny function could come into its own, in light of the expenses scandal which has made more people than ever focus on the subject of government accountablility. But who knew there was a panel of councillors who will work on their behalf to ensure the people making important decisions can justify them?

Right now, I ‘m now in the Question Time session (live webcast here) with a panel including the Conservative leader of the council Councillor Mary Mears (interesting to see she’s the owner of my local fruit and veg stall) and other local government luminaries from Police, NHS and the voluntary and community sector.

More to come. . .videos from the day have been uploaded on SCIP’s YouTube channel here.

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