Friday, 25 January 2013

Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils

I recently joined and took part in a Google+ hangout on hyperlocals. When I say took part, I typed some text in the chat window and listened to everyone else speak. They knew far more than me, given they ran hyperlocal sites themselves and sometimes it's best just to shut up and listen.

I did it as a fact finding exercise to see how councils can help and support hyperlocals and hope to join in again. Some the conversation was actually about councils' attitudes towards hyperlocal.

What this and all my other research has taught me so far is that there seem to be three approaches to hyperlocals from councils. So here's the tale of "Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils". Of course the councils in the story are a work of fiction and in no way represent one single local authority.


The "we don't do it like that"s:
This type of council won't and don't engage with hyperlocals. Social media might be banned in their public meetings and they don't see hyperlocals as a legitimate news source, more a site or page set up by some crackpot to waste their time.

They might have had a bad experience in the past with a site that promoted just the negative aspects of the organisation. Whilst doing this is a perfectly legitimate way of scrutinising a council (provided it stays factual) it doesn't make for good relationship or overall view of hyperlocals. Of course one shouldn't judge everyone on the experience of one relationship, but sometimes people do.

Another more common reason might be simply lack of understanding. Why would someone devote their free time to running a local news site, there must be an ulterior motive. Very often there isn't.


The toe in the waters:
This type of council might be a bit wary of hyperlocals, but they don't see them as something negative.

They understand in part where things are going, but still struggle a bit to get their head round social media and view hyperlocals a personal sites, not a community resource.

Newspapers, radio and (possibly) their own website are seen as the only channels to get news and information out to people. They might however post the odd thing on a hyperlocals or a community Facebook page.

It might take a big event, like a riot or severe flooding before they realise they can work with hyperlocals, or it might just be a gradual process of change.


The forward thinkers:
This council understand the way the media landscape is changing. They realise that many people get their news from social media and hyperlocals rather, or as well as traditional media.

They see hyperlocals as a way to get information out to communities, and just as important to listen to what communities are saying.They realise that hyperlocals might say things they don't agree with, but then so does the traditional media and all are entitled to do so anyway.

They realise that if someone asking to come in and live stream or record their public meetings is actually a good thing, because not only does it allow more people to see democracy in action, it doesn't cost anything.


Of course I'm generalising hugely above, and many councils are a bit of all three, but let's hope in the future we see more forward thinkers and less "we don't do it like that"s.

If you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.