Tag Archives: Citizens League

Budget cuts: an opportunity for local government to deliver services WITH citizens. Social media can help.

@Ross Currier, my Locally Grown co-host, tweeted on Monday, “As citizens increasingly challenge politics as usual, is it no longer left vs. right, nor faith vs. reason, but individual vs. institution?”

Listen Participate TransformThen Steve Clift @democracy retweeted this from @72prufrocks today, a report titled Listen, Participate, Transform: A social media framework for local government from the UK-based Young Foundation. It’s part of their Local 2.0 project (see the Local 2.0 Blog here), funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government

The report’s emphasis on the importance of public officials building relationships with citizens, using social media in part, is encouraging and is the best writing I’ve seen thus far on the topic.

In my hometown of Northfield, this is more than a little timely because:

  1. Significant budget cuts have to be made soon and the process is receiving some criticism
  2. Citizens are being asked to support a referendum for new police and fire facilities
  3. The Northfield City Council has a goal of improving communication with staff, citizen advisory groups and community

From the report’s introduction:

Impending budget cuts mean that local government will need to change the way it works, largely moving away from a model of delivering services to and for people, to a model of delivering services with people. Public servants will be required to build new relationships with citizens, relationships to help support civil society in responding to inevitable challenges.

As a consequence, local and central government needs to find better ways to forge new partnerships, involving citizens and the state working together to generate new ideas, tap into latent community capacity and make better use of local assets.

These challenges come at a time when social media has become part of everyday life for millions of people. For those in central and local government, social media will undoubtedly become part of everyday business, a channel for improved dialogue, wider networks and a new kind of mutualism that will be central to delivering effective public services. However, at this point social media is largely uncharted territory for many councils and public agencies.

  1. Listen Participate Transform - graphicListen to social media users and conversations about local issues
  2. Participate in conversations, building dialogue with citizens through social media, but also by energizing them around local issues, providing spaces for residents to support each other, and ultimately empowering them through decision making. The impact of participation should also be measured.
  3. Transform service redesign, replacing or complimenting existing ways of working and adopting new models of working

This reinforces the Citizens League’s finding on the importance of the quality of the dialogue between pubic officials and citizens that I blogged about last August:

One hypothesis about citizen involvement processes is that citizens view processes as “authentic” if the processes results in policies that citizens favor. This turned out not to be true. The most critical element citizens used to evaluate the authenticity of their involvement in MAP 150 projects was the quality of the dialogue with public officials. The quality of the dialogue was more important than the eventual result.

The disincentives for public officials to meaningfully engage with citizens are strong (see related blog posts here, here, and here) but the financial pain that everyone is about to experience as pubic services are cut back just may be enough to overcome them.

For those who want to go deeper, I recommend two other recent Young Foundation papers:

Public services and civil society working together Birth of the relational state

L: Public services and civil society working together 

R: The birth of the relational state

Social network update: Students Speak Out

As I noted in a May, 2007 blog post, the Citizens League contracted with me to set up, launch, and run the Students Speak Out (SSO) social network, part of their MAP 150 Project. Over the 5 months of my involvement, Erin Sapp, Lars Johnson, Stacy Becker, Kim Farris-Berg, Sean Kershaw and others working on the project gradually assumed more and more responsibilities for the social network until my work on it ended in the fall.

MN Journal sshot The project flourished, including an expansion to Students Speak Out: Milwaukee.  Much of this is chronicled in several articles in the July/August 2009 issue of MN Journal, the Citizens League’s newsletter.

platforms-sshot SSO is featured in a paper by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor Satish Nambisan titled Platforms for Collaboration (PDF), published in the summer 2009 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. The RPI press release on the paper, A New Way to Look at Innovation: Rensselaer Professor Outlines Blueprint for Social Change, summarized SSO:

2009-0827-nambisan Nambisan cited Minnesota’s nonprofit Citizens League and its successful use of exploration platforms for its Students Speak Out project, which was launched in 2007 to identify and tackle student issues. The Citizens League invited students to participate in a Web-based forum where bullying emerged as a key concern. The discussion quickly expanded beyond the Web and the students. Parents, journalists, education researchers, school board members, legislators, and city government officials all came together, both online and in offline venues including teacher training programs, student workshops, student video contests, and an annual convention.

The Citizens League developed an issue brief and white paper, and the Minneapolis city government incorporated the students’ feedback in policies to reduce youth violence. In perhaps the greatest indication of SSO’s success, Milwaukee launched a similar initiative in 2008.

National Civic Summit to focus on social media

bg_nlfbThe National Civic Summit is being held in downtown Minneapolis next week, July 15-17. The two-day conference is free and open to the public, though there is a charge for the pre-conference party and National Tweetup at the Mill City Museum on Wed. night. I’ll be attending all three days. The key questions for the conference:

  • “How can we increase civic imagination and capacity to solve today’s challenges in ways that serve the public interest?”
  • “How do we use technology to move from isolation and overload to effective collaboration and solutions?”

The folks at the Citizens League, one of the event’s co-sponsors, will be unveiling CitiZing!, their new online civic collaboration utility, at the Summit.