I first became aware that there was a problem with local authority staff accessing the internet at work when I published the Click Guide to Children’s Services. A barrage of emails from social workers from local authorities advised me that they were blocked from accessing a free to download resource which brought together the resources available online to support looked after children. The advice I had to give was to ask each IT department to put my website on the safe list.
Over 18 months on and it still seems to be a postcode lottery about how informed your local authority staff will be about the information and resources available on the internet. An additional dimension has been the phenomenal growth in the use of social networking over the past year. Facebook now has over 750 million users, Twitter has over 200 million users, Linkedin has over 120 million members and YouTube is the second most used search engine after Google.
What is the value of local authority staff having access to social networks? With so much information available on the internet people are looking for trusted sources to obtain information and inform their decisions. Citizens are having conversations online now whether local authorities choose to engage or not. According to Pew Internet Research 65% of adult internet users now say they use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 61% one year ago. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Social-Networking-Sites.aspx
As the number of online services increases and the benefits of being digitally connected are highlighted surely it makes sense for local authorities to be in the forefront of using as many social networking channels as possible to engage with their citizens. It seems somewhat paradoxical that some local authorities who are using social media do not seem to trust their own staff to use these channels at work. It is worth reading Ageing and the use of the internet an informative report from the Nominet Trust which offers important insights into how local social networks affect what individual older people do and resources they have access to.
Every event I have participated in both online and in person recently has raised the issue of access to social media for staff in the public sector. I thought it would be interesting to collate a list of local authorities who actively support & recognise the value of staff using social media to engage with their communities. This has already raised a number of revealing issues in the Twitter discussions which will be explored in a future post.
We have excellent examples to consider from across the public sector including the police who have published the excellent Engage : digital and social media engagement for the police service from ACPO and the National Police Improvement Agency
There is a separate but related debate about who has responsibility for social media engagement within a local authority. Ideally I believe it should be a collaborative partnership led by the Chief Executive and involving all staff and citizens.
The benchmarks for inclusion in the list are a work in progress and I’d welcome thoughts. At the moment the benchmark includes the support and guidance provided for staff to use social media and the level of online engagement with the public. I’m also interested in whether the Chief Executive and senior staff use social media including Twitter,
Part Two of the post will feature the admittedly rather small list of local authorities who actively support and recognise the value of staff using social media to engage with their communities. I am using the hashtag #lasocmed to encourage discussion through Twitter.