Governance Recommendations

Further to the Governance Commission’s report last week, Social Media CIC is endorsing its recommendations and pledging to play its part in reviving local democracy. It should be made clear that this is not an attempt to be political but rather to contribute to a stronger civil society in order that the problems of our area can be improved.

Every different group and individual has something to offer this process. What we can offer follows:
- Local Edition provides a forum to inform debate in the Northern Stoke area. This can be used more effectively by all organisations working in the area. We will find different ways to present the findings of the report and feed back responses.
- Our website, www.socialmedia.org.uk, provides free space for community groups across the city to create a presence online and where residents, politicians and anybody else can connect with each other and post news and information about their activities
- Social Media CIC has developed a range of relationships with networks and groups across the city and can support constructive community engagement through these networks
- Through our different projects, we are able to provide connections to different groups of people in Northern Stoke and a two-way flow of viewpoints to contribute to dialogue. We hope to develop our capacity over the coming months to do more.
- We can provide expertise on structure-building from community to global level, drawing on experience of contributing to, and working with, successful volunteer-based groups in the City and further afield.

Our recommendations to the Council are also around the recommendation to rebuild engagement. This is not supposed to detract from the very hard work that many councillors and officers put in, but address the way that people feel because of structural failures and in some cases a lack of basic communication and consultation.

- Resource residents and other community groups at local levels, continuing the good work over the past year, and encouraging residents to fill gaps that currently exist. Ensure that the most appropriate sectors of the council maintain regular dialogue with all groups operating in their area or work.

- ensure you have meaningful dialogue with community groups on all decisions affecting the area, not only on those that suit you. Don’t avoid discussion on decisions that you think will be controversial. Get people involved in new strategies right from the beginning and don’t shut them out at critical points - not everybody will want to be involved in policy discussions but some people will and they can help convey questions and information both ways. We have had large voids of silence while some of the biggest decisions are being made and this gives rise to suspicion.

- Accept responsibility for the fact that people are disengaged and angry, therefore the problem is not necessarily the decisions being made, but the way in which they are made. A culture of trust is the only effective way that everybody can contribute to society.

- send out regular information on all decisions and actions made by councillors and officers through online newsfeeds that can also be printed out as posters in libraries. An interesting model is the Twitter feed started by Gordon Brown’s office that anybody can subscribe to.

- Be experimental and imaginative. Release council officers from the culture of fear and control that contributes to an environment of secrecy, lack of trust and the external perception of inneffectiveness. Create simple systems of accountability through councillors and balance this with practices that support officers to carry out their difficult work for the city.

- Introduce participatory budgeting elements immediately for ward budgets so that the whole community can work alongside councillors in spending it. Extend participatory methods to all local service delivery, piloting models of participation to find what works in our communities. Over the years, residents in the area have built a degree of expertise in consultation practices and there are many community leaders ready and willing to be participate positively - more will follow once the atmosphere of conflict and mistrust begins to clear and people see that their input leads to results (there are residents who have been involved in consultations about the regeneration of their area since the early 1970s).

- Immediately develop clear illustrations of decision-making so that anybody who wants to get involved at any level can easily find out the best route to participation (including online and other means) and have their views taken forward

- Accept that there is a distinct difference between promoting Stoke-on-Trent and facilitating effective debate and accountability. Local media can be a constructive partner in both.

- Abandon the PR strategy outlined in last year’s recruitment process of rebuttal and ‘good news’ stories. Help journalists to communicate political processes effectively to the public by answering questions and providing information pro-actively and on request. Good press for the city will follow as the health of the city in every sphere improves.

- Publish all Freedom of Information requests in order to avoid duplication and, if practical, archive released material in the most relevant public library (ie requests about Tunstall in Tunstall).

- Ensure that every councillor builds engagement at local ward level and create strategies for ensuring that there are efficient systems for all residents to communicate meaningfully with their councillor and have their concerns and ideas passed on. Find out what local people think makes a ‘good councillor’ and share examples of good practice, whichever party they come from.

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