101 ways to communicate with your council

At the beginning of the month Simon Whitehouse asked me lead a session at the last Birmingham Brewcamp, where people ‘drink tea, eat cake, learn stuff’, by outlining what I’d like from Birmingham City Council that I felt was currently lacking. My answer was instant and very simple: ‘A relationship.’

Let me elaborate on that a little – I find communication with Birmingham City Council difficult, it never feels forthcoming. Councillors very rarely attend Digbeth Residents’ Association meetings (I think Councillor Yvonne Mosquito has attended a couple of times over the years) and since our treasured Neighbourhood Manager Andy Sheppard was made redundant, there has been no council presence at Digbeth Residents’ Association meetings, which is a pity (and contrast to the good attendance from local police officers).

When looking for a response from Birmingham City Council with stuff I’ve done on Digbeth is Good, I’ve always found getting one a bit of an uphill struggle, be it waiting in vain for replies to repeated emails to local Councillors about the empty Moseley Road houses in which two squatters died in a fire or asking the press office for a statement about that AWOL Big City Plan bus incident back in 2009.

Many thanks to Kelly Quigley-Hicks, who was at the Brewcamp and wrote a great round-up of the session the following day.

Anyway, once I’d finished what was admitedly a bit of a frustrated moan (sorry about that) the conversation turned to possible ways of turning this state of affairs around and positively engaging with a local council. Then Dan Slee came up with the brainwave of pooling the suggestions with an open-edit spreadsheet: 101 ways to communicate with your council. It would be great if you could contribute, the more imaginative the suggestions, the better!

You’ll notice next to the ‘means of communication’ column there’s another asking you to rate it as either Passive, Aggressive, or Passive-Aggressive. I don’t doubt this classification is overly simplistic and it’s not meant to be taken terribly seriously, just gauge whether you’re making a gentle approach in the hope of a response, exerting gentle pressure to try and encourage one if you don’t feel it is/will be forthcoming or asking for a response in a way that makes refusal difficult or impossible (such as an FOI request).

I’ve put a few means of communication on the spreadsheet to kick things off, I can’t wait to see some other suggestions! 🙂

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3 Comments »

  1. Hello Nicky

    Thanks for coming along and sharing your frustrations with us last month. I have to admit that I was quite surprised that somebody as reasonable, intelligent and articulate as yourself has such difficulty in getting themselves heard. I’d assumed differently.

    I have added a cake based suggestion to your list in the spirit of co-operation.

    Personally, I think we should be making more of the opportunity that online communications offer to us in the public sector. It gives such a great chance to talk to the people we deliver services to.

    Unfortunately, most of my colleagues won’t be able to read this and comment on it at work as they are unable to access social media sites there. It is a shame that we choose to block ourselves off from conversations that people are having about us.

  2. Thanks Simon – cake always helps, whatever the problem! 🙂

    I think what I’ve found frustrating is this isn’t just my personal experience, I’ve encountered people and groups far more organised and articulate than myself doing great things to build up Birmingham’s culture, profile and economy who’ve hit a similar brick wall, which is why I think I ended up venting so strongly – I saw Birmingham miss out on a good opportunity recently and it was the final straw that broke my back!!

    I’m sad that your colleagues can’t read this – not a problem exclusive to Birmingham of course, but wouldn’t it be great if the council could listen to its brilliant and very vocal digital community (some of them Birmingham City Council personnel) and take a strategic decision to encourage online engagement at all levels? Ho hum.

    Nicky.

  3. Hello Nicky

    Yes, we have been a bit stymied by the timing of the decision to filter social media. I decided that leading some kind of a crusade to get the block lifted would have been unproductive. Instead, I’ve concentrated on demonstrating that there are productive uses to be made of social media for us council workers. I hope that as more of us do this then managers themselves will make the arguments to lift the filters.

    And yes, I absolutely agree that we should be encouraging online engagement at all levels. Darren Wright at the Health and Wellbeing Partnership and I are interested in the untapped expertise that sits in our organisations and we are planning to consult with staff who do stuff online, just not as part of their jobs, about how we might encourage online engagement.

    All the best
    Simon

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