Albert Camus, Introspection and the Social Media Journey

English: Albert Camus in 1957
Albert Camus – The Fall (1956)

Albert Camus is one of my favourite authors. I haven’t read all his novels; probably never will. I don’t (and won’t) pretend to understand the ins and outs of his work; my mind doesn’t have the capacity. He’s one of my favourite authors because of one novel, The Fall (1956). This is a story about ‘a successful Paris barrister…who has come to recognise the deep-seated hypocrisy of his existence. His brilliant, epigrammatic and, above all, discomforting monologue gradually saps, then undermines, the reader’s own complacency’. Wow, bleak, eh?

Though, it’s not bleak. Not as far as I’m concerned. It is an introspection that goes deep into the human psyche, posing questions about our nature and character, morals and our penchant for judgement of self and each other. It is the introspection that appeals. Introspection is part of who I am, as I reflect often on what ‘makes me tick’ as an individual; I want to understand myself better, so I become better, more effective, able to employ skills learned directly into the work I do. It is part of my lifes journey – a blessing and a curse. To search, discover, disect piece by piece, give rise to provision of a solution. Camus’s, The Fall, allows me to reflect on this as a positive approach to continued learning about human nature, helping me navigate life in a much more positive way.

With this positive aspect in mind, there is a particular passage that struck me recently, offering up a peach of a reflection and opportunity for constructive introspection.

You were wrong, cher, the boat is going at full speed. But the Zuyderzee is a dead sea, or almost. With its flat shores, lost in the fog, there’s no knowing where it begins or ends. So we are steaming along without any landmark; we can’t gauge our speed. We are making progress and yet nothing is changing. It’s not navigation but dreaming.

This, to me, is powerful writing. It is exactly this sort of literary description that I connect with, where imagery through prose conjurs thoughts that syncronise with situations of the present. In this case, I link the passage with the social media journey.

More and more of us are becoming a part of this journey, for pleasure, for work, both; intertwined. We are going at full speed, while each of us at our own pace. We are being swept along in progressing our knowledge, often without knowing where we began or where we’re going. There are no landmarks, only the wake of others froth and bother as they speed along. All our paths cross constantly, a mass of tracks. Sometimes we collide beautifully, creating fleeting moments of shared vision, before speeding off again.

“We are making progress and yet nothing is changing”, and right there is the ultimate pondering moment, of social media, open data, new web technologies in local government. Progress is being made. I read it. I’ve seen it. I’m forever being amazed by the new ways people speak about what they’ve done and what they’re doing.

Change will come, when its ready, subtly slinking its way into everybodies conciousness. It will begin to apply itself in new ways of thinking, about how services are delivered. We will keep on going at full speed, lost in the fog, and it will be brilliant. Paths of navigation will be left in the wake for others to follow (I’ll be following), by the dreamers who dare to hurtle along, unbound by beginnings or ends or safety of landmarks.

Councillors need to get down with the Social Media Disco

Hip Young Councillors Are After Your Seat

Chances are that newcomers to the local political playground will be social media savvy. Younger, faster, slicker than their long established peers? Maybe! Better politicians? Perhaps not, yet, but given time and the benefit of advice and guidance of their peers and they have the potential to be. The combination of this ongoig political education and use of social media tools, will over time strengthen the potential for the newbies to reach out further to their constituents. In the annual game of political musical chairs, those who can play the social media tune alongside the doorstep dancing, will find they’re the ones more likely to be sitting on the chair when DJ Purdah stops the music.

That said, not all long established councillors are social media ignorant, nor all young inaugurals aware of the real value or potential of social media tools. Just because you have a Facebook page or blog, or Twitter account, doesn’t automatically give you one-up-man-ship on an opponent who does without.

Maybe I have over-egged the impact use of social media tools can have on wooing the electorate, as you still cannot beat that face to face door step discussion, where your potential voter gets to see you and listen to you in the flesh. Human to human interaction, even for social media advocates, is not something dismissed as outdated and wasteful use of time. However, the way society is shaping up and technology allowing for swathes of citizens to access the internet and develop their own online presence, as we see commercial organisations beginning to utilise these tools for marketing and developing stronger customer bases, councillors need to also recognise the opportunities to develop and connect with their own customers in this very same way.

By having a blog, using twitter, setting up a facebook page, all and any councillor can begin to tap into the online communities that exist, and which are spreading all the time. Councillors are pretty blooming good at doing social: Listening, discussing, supporting, and taking up issues on behalf of residents or groups in the community. Social media tools therefore should hold little fear, although they do seem to in many cases.

The fact is that, even if you just have basic IT skills, it’s enough to be able to use a range of online tools. The biggest barrier is having the confidence to use them, or find out which one (if not all) is for you. Yet, it’s not just confidence about the tools themselves, rather how they can be used effectively.

CllrSocMed

Last year the CllrSocMed team undertook a number of social media group sessions across the Yorkshire and Humber region. These sessions were purely for councillors who wanted to know more about the ins and outs of social media, what it meant, the potential pit falls, saying the wrong thing, why should they use it, how will it make their life easier as surely its just something else they have tolearn but don’t have time for!

In excess of 50 councillors attended those sessions. Each of them took something positive away. The age range varied, as did the political hue.

The best thing about those sessions though was that they were not run by council officers, but fronted by councillors already using social media. Who better for a councillor to talk to, listen to, debate the range of issues that the words ‘social media’ raise, than with a peer who already uses them? So, whilst the officers offered technical support, Cllr Cooke (@SimonMagus), Cllr Cheetham (@CllrTim) and Cllr Cooper (@clrandrewcooper) were at the forefront of discussion, debate, advice and encouragement.

Some learning resources you just can’t buy…because they’re FREE!

What the CllrSocMed team were able to do was to capture a lot of learning from these sessions, developing resources that could be used by councillors anywhere across the country. They were generated as a direct result of questions raised and debates had by and between councillors.

This particular link will direct you to a range of material, to give you a flavour of what is on offer.

Where can CllrSocMed next be found?

The CllrSocMed team will next be found at Local Gov Camp North West, on 4 February 2012, and are very much looking forward to hopping over the border into the red rose county.

The role councillors play in the lives of their communities can be pivotal, especially in terms of planning, environment, community safety, health and education. If you had the option to make an even greater impact by reaching more people in your community, morereadily, that can only be a good thing, a quite powerful thing. Social media is the means by which this can happen!

Webcasting the net that bit further

Webcasting, once a thing of mystery and in the eyes of many a questionable investment, has become far more widespread over the last few years. This has been down to progressive private sector thinking, by organisations such as Public-i, who grasp the concept of community and political environment and how the two relate to each other.

As a consequence, those local authorities who have taken on webcasting, could in some respects also be classed as progressive councils; they have grasped what this technology means, understanding it’s value. That is, the ability to reach a much wider audience than they could have previously only dreamed about, opening up democracy and providing transparent decision making, to the public they represent and serve.

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference
Image by conservativeparty via Flickr

I’m a big believer in transparency, and webcasting is a tool that allows for displaying such. It was therefore refreshing when Eric Pickles, openly supported this and called for more of it from councils across the country.  What does surprise me is that there are some councils who have pushed against this openness (pre and post Pickles comment).

The technology for webcasting is now long established. I expect if those councils who have webcast for a number of months (if not years) all of a sudden stopped, there would be be some kind of public and local media outcry. Such activity as webcasting gets into peoples psyche, and in this case it manifests into a ‘citizen’s right’ to observe what goes on in the meetings of the electorate; a powerful thing, that kind of mindset! Of course, this is only my opinion.

However, webcasting of council meetings is only a part of the story. In most cases it is no longer innovative; certainly not on it’s own. In some places then, such as Kirklees Council, webcasting is becoming normal practice. So, just what is it that continues to make webcasting a useful tool? Well, I’ve been lucky enough to play a part in it’s implementation, so here’s what I think.

Who does it reach?: Openness and transparency, as stated, is very important. We vote to elect our representatives, and as citizens have a right to see what is going on in those corridors of power. But more than this, it also allows for officers to watch and educate themselves, about the wider debates and reasoning relating to decisions. This can be especially pertinent when their service is one of the hot topics of the night. The idea of a better informed staff, should be embraced by any local authority. Specific encouragement of officers to watch these meetings should therefore undertaken; innovative ways to help staff educate themselves, rather than send them on a political awareness training course (at least use some of the footage from a webcast).

Other media: The introduction of other social media tools is something else that, in places, has been cause of some consternation for some councils. Tweeting during a meeting has been frowned upon, but I find the frowning flawed. I won’t go into a rant about it, but…a mixture of tweets from citizens, officers and councillors, further opens up the transparency and engagement that the ideology of local authorities should be striving to do. A combination of media, in this case “Watching and Tweeting Democracy”, has worked well so far. There is no real reason it should stop, as the dialogue has been respectful and everybody has been very adult about the whole thing! The innovation then is how we can start to use a combination of social media tools, not simply one here and one there; get them in the same place.

Internal communication: This is an important addition to the webcasting of council meetings, a small step in more innovative uses of the tools at our disposal. At no other time has a local authority needed to open up the communication channels with it’s employees, as it does now. A number of Meetings with Directors have taken place, allowing staff to listen to and ask questions of directors. On a couple of occasions, webcasts have been recorded. What this has achieved is the ability to reach a greater number of employees, in effect creating a greater transparency and humanity in communication (rather than the obligatory long email; which actually still has it’s place, of course). The potential savings on conducting some communications in this way, is significant, and necessary and certainly as a taxpayer myself, something I welcome in terms of the council making best use of it’s resources.

In terms of uses for webcasting as a tool, I believe we have barely scratched the surface. The uses outlined above, themselves, all need to be driven and built upon in order for them to generate greater value, and that is possible through a bit of hard work and creative thinking. Where an authority empowers it’s employees to think and make decisions that best serve it’s citizens, engaging citizens in that more and more along the way, there is much that can be achieved.