Sunday, 16 December 2012

When the grit the fan

Last Friday there was something of a gritstorm in Barnsley when local residents took to http://www.facebook.com/wearebarnsley to post their thoughts about how the council was handling the rapidly changing weather conditions.

This post isn’t in any way a criticism of the council, more a couple of observations about what all of local government can learn from this.

1) Manage unrealistic expectations.

There seemed to be a feeling from a vocal minority of residents that not only should the council grit every road (more specifically their road) and clear every pavement in the whole district.

A few claimed they “weren’t getting the service they paid for” when, from what I read, the council seemed to be delivering just that.

Perhaps councils should define services such as this in a quick and easy to read format online. I’m thinking of a few bullet points that take 30 seconds to read with a link to more information. It could prove invaluable in situations such as the one described above.

2) Engage with community sites and pages.

It’s no revelation to say that pages on Facebook and other social sites are rapidly becoming the new local media. What’s also changing is that pages such as this are also becoming a customer services for local public services.

Some of the questions asked on We Are Barnsley were along the lines  of “Is bus X running”, “Is road X gritted or open” and might usually be directed at the police, council or transport companies.

Engaging with those who run these pages would not only make sure that the information is more likely to be correct but actually could create more capacity in council customer services. We live in a time where some are having to think radically about re-shaping council services and effectively getting a partner to run digital customer services at little cost perhaps could be an option.

If you haven’t got an equivalent of We Are Barnsley yet, you will have in the next few years so now’s the time to start planning and talking to those who might be looking to run such a service.

If you’d like to discuss this then you can find me @PhilRumens
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.