The Big City Plan – Part 4 – Did it work?

POSTED IN good practice, my projects, social media | TAGS : , , , , 17 February 2009

The Big City Talk site collected 274 comments, not a huge number perhaps — but from my point of view they were all helpful, considered, and intelligent. There was also clear evidence of commenters building on the work of others, and better ideas forming. It is also very possible (and I’ve seen from anecdotal evidence) that people were using the plain English version of the site to inform their comments put though the “official channels”.

Pending a FOI request to find the exact number comments generated by the Council’s consultation methods (which also included two large-scale facilitated consultation events, a number of smaller ones and a “consultation bus“) the local paper reported:  “more than 1,600 people express views, including over 500 opinions online in the city’s blogging community.”. Whether they’ve been confused as to where blogging comments came from, or have overestimated both, it doesn’t matter — 274 comments out of a total of 1600 is a good amount.

Had we not had to follow the structure of the Big City Plan “Work in Progress” document, or had to provide direct “translation”, or expend a lot of effort making the purpose of the BCT site clear — had we been able to have the site available for the full eight weeks (it took  around four to make the plain English, commentable version) — then the number of comments and the standard of them would have been higher. That is not to mention the effect of the expensive advertising campaign pointing to BigCityTalk.org.uk rather than BigCityPlan.org.uk, or the kudos gained from being the official site — who knows what effect that would have had.

My Conclusions

The resources needed to produce the Big City Talk site were only time (the domain name cost £2.99, and I used existing hosting), the skills we used would have been readily available within the council structure — and experience if needed is already in the city. The only thing stopping Birmingham City Council running a “social” online consultation was the organisational will. I think there may be more of that now.

The Big City Plan is still a long process, having finished this consultation period the next step is to write a final plan — which again has to be put out for consultation.

I will consider the Big City Talk project a success if that consultation’s online component is a lot more like our way — and I won’t hesitate to repeat the exercise if it isn’t.

These are only my conclusions and views, and the “organisation” that produced the BCT site is a classic case of “organising without organisations” as Clay Shirky puts it — everyone will have thier own opinion. I’d love to see as many opinions and views, and constructive comments on how this sort of thing should work — please leave them here, blog yourself, or link to any you find.

See Also:

  • http://www.jonbounds.co.uk Jon Bounds

    And to kick that off here’s Nick Booth talking eloquently about the process: http://socialreporter.com/?p=509.

  • http://daveharte.com Dave Harte

    “The only thing stopping Birmingham City Council running a “social” online consultation was the organisational will. I think there may be more of that now.”

    I think you’re right – there may be more will to do more ‘social’ online consultations but I think the City is still quite some distance from having effective mechanisms to actually undertake those consultations.

    I suspect the example you’ve given here has opened the door for other citizens to do the same more than it will push the council into change. But then it’s the former than matters – that we become more active citizens – more than the latter.

  • http://www.jonbounds.co.uk Jon Bounds

    >I suspect the example you’ve given here has opened the door for other citizens to do the same more than it will push the council into change. But then it’s the former than matters – that we become more active citizens – more than the latter.

    I really hope there is some institutional change – and think there will be, however slowly it happens – because the effort expended on helping engamenet here could have been used to do things extra to what could be done already – I’m not sure any of the people involved in the BCT site had the engery left to actually comment on the consultation.

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  • http://cultivar.wordpress.com james Rock

    There are some great observations here and I agree with all of them.

    One thing I think we should bear in mind is how good is Birmingham in comparison with other local authorities? We can be critical, but maybe Birmingham Council is more enlightened than we think? Is anyone aware of other authorities doing it better? Which authority is considered “best practice” in using social media as a public consultation process tool? Is Birmingham an “early adopter? a “fast follower” or a “laggard”?

    Perhaps there’s room for a collaborative group sharing knowledge about this subject across the 350+ local authorities in UK?

    James Rock
    http://cultivar.wordpress.co.uk

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  • http://www.jonbounds.co.uk Jon Bounds

    @james It’s very interesting how different councils are handling this sort of stuff. Birmingham CC are “interested” but so far I think only some sections of central government have actually been able to move ahead and try this sort of thing for themselves.

    I certainly think that local authorities should be collaborating on everything, instead of the vague competition aspect that central government encourages.

    The thing about ‘social’ media is that if public bodies don’t start to engage then active citizens will force their hand somewhat with actions like this.

    Always happy to help people who are looking to dip their toes into the sometimes wobbly waters – from either side of the fence.

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