One of the hot topics at UBCM this year showcases the use of social media as a key communications tool to changing the relationship between civic officials and citizens. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other forms of communication are important forums used to stay connected to the public and to the community.
I learned about the importance of public communication, citizen engagement and social media over seven years ago when my son, an IT specialist, encouraged me to set up a blog site as part of my municipal election campaign in 2005. I was a bit skeptical at first and wondered if residents would be interested in what I had to say. He was right and I was wrong. The blog took off, the public responded favourably and I have never looked back.
Sachi Kurl, well known BC broadcaster and head of her own engagement and polling firm called Vision Critical, hosted a standing-room-only workshop at this year’s UBCM Conference called “Eight Effective Habits of Citizen Engagement.”
Ms. Kurl believes that citizen engagement is critical to the effectiveness of local government and those involved in public life. I totally agree and continue to encourage Oak Bay to integrate communications/engagement into our work and to explore the use of a variety of media and public forums to reach our residents. This work is evolving and Mayor and Council are committed to better public engagement and communications (we have a new website, our first volunteer working group was on Civic Engagement, we have new media in Chambers, we are renewing the Official Community Plan through public engagement and we held our first neighbourhood meeting last November, a success).
Here is Sachi Kurl’s eight-point message:
- Politicians have to think about engagement over the long term.
- They have to go where their citizens are, whether it is online through Twitter and Facebook or off-line through community meetings (my goal for Oak Bay is four neighbourhood meetings a year).
- They need to be creative and authentic and not just drive messages from the top down.
- They need to respect people’s privacy.
- They need to create interesting content and discussions.
- They have to respect the Goldilocks principle of getting it right — not too much information and not too little.
- They can’t have a black hole, sucking up comment and not responding.
- They have to set themselves up for success by practicing citizen engagement widely.