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Keeping with my policy of only adopting useful ways of promotion years after everyone else has done, I now have a Facebook Page for this blog. You can like it and hopefully get updates of when there are new posts and, of course, to show yourself to have a certain level of taste and discernment in your choice of blogs to read.

Of course, there are still lots of other ways to find out if I’ve posted something new – following me on Twitter or Google+, subscribing via email using the little box at the top right, via the RSS feed, or even just coming to the website occasionally to see.

Low oil prices – a threat to the dollar – Some interesting speculation from Jim Bliss on the longer-term implications of the falling oil price and crashing rouble.
Ayn Rand Reviews Children’s Movies – Something for the family that hates each other.
Ayn Rand helped the FBI investigate whether ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was commie propaganda – This one isn’t a spoof, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was.
Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty – The problematic consequences of social media creating automatic content.
Right to own – Why aren’t capital unions treated the same way as labour unions?

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Just a short post to let people know that Colchester Liberal Democrats now have our own page on Facebook, which should have plenty of updates and discussion from our council group. If you want to like it and get updates from us, then click here and don’t forget there are also pages for Sir Bob Russell and a certain Cllr Nick Barlow.

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I spent yesterday in London at the first ever Councillor Camp. This wasn’t a group of local government people hanging around in tents and/or pretending to be Kenneth Williams, but a version of BarCamp especially for councillors who wanted to look at ways we could use social media to better carry out our roles. It was organised by the LGIU and Futuregov, and we were very lucky to be hosted by Facebook, who gave us the run of their London training and meeting room, complete with Doctor Who-themed room names.

Unlike most local government events that I get invited to, this was a free event, and rather than having a rigid schedule, it was run as an ‘unconference‘ where most of the sessions and what they covered were determined by the participants, not by some schedule determined in advance. Another key feature of the day was that we were all encouraged to keep electronic devices on throughout the day and so as well as what was happening at the event itself, there was lots of discussion on the #cllrcamp hashtag on Twitter.

The day started with a number of different speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the use of social media in local politics. Again, this differed from normal conferences in that they were only allowed five minutes each to speak, and thus none of the presentations turned into death by PowerPoint. (“Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.”) This meant they had to boil things down to a few key points, which helped to set the tone for the day, rather than telling everyone what to think. Some key points I picked up from those speeches:

  • Brighton and Hove Council created their own Twitter hashtag – #bhbudget – to promote online discussion of their budget, and councillors were active participants in the online debate, which did feed concrete proposals into the budget
  • Denmark’s tax authorities use their online presence to post details and pictures of what people’s taxes are used for
  • “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” “Your residents are human, so be human.” Politicians need to be on social media as themselves, not constructing a separate online personality.
  • After those brief talks, we were into the main meat of the day, with people filling out a huge number of post-it that were then collated together into a grid of different sessions, where we could talk about what we wanted to. These discussion sessions were, for me, more useful than breakout sessions at other events. Again, there was no sitting round watching one person PowerPoint us to death, and the fact that people had come to a session because they wanted to be there and had chosen the topic meant people were much more willing to participate.

    (And in itself, letting people define the terms of their engagement and interaction, not having it rigidly imposed from on high is something local government could and should learn to do)

    I could go on for ages, but some of the thoughts I’ve had from Councillor Camp are likely going to generate posts in themselves over the weeks to come, but here are some of the key points for me:

  • Engaging in social media means giving up some control – councils and councillors can create and start discussions, but can’t determine where it goes after that.
  • There has to be more work done to get more people involved and online, so the discussion isn’t just amongst the most savvy.
  • Any social media strategy has to be capable of evolving to recognise the growth of new networks and platforms.
  • A new generation is coming through who see being online and involved in social media as entirely natural and integral to their lives, not an added extra (see this quote fromDouglas Adams). That councillors are generally much older than the population they represent could create issues here.
  • The effectiveness of your social media presence is linked to authenticity – people expect you to be yourself and respond as such, not a programmed drone.
  • Interactivity is expected, not an added-extra. People will expect to interact with the social media presence of councils and councillors and get a meaningful response.
  • There’s more to come – and some of it might link with the thoughts I’ve had after reading The Political Brain this week – but overall Councillor Camp was a great experience, and I’d recommend any follow up and repeat events to other councillors, especially those who aren’t as engaged online and want to discover how to go further. One idea suggested was the potential for regional events, to get more people involved in a more convenient location – anyone fancy a Councillor Camp East?

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    For my ‘official’ Facebook page, which now has an easily memorable address: www.facebook.com/nickbarlowcolchester

    It’s where I’ll try and post things that are relevant to my work as a councillor, rather than the general theme of this blog which tends to revolve around whatever shiny thing is grabbing my magpie-like attention at the time. I have neglected updates to the Facebook page for a while, but I will endeavour to post as much as I can to the page, to try and keep people informed, so if you’re interested in my work as a councillor, then go along and like it.

    I will still keep up the council-related blog posts here, though, so you won’t miss them.

    Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease – I’m shocked – shocked, I tell you – to discover that something James Delingpole and other contrarian trolls believe in has no evidence to back it up.
    10 myths of the UK’s far right – Daniel Trilling in the Guardian outlines some widely-repeated opinions about the BNP and their ilk that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.
    Facebook friends network ‘quadruples voting behaviour’ – Interesting study in the US about different online prompts and how they increase the likelihood of someone voting – the original paper it’s based on is here.
    English Baccalaureate – questions outstanding – Stephen Williams MP shows that not all Lib Dem MPs have drunk the Govite Kool-Aid.
    The Myth of the European Court of Human Rights’ “War on Britain” – Very good piece by Alex Massie. Worth passing on to any nutters of your acquaintance (some of whom appear to be in the Cabinet, sadly) who advocate Britain withdrawing from/ignoring the ECHR

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    None of these links were placed here by small grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli. That must be true, the Men In Black told me so.

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen – Flying Rodent imagines an Orwellian version of the Scottish Premier League.
    Facebook Social Readers Are All Collapsing – Oh, please let them go away. Clicking on an interesting-looking link only to discover a screen demanding you sign up to share your reading habits before you’re allowed to read it is bloody annoying.
    Walking is political – An extract from Will Self’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University.
    How Germany’s Pirate Party is hacking politics – Some silly errors in this (seemingly thinking the 15 seats won in Berlin were elected by FPTP, not list seats under AMS) but still interesting, and a good explanation of the Liquid Feedback system, which interests me (and I may blog about in more detail later).
    Do normal people go into politics anymore? – Another interesting post from Jason O’Mahony on the difference between the political classes and the rest of the world.

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