One of the most exciting projects I’ve been working on with Camden Council is the development of an online community and consultation platform. Though we officially kicked off the project at the start of April, the idea came to fruition at the back end of last year. As a council we are always looking at how to broaden engagement with our customers. So we set to thinking how we could develop something that would widen the opportunities for customers to share their feedback.
Looking at work we had already done with small consultations using free online tools, and the wider research on the topic, we felt that adding social media to existing channels would be the answer. Creating an online community would broaden our audience, enable conversations, allow us to gather “real time” insight and empower citizens to influence future strategy.
There are a number of ways we could have done this using free tools. There are also a number of private companies who provide sophisticated tools and full community management services. We looked at the lot. The free or cheap tools such as Ning or SocialGo are great for short term projects which don’t require a high level of functionality. They are not necessarily the most robust of systems, so there are questions around security of data, as well as their ability to handle lots of participants.
We looked at what the private sector were up to. And there are some really impressive case studies to accompany some really sophisticated tools. However, all are a little beyond our pockets, particularly as we want to develop something that’s for the long term. Something that will allow us to really engage and collaborate with our residents on all our services.
This is a great post comparing the use of popular social media tools like Facebook with building bespoke communities. ( I particularly like the sub heading, “speed dating vs. marriage: approaches to social media” I think we’re definitely going for the latter.).
Which brings us to We Are Camden. With the help of a grant from LG Improvement And Development‘s Efficiency and Transformation Capital Fund we are starting to develop an open source communities platform which we hope others will adopt. And indeed improve on as with all good open source tools (we’ve certainly got some quite funky ideas of what we’d like it to do longer term).
Even though we’re still in the pilot stage, we are looking at rolling out We are Camden out across the council for consultation and engagement projects. The vision is to have community hubs under the We are Camden umbrella, so that members can focus on topics that is of most interest to them.
As part of our agreement with LG Improvement and Development we will share the pilot project case study not only internally but also with partners, other strategic partners and local authorities. This will include presentations, open days and providing support to those who want to look at adopting a similar approach to online engagement.
However, as every community manager will testify, it’s not just about the technology. And this project is so much more than that. We need to pro-actively recruit, inspire and manage our community. We need to make sure the project is inclusive, and work with our potential members to get online if appropriate. We’re about to launch phase one of the platform. Then the real work begins.