(Originally posted on Professor Hazel Hall’s website on 2 December 2016)
The Centre for Social Informatics is currently undertaking a project entitled Information Literacy for Democratic Engagement (IL-DEM). Supported by a grant from the CILIP Information Literacy Group, our work investigates levels of digital and information literacy within Scotland’s Community Council system.
Specifically Peter Cruickshank, Dr Bruce Ryan and I are exploring how community councillors develop the skills required to inform and engage with the citizens that they represent, and how libraries support this work. In doing so we’re extending two established research streams within the Centre for Social Informatics: Cruickshank and Ryan’s work on digital engagement in local democracy (such as our DigiCC workshops), and mine with Christine Irving on information literacy and life-long learning. This work also builds upon our group’s track record in library and information science research.
Scottish Community Councils (which are analogous to parish councils in England and Wales) are a vital link between local communities and higher levels of government. Their membership generally comprises ordinary people who often face challenges related to their interactions with information. In some cases they lack the skills required to disseminate information and communicate news in ways that suit their constituents, for example by social media.
The overarching goal of our project is to generate understanding of the types of learning and training that can help our most local representatives work with – and for – their citizens. While central government and local authorities have IT teams and dedicated communications staff to manage their information functions, community councillors are left to do this all by themselves, relying on average annual budgets of just £400 to support all their work. We are therefore investigating how community councillors:
- access and understand information on their duties and rights;
- keep up to date with local developments of relevance to the communities that they serve;
- disseminate information to their communities.
We also hope to identify where future efforts need to be directed to improve the information skills and practices of this group. This will contribute to the development of strategies to improve citizen engagement in democratic processes at community level.