IL-DEM data collection is in full swing! We’ve interviewed 18 community councillors and are about halfway through transcribing the interviews. (We’re gathering data by other means too for this project, but we’ll talk about them in later blog posts.)
We haven’t yet begun to code and analyse the interview data rigorously, but for now here are some cherry-picked highlights of the ‘story so far’. Most participants have recognised that they have information-training needs of some kind – one even referred to the Pyramid hierarchy of skills – so here we focus on training.
Some of our interviewees have training in information-gathering from formal education or their professional life. Others are skilled in IT and communication: they report successes in using channels such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter and community web sites to find out what their communities are saying and thinking.
Other successful communication channels include noticeboards, items in the local press, and newsletters. At least one Community Council funds its regular newsletter by selling advertising space.
However, quite a few of those that we interviewed admit that they are not comfortable using social media. This is largely because they don’t have the necessary training or experience. (This is in line with our previous findings about how few community councils use the Internet well.)
Becoming a community councillor
Most of the interviewees to whom we have already spoken receive information on their community councillor roles from their local authorities. This usually happens automatically when they join their community councils. However, to our surprise, some have not received any such information. Instead they have been obliged to search for it, ask their community councillor colleagues or their local authorities for help, or seek advice from community council associations.
Engagement and the national Community Council website
Some of our interviewees have never heard of the national web site for community councils at http://www.communitycouncils.scot. It has plenty of advice, especially about engaging and sharing information with communities.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel
Several interviewees have suggested that community councillors shouldn’t need to develop everything for themselves. There should be national guidelines and standards. Above all there should be training on how to create blogs, Facebook groups and other digital engagement tools. One interviewee also called for each community council to have its own proper email address. There would be many advantages in not relying on personal email addresses for communication.
Because community councils are statutory consultees on planning matters, training in planning matters – and more user-friendly local authorityplanning portals – would be appreciated. Some local authorities already provide this.