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Utilising The author

Web 2.0 in
Stephen Dale is an independent
consultant specialising in Web
2.0 solutions for knowledge

local government
management and community
collaboration. For more information
go to www.semantix.co.uk

How and why should local authorities be planning


to exploit the collaborative features of Web 2.0
technologies? Stephen Dale investigates.

What is Web 2.0? delivery channels in large numbers is heard. This promotes the ideals of citizen
The term ‘Web 2.0’ has been attributed deemed to be more efficient and cost empowerment, as endorsed by the recent
to Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, which effective. There is evidence (Willem CLG White Paper ‘Communities in control:
he used to describe the applications and Pieterson and Jan van Dijk, 2007) that real people, real power’.
software that facilitate interaction and trust in an organisation is a factor in
the sharing of information between consumers choosing to use new channels. Examples of Web 2.0 usage
users. It has come to represent a group Use of social media is one way in which One exemplar of how citizen’s opinions
of technologies which have become a local council could become more can shape policy or modify behaviour
associated with the terms: blogs, wikis, transparent, accountable and possibly is the initiative Patient Opinion (www.
podcasts, RSS feeds etc. These facilitate increase citizen/customer perceptions patientopinion.co.uk). The objective
a more socially connected web where of trust. here is to encourage hospital patients
everyone is able to add to and edit the Levels of trust and transparency in to comment on their experience in their
information space. If there is a Web 2.0 political institutions can explain the local hospital. These comments are then
then we might assume there must have decline in voting and uneven rates of collated, categorised and aggregated
been a Web 1.0. A simple definition of the participation in civic affairs. This has before being automatically directed
difference is summarised as follows: led to the development of the theme to the relevant manager in the NHS.
✱ Web 1.0 relied upon specialist skills to of community empowerment. The Though each comment may focus on some
compose, format and publish content to government clearly anticipates that Web micro aspect of the service – e.g. “The
the web, and consequently was limited 2.0 will facilitate access to the “… new ward orderlies never knocked”, or “The
to people and infrastructures that had forms of community out there which consultant never once washed his hands”,
these skills and capabilities. It was also government is unable to talk to…” (Tom collectively they have the same power as a
primarily (though not exclusively) used as Watson MP, Minister for Transformational highly organised lobbying group.
a broadcast medium for the dissemination Government, 1 April 2008). Alongside Patient Opinion is a private sector,
of information. introducing new statutory duties for local not-for-profit social enterprise that
✱ Web 2.0 technology enables anyone authorities to engage with its citizens, it generates income via subscriptions
to become a web publisher by hiding has launched a Power of Information Task from Primary Care Trusts and Strategic
the (web) complexity behind simple and Force to consider how public servants can Health Authorities. Other examples of
easy-to-use interfaces, resulting in the use the new social media to engage with where social media innovators in the
proliferation of personal blogs (short for its citizens and enhance local democratic private sector have been busily active in
‘web log’). It also facilitates creativity, representation. creating citizen-centric solutions around
collaboration and knowledge sharing Web 2.0 is also being promoted as the Web 2.0 are sites such as MySociety
through web-based communities and democratisation of voice, conversation and (www.mysociety.org), with services
social networking sites (e.g. Facebook). opinion. It is no longer necessary to be such as FixMy Street and PledgeBank
In this article, Web 2.0 is used elite or famous, or have a newspaper, TV or demonstrating how the technology can
synonymously with the terms ‘social production company behind you in order be used to engage directly with citizens.
networking’ and ‘social media’, and all to be heard. The cost of participation is The entrepreneurial spirit is also evident
these terms refer to people, software and trivial, where anyone can blog, or upload with freelance individuals developing sites
applications. their clip to YouTube, or their photos to such as Local Gov Glossary (a wiki in the
Flickr. However, this is not to trivialise spirit of Wikipedia) and LGSearch, but the
Web 2.0 and local the difference between having a digital question remains as to why these sorts
government presence, whether it be a blog or a video of services are not developed, sponsored
Take-up of e-government services in clip, and actually being heard. This is or supported by local authorities. Perhaps
this country, compared to others such as where local councils can make a real they will be in time.
Scandinavian countries, has been slow. difference, by utilising Web 2.0 technologies On a positive note, there is growing
The switch by customers to electronic to enable the voice of the community to be evidence that more councils are becoming

 ITadviser Autumn 2008


web 2.0

actively engaged in developing online stuff for local government. The whole site demographic. By using social networking
community techniques within councils’ has that 21st century look about it, and and social media sites such as Facebook
own web services, with Redbridge (www. many other councils are now beginning and YouTube, they can engage with
redbridge.gov.uk) being a notable example. to see the potential for integrating or a younger, harder-to-reach audience
Their use of online polls for getting feedback enhancing their services using Web 2.0. who would not normally read council
on post office closures, and use of interactive One emerging trend is where councils publications, and it is a lot cheaper than
forums is pretty much ground breaking are using Web 2.0 to engage with a wider other alternatives. Durham County

ITadviser Autumn 2008 


web 2.0

Council recently used Facebook in an still appears to be a fairly cautious ✱ Use of third-party websites which use
effort to get residents to leave their cars approach across the sector on the policy interactive or peer-to-peer techniques
at home for a day. The ‘Do it different day’ for allowing council employees to access to try and improve public services, such
was part of a collaborative initiative with social media sites, such as Facebook as the problem-reporting service ‘FixMy
Channel Four. or YouTube. The main concern is that Street’.
Essex County Council used Facebook employees may be wasting time in ✱ The use of services such as Patient
to lobby for support in its fight against the use of non-work related websites, Opinion to collect and aggregate citizen’s
post office closures. The group ‘Fighting combined with the related security e-conversations to support evidence-based
for Essex’s Post Offices’ was set up by and organisational image concerns. policy making.
the council to encourage residents and Managers want to know what their ✱ The use of commercial social media
anyone opposed to post office closure to employees are doing, and quite often websites such as Facebook and YouTube
have their say when the Post Office Ltd the only way of bringing about greater to reach out to a younger demographic.
announced plans to close 31 branches control in the workplace is by getting ✱ The use of social networking or online
throughout Essex. ICT departments to block access to community techniques within councils’
Chorley Borough Council is using these sites. own web services to directly engage with
Facebook for the Chorley Smile campaign. Encouragingly, there do appear to be citizens.
The promotion aims to help improve their some enlightened managers working in ✱ Employee access to social media
neighbourhoods and celebrate everything local government, and to quote David websites for learning, sharing and
great about Chorley. The council Wilde, chief information officer at the facilitating connections with similar
recognised the potential of Facebook for London Borough of Waltham Forest, “For domains of interest.
getting younger people involved in the managers it can be difficult to know what
campaign. exactly their employees are doing. But Web 2.0 is opening up new
There is also growing evidence of the organisation needs to be outcome- opportunities for local and central
more councils having blogs. Norfolk based, and I don’t think we should be government to provide more citizen-
County Council established a campaign using technology to prevent access to centric services using cost effective
- Civicsurf (www.civicsurf.org.uk) – to [social networking] sites. If there are staff technologies. Innovation in the private
get councillors blogging. Chesterblogs performance issues we should address sector is making Web 2.0 tools easier
is a blogging portal for Chester city them directly.” to use and cheaper to deploy. Social
councillors. Uttlesford District Council networking and use of social media
has a blog focusing on the Stansted Summary tools is fast becoming ubiquitous; the
Airport inquiry. So, in summary, the use of Web 2.0 sites question that most councils now face
However, councils need to be wary of and techniques in local authorities can be is when, rather than if, to embrace Web
how they manage these sorts of facilities. categorised as follows: 2.0 facilities.
Opening up a council or councillor blog
to comments from the public doesn’t

Simple guidelines for


necessarily mean that you’re going to
get a good indicator of public opinion.

Web 2.0 deployment


Despite the statistics from organisations
such as Technorati that 100,000 blogs
are created everyday (worldwide), this is
still quite a niche activity, and those most 1. Don’t think about Web 2.0 or e-government as being just about technology. It is
likely to contribute are the individuals about saving time and making life easier and more efficient for citizens.
with the most passionate views. There 2. Make sure you are resourced to cope. No point setting up a blog that encourages
is also the risk of extreme views being comments if you can’t respond to each comment.
publicised via the council blogsite. This 3. Carefully plan your strategy if using blogs. If it’s a council blog, make sure it’s
can be addressed by having a ‘moderated’ part of a wider communications strategy and not the domain of one or two keen
blog, where all comments are vetted individuals.
before publication, but this takes time and 4. Consider the reputational risks of publishing un-moderated citizen comments in
resource. This is also why councils need online forums or blogs. Don’t assume comments represent universal opinion.
to ensure they give careful thought before 5. Identify the audience you are trying to reach and use the appropriate channel.
setting up a council blog, to make sure it Not everyone has an account on Facebook, Myspace or Bebo, and not everyone has
is an enterprise strategy rather than just broadband. Know who you are excluding and plan for this.
for a few keen individuals. 6. Ensure there is a staff policy for using social media sites during working hours.
7. Most Web 2.0 solutions are relatively cheap to deploy. If you are planning to spend
Employee access to social more than £100k on an enterprise solution you’re doing something wrong – or you
media sites have particularly complex requirements.
On a slightly depressing note, there

10 ITadviser Autumn 2008