Civic Leadership Blogging Guidebook

Second Edition

Published by the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy, United Kingdom © 2007 www.icele.org

About this guidebook
This guide has been compiled from a number of sources, including industry experts on blogging, with a particular focus on civic leadership weblogging. Many of the examples are based on the experiences of a government-backed pilot into blogging in the public sector. The International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy (ICELE) provides resources for local authorities concerning good practice in eDemocracy, and is a continuation of the Local eDemocracy National Project funded by the UK Government. This guide provides advice for civic leaders and councils regarding good practice in relation to the subject matter.

ICELE would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this guide:

Griff Wigley, Blogging Coach, Minnesota USA The Hansard Society (Political Blogs – Craze or Convention?) Wolverhampton City Council

For more guides, please visit www.iceleguides.org © 2007: www.icele.org

Preface
The
phenomenon of citizen journalism, facilitated by information technology, is a worldwide success story. A weblog, or blog, is a personal journal on the web. Weblogs express as many different subjects and opinions as there are people writing them. Some blogs are highly influential and have enormous readership while others are primarily intended for a close circle of family and friends. Weblogs are essentially free (or very cheap) lightweight and disposable content management systems. Often they come readypackaged and provide an immediate structure for content. The power of weblogs is that they allow millions of people to easily publish their ideas, and millions more to comment on them. Blogs are a fluid, dynamic medium, more akin to a ‘conversation’ than to a library – which is how the web has often been described in the past. With an increasing number of people reading, writing, and commenting on blogs, the way we use the web is shifting in a fundamental way. Instead of being passive consumers of information, more and more Internet users are becoming active participants. It is estimated that there are 55.2 million blogs worldwide and 75,000 new blogs each day. Most bloggers update their pages regularly; there * * are about 1.2 million posts daily or about 50,000 blog updates an * hour. Around 55% of bloggers are still posting three months after their blogs were created. This means that the ‘Blogosphere’ doubles every six months; by 2009, there will be an estimated 8.8 billion blogs. Meanwhile, most blog readers/users tend to follow a relatively modest † number of feeds . The number of feeds ‘that really matter’ is comparatively small and only tends to double each year compared to † the bi-annual growth of the blogosphere . Increasingly, other forms of post – such as video blogs (vlogs), podcasts and amateur video clips – are contributing to the rich media mix of citizen journalism. As such, the blogging platform of choice must be able to handle, integrate and allow for easy manipulation of new media.
* *

*

Source: Technorati.com, April 2006 Source: Ebiquity group, April 2006

Contents
CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS ........................................................... 1 What is a blog?................................................................................. 2 How to spot a blog............................................................................ 3 Who can blog? ................................................................................. 3 Why blog? ........................................................................................ 4 Key drivers ....................................................................................... 5 Which software?............................................................................... 6 What to consider in blogging software ............................................. 7 Recommended criteria for a successful platform............................. 8 What’s on offer? ............................................................................. 11 Examples of blogging platforms ..................................................... 11 Is keeping a blog difficult?.............................................................. 12 Who’s the best blogger? ................................................................ 15 CHAPTER TWO: UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING.................. 16 Local eDemocracy Pilot ................................................................. 17 Pilot community activity.................................................................. 18 Pilot successes............................................................................... 19 Conclusions from the pilot.............................................................. 19 CHAPTER THREE: THE BENEFITS................................................. 21 Citizens........................................................................................... 22 The local authority and senior officers ........................................... 22 Elected members and officials ....................................................... 23 The dangers of blogging ................................................................ 24 CHAPTER FOUR: GOOD BLOGGING ............................................. 26 What to blog ................................................................................... 30

CHAPTER FIVE: HOW TO BLOG EFFECTIVELY ........................... 42 How to promote a blog ................................................................... 54 Multimedia and mobile blogging .................................................... 57 Tech skills checklist........................................................................ 59 Blogging checklists......................................................................... 60 CHAPTER SIX: THE LEGALITIES.................................................... 61 Executive summary........................................................................ 62 General legal issues....................................................................... 64 Additional legal issues for council-funded sites ............................. 67 Political content .............................................................................. 68 Links to political websites............................................................... 71 What changes during election campaigns? ................................... 72 Other considerations ...................................................................... 72 Example of typical blogging terms and conditions ......................... 73 Example of typical acceptable use policy ...................................... 75 Example of typical legal page footers ............................................ 76 CHAPTER SEVEN: PROVIDING SUPPORT .................................... 77 Training .......................................................................................... 81

GLOSSARY ....................................................................................... 82

THE BASICS

This chapter explores the rudimentary questions around blogging and
the blogosphere. In this chapter you will find out what a blog is and why it is a useful leadership tool. It also covers blogging software and provides examples of some good blogs. The biggest worry among civic leaders is “is it difficult to keep a blog?”; we explore some of the issues and find answers from everyday bloggers.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

What is a blog?
This used to be an easy question. However, as blogs become more widespread, it gets harder to define them succinctly. Starting with the basics – ‘blog’ is short for ‘weblog’. A ‘blogger’ is the author/editor/owner of a blog. ‘Blogging’ is the practice of keeping a weblog. A blog is a website (with a few quirks) and can be accessed just like any other site by using any device that has a compatible web browser. The blogs of elected members from the ICELE programme board are shown here. Matthew Ellis is the chairman of ICELE and Staffordshire county councillor. His blog has a distinctive look, in-line with his political party. www.matthewellis.org.uk

Mary Reid is the vice-chair of ICELE and has been blogging since January 2005. Mary is also the serving Mayor of Kingston- Upon-Thames and her blog is an intriguing insight into her daily duties. www.maryreid.org.uk

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

How to spot a blog
Blogs are easier to recognise than they are to define. Blogs are online self-publishing platforms. The graphical look of a blog, the subject matter, length, volume and posting frequency of its content are at the discretion of the blogger, but these variations are flesh on an otherwise fundamental frame. Blogs are diary-like in structure but run in reverse chronological order with the most recent entry appearing first. Entries are commonly known as ‘posts’; these can be visual but are usually text-based. Each post is accompanied by a date and time stamp. A blog is also identifiable from an abundance of links embedded in the content of each post, and the ability visitors have to post comments in response to blog entries.

Who can blog?
The beauty of blogging is that anyone can do it – you, your mum or the Prime Minister. It requires a bare minimum of technical appreciation but a fair amount of imagination and interest in writing. Software for setting up a blog is readily available online and much of it is free. Running a blog is a low-cost, easy-to-manage means of maintaining a presence online. As a result, the practice of blogging has quickly picked up mass appeal and looks set to expand as access to computers and the Internet increases.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Why blog?
The people who keep blogs range from schoolchildren to government ministers. Therefore, the subject matter for blogs can range from UN treaty resolutions to pet rabbits. Just as themes vary between blogs, so do motivations for joining the blogger ranks. At a most basic level, some people just want to say to the world with their blog, “I’m here!” Some people might start a blog to keep close friends or relatives in touch with a public-facing diary. Many blogs are like this. Other blogs have objectives that are more definite. Some people – be they recognised experts or not – use their blogs to collect informative links that might prove useful to other experts or indeed to a non-expert audience. Many elected members blog because they recognise that they can reach-out to a wider and more diverse audience and ultimately win votes. A councillor blog can easily run-up 100 unique visitors per day within the first year. Corporations and institutions are increasingly turning to blogs as a means of engaging their customers or the public in dialogue. However, in doing so they have to contend with the many, many bloggers out there who are taking advantage of the ‘free-speech’ platform provided by blogging. These ‘free speech’ blogs have the object of countering messages from big business and their top-tier management. For example, in the recent US presidential elections, many bloggers took up a scrutiny role in the face of mega-spend election campaigns and partisan media coverage. Increasingly, blogs are being used not to communicate with people on the other side of the world but instead as tools for communication at a much more localised community level – either among residents or between representatives and those they represent. To put it simply, people blog because they want to share thoughts or information with a range of like-minded or opposed people, in a manner that is cheap and easy to maintain.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Key drivers
There are a number of benefits for local authorities who embrace blogs. Primarily these are about fulfilling government targets, such as providing easily maintained websites for councillors, but there is also a cost saving to be achieved over a full content management system. Blogs can have real operational benefits: • • • efficient internal communications for teams (private blogs) increased web traffic for the referring local authority networking of likeminded individuals on a particular problem, issue or interest

These couple with some valuable personal benefits: • • • • the ability to chronicle your own life and look back on your achievements reporting in your own words helps to consolidate your day in your own mind, potentially providing slicker reaction to media interest self-marketing

The benefits of blogging are explored in more detail in Chapter 3. Bear in mind that any individual can start a blog without the permission or approval of their employer. A wothwhile recommendation for policy officers would be to consider implementing employee policy on blogging and citizen journalism relating to corportate affairs.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Which software?
There is much blog-publishing software available online. Each presents a slightly different play on the tried-and-tested blog structure, appearance and back-end content management system. Because there is so much on offer, it can be difficult to know where to start. Which software is easiest to set up? Which is the best for my purposes? Do I buy into a ready-made service or customise and install my own? There are no easy answers to these questions. Much of the practice of blogging is trial and error, and the initial setting-up stages are no different. However, this should not count against blogging, but instead be a recognised as a characteristic of any emerging technology or mode of communication. Bear in mind that the organisation that hosts or operates your blogging platform can restrict the type of content that bloggers publish (see Chapter Two for more details).

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

What to consider in blogging software
The main things to consider when choosing blog software are who should host it, whether it should be ready-made or DIY, and how content will be managed. Hosting the blog Like other websites, blogs need to be hosted on a server (conventionally incurring a yearly fee). If you already have a website then you can use its web space to host your blog as well. Otherwise, you will need to either buy some web space or choose a blog platform that comes with free hosting. Ready-to-go services such as blogger.com provide hosting with their blog software, so all you need to do is sign-up online and start blogging. Ready-made or do-it-yourself? Many blogging services will build the blog for you, your role being simply to input the content you want. Other options give you the raw materials and it’s up to you to set up the blog as you see fit – though this does require more time and technical appreciation. The choice between ‘ready-made’ and DIY will also have implications in terms of look-and-feel. Although there is an element of customisation in most blogging software, being template-driven the ready-made platforms restrict customisation. Basically, the more involved you can be in the build, the more control you will have over how the finished product looks.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Content Management Updating is an essential aspect of blogging. The vast majority of blog platforms come as standard with a password-enabled system through which you will create, edit, delete or archive the text and pictures of your blog. Some blogs have more sophisticated management systems than others have; some have none at all. Suffice to say you should always check the software specifications to make sure of what you are getting before you press ‘download’ or ‘sign up’.

Recommended criteria for a successful platform
For bloggers • • usage statistics o o o o o o o o o o o o o o • o o o o history function and referrer data WYSIWYG editor with spell checker automatic resizing of photos easy to insert links easy to insert podcasts or vlogs includes design templates draft entries publish posts on future dates tags (to sort posts) blog categorisation post from a mobile phone or email preview feature ability to edit posts in HTML 20MB or more of space moderation options censor list (i.e. reject comments based on bad word lists) email alerts when new comments are posted spam filter on comment forms
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easy posting

easy management of comments

CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

advanced rights management o o o group blogging with multiple authors invitation of ‘co-authors’ mark entries as ‘external’ or ‘internal’ About me Contact me (via web form) RSS blogroll secure login (https) password reminders and expiration ability to forward your own domain name to the blog, so its URL is more memorable

other pages o o

linkage o o

security o o

other o

For readers • indexing of blogs o o • o o • o o o o o o search tools location-based searches understand that a comment has been submitted and how it will be acted-upon ability to view and navigate blogs compelling design accessible works in a number of main internet browsers trackbacks RSS feeds syndication of the most interesting portal activity

ease of making comments

design

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

For administrators • • • • disclaimers rules adherence to standards (e.g. web accessibility) user administration o o newsletters warnings / sign-up procedure

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

What’s on offer?
Blogging is ‘big business’ today and there is an established roll-call of companies offering the ‘ready-made’ blogs. These compete with developers who, individually or collectively, develop free-to-download ready-made or self-set-up blogs. ‘Webmasters’ amongst us could of course whip up their own blog platform. However, given that the appeal of blogging is its low-cost, ease of initiation and straightforward maintenance, most of us will choose a ‘ready-made’ solution.

Examples of blogging platforms
Here are a few links to those platform providers with the biggest market-share (constituting a mix of free and paid-for-services): • • • • • • • • • www.drupal.com www.tblog.com www.fotolog.net www.blogger.com www.livejournal.com www.movabletype.com www.wordpress.org www.21publish.com www.readmyday.co.uk (operated by ICELE)

It’s best to have a look at the blogs built using these platforms before going ahead with one. If you decide to start your own blog then please register it at www.readmyday.co.uk. Doing this will ensure that ICELE has a comprehensive directory of UK civic leadership blogs.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Is keeping a blog difficult?
Once you have set up your blog, its destiny is in maintenance of a blog can be the most demanding process. The difficulty is not technical; rather it motivated to update content, interact with visitors potential of your blog. your hands. The part of the whole is about staying and develop the

So, before starting to blog, consider the following aspects of blogging and build a rough game-plan around them so that you are going in prepared. Authoring The spirit of blogging demands that a blog be updated on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean every day, but it does mean making a commitment. Ideally, this commitment is honoured by the person who owns or is the ‘face’ of the blog. However, there is no hard-and-fast rule about who does the updating. For example, some blogging MPs delegate updating duties to members of their staff. Blogging can also be a group activity, with each member sharing responsibility for maintaining the blog. Authoring is flexible. However, it is recognised as ‘good form’ in the blogging world to be completely truthful about the identity of the person who has carried out each update. Linking Blogging is driven by its network potential. Alike blogs make a habit of linking up with each other and cross-referencing content. This practice is about making information as widely available as possible and establishing networks and communities. It also makes your blog more visible. Linking was certainly what sparked off blogging and some would argue that it remains at the core of any blog. Although a blog shouldn’t become a mesh of links, the standard practice is to include links wherever possible within individual posts or in side-columns.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Commenting Not all blogs allow visitors to comment on posts. Some platforms allow no commenting at all; others allow their authors to switch the facility off. This is considered ‘bad form’. Commenting is not something to be feared; rather it is to be positively encouraged. Commenting is perhaps the most fundamental feature that differentiates a blog from a common website. Some blogs or posts receive no comments. When comments do appear, some will be in agreement but some will put forward alternative viewpoints. The ability to have this dialogue is the ‘social function’ that blogs fulfil. Commenting allows the free-flow of ideas and the sharing of information, and promotes free speech. Our experience is that blogs attract very few comments compared to the number of viewers of a particular post. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as a feeling of hesitancy based on a readers’ perception of their ability to join the debate. Most of the time it’s simply down to the time and effort needed to engage. People that leave comments tend to provide short and succinct statements that don’t necessarily form conversation threads. Encourage active participation by providing incentives or implementing simple feedback mechanisms such as post ‘star ratings’. On occasion, commenting facilities are subject to misuse or irrelevant posting. A competent platform will allow authors to delete such posts or filter them before they arrive. For any blogger who checks up on their content on a regular basis, this sort of thing should prove no more than a nuisance (if it ever happens at all).

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Add-ons Blogging is one of the fastest-developing areas of the web. Although there is a standard structure to blogs, there are plenty of tools available that can add extra layers of functionality. Some add-ons are useful (search forms, audio players, news feeds), others are just quirky (weather forecasts, random image generators, Space Invaders games). It is worth trying different tools to improve your blogging capability, technical skills and the blog’s overall appeal amongst the millions of others out there. One of the most useful add-ons is called ‘feedburner’. Feedburner (www.feedburner.com) allows blog owners to provide a subscribe-byemail function on their weblogs. For more information, see Chapter Five.

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CHAPTER ONE: THE BASICS

Who’s the best blogger?
A good blog is all in the eye of a beholder. The success of blogs depends on many factors such as subject matter, writing ability and visibility on search engines and other blogs. Below is a short list of blogs that command a fair amount of respect in the ‘blogosphere’: www.technorati.com... Not so much a blog as a good directory of blogs and what’s currently hot in the blogosphere. This site trawls links and conversations taking place on blogs and rates their popularity accordingly. www.blogpulse.com ... Similar to Technorati, it trawls all the blogs out there to see what’s being talked about. This is a good place to start navigating your way around the blogosphere. www.dear_raed.blogspot.com ... This blog shot to attention at the start of the Second Gulf War. Its author, Salam Pax, was at the time one of the only Iraqi voices audible in the maelstrom. www.ziboy.com ... This is an example of a photo-blog. It belongs to a young Chinese journalist who provides an insight, without words, into modern living in big-city China. www.callcentrediary.blogspot.com ... ‘Call Centre Confidential’ provides an insight into working as a team leader in a call centre. It’s one among an increasing roll-call of ‘workblogs’. www.downingstreetsays.com ... ‘DowningStreetSays’ grabs data from the official Downing Street site’s Press page and then re-presents it to allow the public to make comments on what was said. www.tom-watson.co.uk ... Tom Watson was hailed in the UK as the ‘first blogging MP’. His remains one of the best attempts at blogging by a parliamentarian.

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UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING

Political blogging is well established in UK to the extent that directories of blogs are already comprehensive (http://www.voidstar.com/ukpoliblog/). Most of these tend to be ‘personal’ blogs started on free platforms that have a mixture of blog types (e.g. www.blogger.com).
The state of blogs in the civic leadership and local authority domain is less well formed; nevertheless, there is a growing collection of personal pages and local-authority sites such as www.matthewellis.org.uk and www.chesterblogs.co.uk. However, there are comparatively few government officer blogs. The restriction on political content governed by the Councillor Code of Conduct and the concerns of Communication and Press Officers has meant that councillor and chief executive blogs are also scarce. The Local eDemocracy National Project addressed this with the which was an ReadMyDay pilot (www.readmyday.co.uk), independently hosted free platform for civic leader blogs.

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CHAPTER TWO: UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING

Local eDemocracy Pilot
Although some individuals have spearheaded the use of blogs for political or leadership purposes, the Local eDemocracy National Project was the first to explore the concept on a large scale. A pilot project was started in 2004 to develop models for weblogs specifically for use within local government. Officers, chief executives and councillors had the opportunity to start their own individual and customizable blog, and to get involved in a community of bloggers who shared ideas, experiences and the civic leadership theme. Under the web portal www.readmyday.co.uk, civic leaders were provided with free weblog space, technical support and off-line and online coaching over a three-month period. An issues forum was set up alongside the blogging service so that participants could chat informally and contact the virtual web-coach. After the pilot, civic leaders were provided with continued free use of the service and their own free domain name, such as www.yourname.me.uk, that linked to the blog. The aims were to expand the capacity of local-authority weblogging for democratic and civic purposes by • • reviewing how the blogs have developed and changed over a short pilot period comparing and contrasting how effective weblogs are at raising awareness of the work of chief executives and councillors, and engaging citizens in a meaningful way identifying how weblogs could be used in engaging and consulting citizens more effectively providing recommendations and establishing best practice in the use of weblogs by elected representatives providing guidance for bloggers with respect to UK legislation increasing awareness of blogs and providing education and training on blogging for participants

• • • •

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CHAPTER TWO: UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING

• •

providing a bank of resources for bloggers, including links to available blog platforms providing a free-to-use and expandable platform for bloggers

Pilot community activity
Although citizens were encouraged indirectly to read their local leader blogs (via national and local press releases), the nature of the pilot was such that direct marketing was deemed inappropriate. The project also consisted of a review panel (a mix of citizens from various socioeconomic backgrounds) to provide critique to the participants, and Hansard Society evaluation papers. Participants were encouraged to spread the word about their blog within their circle of influence; T-shirts promoting the platform were printed as a mechanism for members to advertise their blog outside this remit should they wish to do so. To complement the online coaching provided by Wigley Associates, the Hansard Society ran two seminar workshops in Westminster. The first workshop put blogging in the wider context of eDemocracy in the UK, and the keynote speaker was one of the leading Westminster bloggers, Richard Allan MP, Secretary to the APPG for eDemocracy. The second workshop highlighted the pros and cons of blogging for elected representatives and civic leaders, and the keynote speaker was Clive Soley MP, another MP blogger. This workshop was also a unique opportunity for the participants to hear a face-to-face presentation from their online coach Griff Wigley (our US partner in this project), together with one of their civic leadership bloggers, Scott Neil, City Manager of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Griff and Scott also toured UK councils for a period of one week during February 2005. This was a key part of a national recruitment and education drive.

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CHAPTER TWO: UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING

Pilot successes
The enthusiasm of the participants was surprising. Although there were cases of apathy, it was found that the number of bloggers who maintained their personal pages without encouragement was excellent. Furthermore, many civic leaders who went on to read their colleagues’ blogs also wanted one of their own. Given that there were 626 posts to the ‘blog issues’ forum from only 20 participants during the project, it was clear that the pilot had worked in bringing a likeminded community together. Today (April 2007), readmyday.co.uk attracts around 1200 visits a day and has over 100 members (of which 57 have posted in the last week). The success of the ReadMyDay pilot is attributed not only to the capability of the tool but also to the supporting blog coaching, legal guidance and community nature of the service. In essence, it offered a ‘one-stop shop’ for local-authority blogs, which allowed unrestricted political content.

Conclusions from the pilot
The bloggers stressed the importance of new skills and challenges encountered in the pilot: • • • • • marketing and publicity among citizens the Digital Divide IT literacy legal guidance time constraints

One of the participants in the project summed up the main challenges a busy civic leader faces when taking up blogging: “Making time available; learning a new skill is hard in a pressured environment; as a Council Officer it could be a risky business; and trying to be both honest and apolitical.”

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CHAPTER TWO: UK CIVIC LEADERSHIP BLOGGING

Mary Reid, Chair of the National Project Board and one of the ReadMyDay bloggers, concluded her impressions about this project: “This is a quick and easy way of fulfilling the (then) ODPM National Priorities around councillor websites. I would strongly recommend this as a solution instead of council-funded CMS systems, as it allows councillors to act as the elected representatives that they are and not be constrained by restrictions on political activity.” Despite the listed challenges of this pioneering project, the participants were unanimous about the great contribution that blogs could make to the UK’s political process. Griff Wigley summed up the advantages: “They can increase accountability, allow us to reach an audience that’s interested in what we’re doing even if they’re critical of the way we do it. They can help us think things through and show how we learn and develop public policy as a result of our learning. They can help develop a positive impression of the places we live in.” A legislative guide is provided in Chapter Six; this is based on the current interpretation of the law and outlines the permissible content of blogs and highlights the danger areas. Though it is not a legally binding document, it should help new bloggers, councillors and local-authority officials to build confidence in this innovative way of working with their constituency, and provide guidance about linking between blogs and council websites.

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THE BENEFITS

This

chapter provides the justification for civic leadership bloggers. The benefits cover the three main eDemocracy audiences: citizen, councillor and council. As well as benefits, there are pitfalls. Although we believe strongly that the benefits outweigh the dangers of blogging, it is necessary to familiarise yourself with the issues that an ill-conceived blog might encounter.

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CHAPTER THREE: BLOGGING BENEFITS

Citizens
The practice of weblogging is making local-government sites more attractive to visitors, replacing the often dry, formal and static content of traditional government websites. Blogging allows an open discussion to take place, in which everyone can see the dialogue. Although the pilot did not set out to benefit citizens immediately, the use of blogs by an increased number of civic leader bloggers should strengthen the democratic process on a number of levels. First, there is a new communication channel by means of commenting on posts. Second, the citizen can access firsthand information rather than going by media reporting. It is hoped that citizens will better understand the workings of government by reading blogs. Furthermore, they may come to better appreciate that political decisions are not solely work-centric, and understand the schedule of a local-government representative.

The local authority and senior officers
Although no financial benefits are immediately realised, local authorities can benefit from increased exposure of their leaders. Likewise, cross-county developments can be monitored. Weblogs are perfect for internal communication and provide a way of cutting down the huge burden of email. Department Heads could set up weblogs to communicate with staff members, or committees could use weblogs to post minutes, to-do items and the status of projects. Blogs can be used for internal knowledge management, by encouraging key staff to blog their collective knowledge rather than keeping it locked up. There is also a management benefit. Staff blogs could help managers know better what was going on in their organisation. Conversely, it would also let staff know what their manager was doing. Of course, government staff have the right to set up blogs independently of the department, and being draconian about things would just send bloggers underground. The best option is to create a fair weblog policy that lets staff know where they stand.

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CHAPTER THREE: BLOGGING BENEFITS

Elected members and officials

Councillors from North Lincolnshire receive training

Councillors have a running commentary of each other as well as officers via blogs. This benefit, as well as exploring consensus by asking audiences questions in the blog, can improve the effectiveness of a councillor. There is efficiency in posting to a blog instead of replying to a number of emails, and councillors will undoubtedly appreciate the transparency. Blogs also offer a direct independent information channel for citizen communication that may be preferred over personal councillor websites. Updating a blog is much more straightforward and convenient in many instances and so information tends to be much more up to-date. For example, a blog could be updated via SMS (text) or MMS (picture) messaging on a mobile phone. Moreover, a blog can easily be updated with audio, which is useful for those councillors with little time to write articles.

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CHAPTER THREE: BLOGGING BENEFITS

A blog can help demystify the workings of government, while at the same time creating a sense of empathy and trust. For the ministers and departments themselves, a blog is a great way of getting important information out to the public, unfettered by the media. If government blogging became popular, editors and journalists would subscribe to government blogs, so it would be a great way of getting information out to the media as well.

The dangers of blogging

Blogs tend to be informally written, poorly structured, prone to spelling and grammatical errors, and feature non-traditional content. This can expose the blogger to a raft of criticism and, at worst, legal action.

Despite a voice of authenticity, blogs can also be used to deceive or jibe publicly – comment threads can become unpleasant and bloggers require regular contact with their readers. Once a blog is formed, there is an expectation that it will be maintained, and that the blogger will provide images (i.e. bloggers need the mobile technology to make interesting posts). Examples of adverse activity on the ReadMyDay platform were leakages of policy, claimed deformation and cases of deleted comments, which attracted unwelcome press coverage. Even so, the strength of the blogging community, and nature of the disclaimers used on ReadMyDay, has not resulted in any action being taken against the bloggers or operators of the system. Likewise, bloggers have benefited from increased publicity and tracking by the media, which has resulted in invitation to debate on issues at a national level.

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CHAPTER THREE: BLOGGING BENEFITS

A weblog is a communications tool, typically without an editor. So a few cautions are in order: • Never post something in a blog that you wouldn’t say to a media reporter. Composing weblog posts is typically done when you’re alone and able to be reflective, but don’t let that lull you into mistaking your civic blog for a journal or diary where “the truth” as you see is put down in writing. Never lie, but be selective with your truths. Blog posts can be deleted and edited, but the original text gets out on the Internet very quickly via RSS feeds and search engine spiders. Therefore, it’s best to keep your posts in draft mode until you’re certain that they’re ready for prime time. Be sure to reveal any conflicts of interest in a post. For example, if you’re welcoming a new business to your city and you sit on the board of directors of that company, include that in your post. Realise that your blog will be read very closely by your political opponents. If your blog becomes popular, it’s easy to devote too much time to blogging at the expense of more important areas of both your professional and personal life.

• •

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GOOD BLOGGING

In the course of any leader’s week, there are literally hundreds of interactions with colleagues, constituents, staff, media and other members of the community. Whether these interactions are face-toface, by phone, electronic or paper-based, they comprise the bulk of how leaders exhibit their day-to-day influence.
A phone call from a constituent, a conversation with a staff member at lunch, an email exchange with a colleague, an off-topic discussion at a team meeting – all are likely evaporate into thin air, for all intents and purposes, as soon as they’re concluded. Even most paper documents, such as memos and reports, are quickly relegated to the trash, the shredder, or the filing cabinet, never to be seen again.

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CHAPTER FOUR: GOOD BLOGGING

With a weblog, leaders can select from among this never-ending parade of interactions the ones that they deem strategically significant, and give them a longer ‘shelf life’. With a post to their blog, the story of the interaction immediately gains a wider audience, while making it significantly easier for that audience to pass the story around to others who they think should know about it. Prospective civic leader bloggers frequently ask, “How much time is blogging going to require?” It’s a fair question. Blogging feels like just another task when you first start out, and it does require some time commitment to work it into your week. But once you experience feedback from your blogging that not only are others reading your blog but that it’s starting to have influence, your attitude towards the task of blogging changes because it becomes strategic. “I’m going to blog this because I know that she’ll read it and pass it on to…” “When this group of people sees what I’ve blogged about this, then they’re more likely to…” You start to realise that your blog leverages your leadership strategies in time-effective ways. Use a voice of authenticity to have a one-to-one conversation with an audience.

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A local-government or organisation website, in most cases, is a static collection of documents – information-rich but often perceived by site visitors as a dead brochure, its pages often written by anonymous authors in an impersonal, public-relations style. A weblog, however, can bring a voice of authenticity to a website, with a more personal and engaging tone that has wider appeal. During the depression era of the 1930s, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt began using the mass communication medium of radio to address the American people about public issues in a series of what he called ‘Fireside Chats’. The effectiveness of these addresses was in part due to FDR’s ability to deliver them in an informal and relaxed tone, while making listeners feel as if he were talking directly to them. Likewise, the radio addresses by Winston Churchill during World War II had a direct conversational quality. Although the issues are less weighty and the audiences vastly smaller, a weblog offers a civic leader the same opportunity – a one-to-one conversation with an audience of many. Provide another way for people to interact with you. A weblog is primarily a software publishing tool, one that gives its author a platform where ownership is not in question. But most weblog platforms allow a ‘comment’ feature to be turned on, thereby creating a means for public interaction with blog visitors. A blog also stimulates private email responses, either via a ‘contact me’ form on a web page or via a publicly posted email address. Much private email can be answered via a weblog post, as explained later in this document in the section titled ‘Answer your email with your blog’. Convey your message directly to citizens instead of depending on media institutions. Local government is frequently at odds with local media in how it is portrayed. This is exacerbated by the fact that politicians and journalists are rated equally low by the public when it comes to ethical standards. So, rather than relying on the media to convey one’s message to a mistrusting public, a weblog offers local public officials a chance to communicate with the public directly.

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Extend your presence with a selective window into your day.

Above: Blog post reporting on car congestion

Broadcast media (radio and television) has an advantage over the written word in that it can report news and other events live. This realtime element makes many news stories more compelling to the public. Leaders who blog soon learn that, by giving their blog visitors a selective, near real-time window into parts of their workday, they make their blogs more compelling to read and therefore more influential.

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A proven technique is to post photographs of your engagements and to contact the institutions you visited with a link to your blog at the end of your day. This is particularly effective if you have a public-facing role such as Mayor. Make public life more real to the public. Much of what goes on in the day-to-day life of a public servant goes unreported. Conflicts and partisan political manoeuvring tend to get the media coverage, while doing ‘the work of the people’ often gets ignored. A blog allows public officials to give the public a more realistic view of their day-to-day work.

What to blog
New bloggers often are at a loss on what to write about. Experienced bloggers often fall into a pattern of blogging on a narrow range of subjects. Here’s a list of types of posts that can help keep your range broad… and thus make your blog more interesting for your audience to read and for you to write. • • • • • • • • illustrate your values, mission, goals and strategies provide recognition of an employee, a colleague, an organisation or business in the community leverage your media diet chronicle a decision or a current, unresolved problem teach about a service, programme or department point to changes or additions to your website reveal aspects of your non-work life teach about the complexities of an issue

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Illustrate your values, mission, goals and strategies. Most of us find it difficult to remember the organisational statements of mission, purpose and values that are plastered on our walls and websites, even ones that we helped write. It takes real-life examples to make them come alive. Blogs provide a convenient way to tell short stories that indirectly convey your values and illustrate the overall direction of your organisation, your current individual focus, and the strategies being deployed to get there.

In this post by Andrew Crisp, Surrey County Councillor, his short story tells much about his values and his beliefs about the mission of a councillor.

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Provide recognition of an employee, a colleague, an organization or business in the community. Effective leaders typically have many ways to acknowledge the contributions of people in an organisation or organisations in the community. Formal types of recognition have some duration to them; they last beyond the moment of acknowledgement because others keep finding out about it. Here are some examples:

the employee of the month who gets written up in the organisation newsletter has their story seen by others over the course of an entire month a volunteer who receives a plaque at the annual meeting gets to hang it on a wall where others can comment on it in the months and years ahead the non-profit organisation who gets an official recognition at a city council meeting gets written up in the local newspaper and is congratulated by others who weren’t at the meeting

• However, good leaders know that these formal kinds of recognition are rare. Therefore, the informal forms of recognition – the verbal pat on the back, the thanks on the phone, the email kudos – are often more important for acknowledging people and organisations. Moreover, the spontaneity of these makes the acknowledgement feel more authentic and more personal to the recipient. One of the most effective ways to acknowledge someone informally is to tell someone else a story about them. Why? Because it has a better chance to spread around, just like the formal recognitions described above.

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Stephen Hilton, Communications Manager for Bristol, posted this short story about a former employee, triggered by a recent email from her. A positive remark directly to the person being acknowledged generally goes no further because to most people it would feel like bragging to tell someone else. But if the positive remark is made to someone else, the recipient is very likely to repeat the story to others.

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A blog post recognising an employee, a colleague, an organisation or business in the community is an effective way to accomplish the informal form of recognition with the impact of the formal. Others see the post and mention it; some pass around its URL/permalink via email to others, thereby widening its impact; and the search engines store it indefinitely, thereby providing opportunities for serendipitous acknowledgement far into the future. Here are some technical tips: include a recent photo; insert photos of the people being recognised; insert the logos of organisations being recognised and link to their websites.

Andrew Brown, Lewisham Councillor, blogging about organ donation at the request of a fellow councillor.

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Leverage your media diet. ‘Media diet’ refers the range of content one regularly consumes from a variety of media: newspapers, magazines, newsletters, TV and radio shows, websites and weblogs, etc. As a civic leader, you can select items from your media diet and blog those you think your readers might find interesting. In the not-too-distant past, many leaders would photocopy important articles and hand them to colleagues and staff members. More recently, emailing the text of the article or the link to it is more common. But blogging the media item (and linking to it, of course) and then adding your own commentary on it gives it additional ‘shelf life’ and makes it seem less like email spam. The link encourages your readers to deepen or widen their understanding about an issue; as a public official; one thing you want to encourage is a more involved, more informed citizenry. In addition, the author or publisher of the original piece will likely appreciate the link, and it encourages the search engine spiders to keep returning to your blog.

Durham Councillor Paul Leake used a link to a local-newspaper article about poverty to heighten awareness of local conditions. If your media diet includes other bloggers, it’s acceptable to attach a comment to their post. But it’s generally more interesting (and there’s more of an incentive) to write in your own blog about what you read and then link to the blog post that you’re writing about. That’s how the blogosphere works. It helps widen your audience, as you’ll likely get others doing the same to your blog, thereby steering readers to you.

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Chronicle a decision or a current, unresolved problem. If you have an important decision to make, or are facing a difficult problem that’s not likely to be resolved any time soon, use your blog to chronicle the way you’re dealing with it. Using your blog in this manner is a way to become better informed about an issue prior to a policy decision. Writing about what you’re experiencing and learning deepens and clarifies your understanding. Just stringing a few sentences together as you attempt to describe the problem can often trigger ideas. Blogging before a policy decision increases the likelihood that others will contribute suggestions and ideas about it because they sense that you are learning and are willing to be influenced. They may offer some insights based on similar experiences.

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Blogging publicly about how you go about becoming better informed gives the public and your colleagues a better idea about how you approach complex issues, which can strengthen your potential influence on the issue. The archived blog posts show your efforts to understand the problem and increase the likelihood that people who disagree with your decision might appreciate the thoroughness of your approach to it. Blogging about a problem or upcoming decision as you go along brings the issue alive for those who are marginally interested. Many citizens may not care about an issue that doesn’t immediately affect them, but observing how a local leader struggles with it can ignite their interest.

Durham Councillor Paul Leake blogged about how he was getting better informed about a process for public involvement at council meetings. A final benefit is that the archive of your blog posts provides a convenient way to refer back to your thinking about an issue, a problem or a decision. When the day comes that you find yourself changing your position on an issue and having to explain yourself, it adds credibility to be able to point to those weblog postings where your thinking at the time is detailed. It can make your new position seem less like ‘spin’ to your readers and can minimise the impact of a ‘flip-flop’ charge by your opponents.

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Teach about a service, programme or department. Government websites usually provide an overwhelming amount of information on the services, programmes and departments that serve the public. This is usually in static form: HTML pages, PDF documents and pages of internal and external links. But people still like to learn from other people. The demand for teachers (at all levels) is not diminishing in this age of information ubiquity. A weblog post, written in the conversational tone of a personable teacher, can be the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation where the information is conveyed. A blog post also offers some things that a face-to-face conversation doesn’t typically offer, namely links for the interested reader who wants to go deeper, and a record of the information that can be referred back to at one’s leisure. So use your blog to teach. Help citizens see what their taxes are being spent on and the benefits accruing from it. Wrap your message around a recent story, including the names of people involved, if possible. Use photos and images to attract attention as well as to inform. And link, link, link – to web pages on your own organisation’s website as well as to other sites so people can easily go deeper if they want. In the future when you need to revisit some aspect of the service, programme or department, you don’t need to repeat yourself. Just link to your own original post and expand from there.

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Tower Hamlets Councillor Louise Alexander blogged about Community Plan Action Groups.

Point to changes or additions to your website. Website visitors typically don’t mouse around a site looking for anything that’s new since the last time they visited, but they will expect your blog to be constantly updated. Therefore, your weblog can be an effective conversational kiosk, alerting people to other parts of your local authority’s website that have recently changed. Let your staff and colleagues know you’re willing to do this.

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Reveal aspects of your non-work life. Citizens don’t often get to experience their civic leaders in roles other than their public ones. There’s seldom an appropriate venue for a leader to do this with an audience of any size. However, a weblog allows you to tell a story from your non-work life – family, friends, hobbies, leisure time – with no other purpose than to put a human face under your bureaucratic hat. You simply want to convey that you’re not any different from the public you serve. You’re a taxpayer, a family person, a user of the parks, a community volunteer, etc. You have a personal stake in the overall health and vibrancy of the community you live and work in, just as they do. The more that people see you as they see themselves, the greater the likelihood that they’ll treat you with civility and respect.

Tower Hamlets Councillor Louise Alexander’s famous ‘refrigerator manifesto’ blog post.

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A civic leader’s blog is not a place for mentioning your personal problems, nor for deep, personal reflections. A non-work blog post should never be revealing to the point of causing any discomfort to readers. Composing weblog posts is typically done when you’re alone and able to be reflective, but don’t let that lull you into mistaking your civic blog for a journal or diary. Teach about the complexities of an issue. In age of media sound-bites, issues often get reduced to simplistic ‘either/or’ characterisations for the public. Leaders more often must take the time to understand the complexities (the shades of grey) of an issue where others see only black and white. A blog offers an opportunity for leaders to share some of their deeper understanding with the public. A series of posts, each embedded with a recent story that illustrates one aspect of the issue, can provide a palatable way for a leader to teach about the issue.

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HOW TO BLOG EFFECTIVELY
“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” William Butler Yeats

Once you understand why blogging can be an important leadership tool, you’ll increasingly have more than enough ideas for topics (the ‘what’). However, there’s a bit of craft involved in knowing how to blog effectively. In this section, we explain the ‘how’.
• • • • • • • • Link, link, link Tell stories Insert photos Insert relevant images Post short and frequently instead of long and infrequently Answer email with a blog Promote discussion via a blog Give notice if you stop blogging

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Link, link, link. Master the art of quickly adding relevant links to your posts. Why? • • • it allows your readers to easily go deeper and broader search engine spiders come back more frequently when they see links in your posts, as their algorithms depend on them those you link to generally appreciate it and are more likely to link back

Tell stories. Why do we go to more movies than lectures and seminars? Stories. Who are the best lecturers? Those who fill their presentations with stories. Storytelling as an organisational and leadership strategy is currently undergoing a bit of a boom. Magazine articles, books, workshops and whole conferences are now devoted to the subject. Why?

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From The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative, by Stephen Denning: “Leadership is essentially a task of persuasion – of winning people’s minds and hearts. Typically it proceeds inductively by argument from one or more examples towards a more general conclusion about the goals and assumptions we should adopt towards the matter in question. Storytelling is thus inherently suited to the task of leadership.” We all have a knack for telling stories in an informal social setting. “Hey, guess what happened to me today” we say to our family members and friends. Listen to the conversations at parties and you’ll hear a constant stream of storytelling. So the idea is to use storytelling in your blog in much the same way as you use it in informal social settings – but towards a leadership or management goal. • • • • • • • • Sparking action Communicating who you are Communicating who the company is – branding Transmitting values Fostering collaboration Taming the grapevine Sharing knowledge Leading people into the future

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Denning says it’s a myth that “the effective use of storytelling in organisations involves crafting and performing a ‘well-made story’, with a hero or heroine, a plot, a turning point and a resolution”. There are levels of complexities to stories and certain elements need to be included, depending on your purpose. Even the smallest incident is more compelling reading when framed with a short, simple story: • • “I ran into a citizen in the hallway yesterday and she asked…” “My colleague [name/link] handed me the latest issue of [periodical/link] this morning and suggested I read the article on….” “On my way home from work last night, I passed the park where…”

Most leadership storytelling strategies are focused on the why and how of oral, performance-oriented storytelling where tone, voice inflection and gestures come into play. That makes sense whenever there’s a face-to-face audience available, or if the storytelling is to be broadcast. However, written storytelling via a weblog can be an effective, alternative delivery method, and it has some advantages over oral storytelling: • • • Your audience-of-many is always available A blog post (via its permalink) can get easily passed around via the web and email. The permalink of the blog post never dies. If your story turns out to have long-lasting impact, its web address can be linked to indefinitely.

Here are some weblog storytelling tips: • The real names of people involved can help to make the story. Include them, with the people’s permission. Frame your story with time and date, such as “yesterday…”, “earlier this morning…” or “last Tuesday…”. Describe the place, or at least name it. If you don’t have the time or skill to ‘set the scene’, it can help to use a photo.

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There’s hardly a blog post that can’t include some elements of storytelling. Imagine yourself talking to a colleague or friend about what it is you’re blogging and then bring that tone to your post.

Insert photos. Most of us have a slice of vanity in our emotional makeup and having our photo appear in a civic leader’s blog is a little ego boost. The word-of-mouth factor then comes into play – a blog post with a photo increases the likelihood that its permalink will get passed around via email and linked to in other blogs, as well as mentioned verbally, e.g., “Hey, I saw your photo in whatshisname’s blog this week…”.

Roy Taylor, Director of Community Services in Kingston on Thames included this photo of his staff who accompanied him on a recent trip. Photos can also be instructional. Use them to illustrate a situation or a problem, with or without people in the shot. In addition, it’s often easier to take a photo of a flyer, poster, map, or other visually-oriented document and put it into your blog than to obtain the original digital document that was used to create it and upload it to your blog.

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Digital cameras and camera-equipped mobile phones make it considerably simpler and more cost-effective these days to include photos in your blog. Get in the habit of taking a camera with you everywhere and looking for opportunities to capture information and people that are relevant to your civic leader weblog. Expect to be reluctant – shy, even – to use your camera to take photos of people. It initially feels awkward, that you’re intruding on people when you don’t know them very well. It’s surprisingly hard to overcome this, but once you start getting feedback on your photos it’ll spur you on to get over your shyness to do what needs to be done! When approached about a photo, people often make comments about how they’re not suited for it – their clothing or hair or how they always take terrible photos. It’s often enough to just say something like, “Well, this is just for my blog, not a fashion magazine” in a light-hearted tone and they’ll go along with it. Otherwise, tell them they can see the shot after you take it, and can approve or reject it. But never be insistent – you don’t want a paparazzi reputation. Photos also help to ‘set the scene’ for your storytelling and, as images, they break up text-heavy posts.

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Insert relevant images. The general public is one of the audiences for your civic blog, and the media culture they live in is heavily visual. If your blog is 99% text, you’re likely to have trouble getting them to be regular visitors to your site. Print-based newspapers, newsletters and magazines all have a long history of using page-design, headlines and graphics to draw the attention of readers’ eyes and to make it easier for them to read. The simple format of weblogs tends to encourage a blog author to just write and post, without giving much thought to visual appeal.

Anne-Marie Darroch, Communications Officer for the Wychavon District Council in Worcestershire, included this council tax ‘pizza leaflet’ image in her blog post. The content and writing style of a text-heavy post might be compelling enough to engage the reader all the way through. However, more often than not, a civic leader doesn’t have the time or talent to make most of their public policy posts compelling enough for the average citizen to at least be tempted to give it a glimpse. Therefore, it’s helpful to use freely available images from the Internet to both give the reader a visual cue as to what the post is about, and to break up the text so that the post isn’t so overwhelming.
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Durham Councillor Paul Leake included a map in a blog post about a planned bus lane.

The most likely candidates for images are as follows: • • • the logos and banners of organisations that you’re mentioning in your blog post clip art images that help explain the content, such as maps and diagrams

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Post short and frequently instead of long and infrequently. Long (more than a screenful), text-heavy posts to your blog when you need the space to explain something in detail are perfectly appropriate. Use the blog software’s ‘extended entry’ feature, if it has it, to only display the first paragraph or two. This gives people the option to read on if they’re interested and makes skipping to the next post in chronological order easier. However, beware of falling into the trap of thinking that you always have to have long, substantive posts. It will likely discourage you from posting frequently. Short, frequent posts help you maintain your audience, and they develop your blogging discipline. Answer email with a blog. As a leader who blogs, you can expect that you’ll increasingly be contacted via email and phone by individual citizens, colleagues, potential collaborators and, of course, detractors. As a novice blogger, you’ll likely appreciate this attention for the most part because it can mean that your blog audience is growing. But there may come a time when the volume of email (and associated phone calls) generated by the interest in your weblog starts to feel more burdensome than exhilarating. Part of the problem is that when people contact you individually (by email or phone), the natural expectation is that you’ll respond to them individually. It seems like the polite and professional thing to do. However, your blog gives you an option that you didn’t have before: the ability to respond to an individual so that all your readers can hear or read it. You leverage your response so that it has the potential to deliver the most benefit. You’ve probably done something very similar to this already when giving a speech. Someone near the front of the room raises their hand and asks you a question. You start to answer their question and someone towards the back of the room shouts out, “Can you repeat the question?”

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You respond with “Oh, I’m sorry, certainly. The question from this gentleman here in the blue suit in row two was…” as you face the audience. Then you turn back to the questioner and, looking them in the eye, start with your response to them, with occasional glances at the audience. You’re having a one-to-one conversation with the questioner while many other people listen to it. Your blog can work much the same way. When you get an email or a voicemail, ask yourself “Could my weblog audience benefit from my reply to this person?” Instead of replying with a return email or phone call, consider FIRST posting a note to your weblog: “I got an email yesterday from a citizen who was wondering why the Council…. Others might be interested in my response, so I’m posting it here.” Promote discussion via a blog. While a blog is primarily a publishing tool for you, it can also be used for interaction with your readers. At the most basic level, it means having an email address (a ‘mailto’) listed on the sidebar of your blog. It’s preferable, however, to have a link to a ‘contact me’ form on a separate web page. This prevents spambots from harvesting your email address. Moreover, people are more inclined to use a form rather than a ‘mailto’. You can then include a link to this page in the body of your blog posts occasionally, e.g., “If you have suggestions on this issue, Contact Me.” When you get email responses, resist the temptation to reply via private email and use your blog instead, as described above. Most weblog platforms allow you to switch on a comment tool which enables people to attach comments in message board fashion to individual weblog posts. The number of comments is typically shown next to your name and the permalink, e.g., ‘Comments (3)’. Subsequent visitors can click on the number to read the attached comments of others.

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MP Clive Soley’s blog post about his presentation generated 14 comments

By enabling comments on a blog post, interaction occurs in a group and is immediate. It’s a simple way to convene an instant town meeting on a single subject, any time of the night or day. It helps to present your blog as a listening post and not just a soapbox. Here are some cautions regarding weblog comments: • If you don’t participate in the discussion threads that develop, your readers might be offended, as if you invited them to your house for a roundtable discussion but then didn’t show up to participate. One way around this is to turn on comments for only those posts in which you intend to fully participate, and to state this in your blog post, e.g., “I’m interested in discussing this issue with you for the next 10 days or so. I’ll turn on the comment feature and join you in message thread.” Just like in face-to-face venues, you might get comments you don’t like or ones you aren’t sure how to handle. Comments can be ignored, of course, and even deleted. But if this becomes a pattern, then you leave yourself open to criticism that you can’t take the heat. The weblog software should provide email notification for comments, i.e., whenever a user posts a comment, you should get an email alert. The software should also provide comment spam prevention, since spammers use automated techniques to add URLs to weblog comments as a means of raising their profile in search engine results.

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Give notice if you stop blogging. Your readers will likely feel disrespected if you stop blogging without an explanation. If you’re travelling and don’t plan to blog, consider the safety implications of revealing that your residence will be unoccupied. At least let your readers know not to expect anything from you for the duration of your absence. Likewise, let your readers know if you’re expecting to be too busy to devote any time to blogging for an upcoming period of time. If you’re thinking of quitting blogging altogether, consider taking a break from it for a few weeks before making the decision. You need not reveal your indecision, but it’s important to let your readers know that you won’t be blogging for a defined period of time. Also, consider talking to a weblog coach and some of your colleagues about your blogging situation during this break to see if they have some feedback about what could be done differently with your approach to blogging. If you do decide to pack in your blog, it’s just polite to say thanks for the memories and au revoir!

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How to promote a blog
Without the oxygen of serendipitous feedback, your motivation for blogging will gradually die. You need to know that others are visiting and, better yet, you need to know your blog is having some influence. Therefore, as soon as you launch your weblog, it’s important to work on promoting it. Here are some strategies to consider: • Create your own blogroll and ask to be on the blogrolls of others. When you follow one or more blogs, and start blogging occasionally about what you’re reading on those blogs, consider adding them to your blogroll. A blogroll is a list of links to other weblogs, typically ones that you like and frequently follow. You can add and edit these links manually on your blog’s sidebar or use a service like blogrolling.com. Once you add a weblog to your blogroll, consider asking the blogs you follow to add your blog to theirs. If they don’t know you or your blog very well, they may want to postpone adding your blog until they’ve had a chance to get to know it. • Ask your local-government authority to link to your blog. If you’re an elected official, ask your local authority to put a link to your weblog from one or more pages on their site. They may have to post a disclaimer with it, as your blog may occasionally contain political posts. If you’re a government employee, a link to your blog from your department’s web page is a must, as it’s part of your job. It’s better yet if the blog is embedded right into the site. Also, ask to have your blog’s URL printed in any community magazine that your local authority produces. • Ask media and civic organisations to link to your blog. Many media and civic organisations have directories of relevant links on their websites.

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Include your weblog in your email signature file and on your business card. An email signature file typically contains your street address, phone numbers, and organisation’s website address. Add your weblog to this, including the word ‘weblog’ and its URL.

If you’re an elected official, you may need to include a disclaimer at the end of your signature file.

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Include your blog address in communications with the media. Whenever you write a letter to the editor, author a column, or have any reason to communicate with the media, be sure to include your weblog, either by working it into to the body of the text or by attaching it at the end with your name.

Invite media coverage of your blog. Even if you already have a website, the addition of a weblog to it is news. Let your media contacts know about it.

Provide an email subscription service. You can provide a ‘blog updates by email’ subscription service by using a third-party add-on called Feedburner at www.feedburner.com. Start by registering your blog RSS feed on the Feedburner website, then copy the HTML code provided into your own blog to include a subscribe box in the sidebar. Feedburner will allow you to track who is subscribing to your blog.

Above: subscription option at www.matthewellis.org.uk using Feedburner

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Multimedia and mobile blogging

Weblogs have been primarily a text and image communications environment. Now audio and video are making their way onto the scene. Furthermore, mobile phones are now a viable composition platform, not just computers. • Audio blogging is adding an MP3 file of your voice to your blog, rather than typed text. It’s typically done by establishing an account with a service that automatically adds an MP3 of a phone call from you soon after you hang up. It’s particularly advantageous for those who feel more comfortable in front of a microphone than a keyboard. If you’re a hunt-and-peck typist, audio blogging is for you. You’ll still need to add a bit of text to your blog post so site visitors know what the audio is about.

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Podcasting (or blogcasting) means that others can automatically subscribe to your audio blog posts via RSS feeds and have those audio files automatically downloaded to their PCs, iPods and similar devices so that they can listen to them at their leisure. Moblogging (mobile blogging) refers to the process of adding content to your blog while you’re out and about – away from your PC – typically via mobile phone. You can now use your mobile phone to add audio, photos, and even video clips right to your weblog. Vlogging (videoblogging) is adding video to your blog. This is starting to become more popular with the advent of software that turns your computer screen into a teleprompter and makes it easy to add video effects, titles and graphics.

Hipcast and PhoneBlogz are useful third-party services for adding audio to your blog in a simple and convenient manner. This includes the ability to record blog entries using a telephone. • • www.phoneblogz.com www.hipcast.com

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Tech skills checklist
Successful blogging presumes a few tech-related skills that need to be acquired before or soon after blogging begins: • • • • • • • • right clicking an item with a mouse to access additional choices from a menu having two or more browser windows open at a time and knowing how to quickly jump back and forth between them using keyboard shortcuts, primarily Ctrl-X (cut), Ctrl-C (copy), Ctrl-V (paste) and Ctrl-A (select all) using Google or a similar search engine to do web searches using the bookmark/favourite feature of a browser knowing some basic tech lingo: clipboard, alt text, URL/web address, status bar, up/download capturing/saving an image found on a web page using an image editing tool to resize photos and other images

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Blogging checklists

Use these two checklists – ‘What to Blog’ and ‘How to Blog’ – to track the types of blog posts you make over the course of twelve weeks, and to assess the skills you’re using.

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THE LEGALITIES

This

chapter considers the legal implications of civic leadership blogging. It was compiled from a legal source during the Local eDemocracy National Project.

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Executive summary
There are several ways for councillors to use websites, ranging from the personal to the political. The best councillor websites contain a mixture of aspects. • Councillors need time to learn how to use a website. As well as access to good examples, they should be given support from officers who understand what councillors may want to do, help from fellow councillors who have established sites, or guidance from specialist service providers. Otherwise, many councillors will struggle. Councillors need to know that maintaining a website is a good use of their time. They should be told about the number of visitors to their sites. Good sites do attract worthwhile numbers of visitors, including groups such as young people who may otherwise be hard to reach and local journalists. Maintaining a website should now be seen as a normal part of the role of councillors. There are several different ways to provide councillor websites, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Council officers responsible for providing this facility for their councillors should consider all the options, and councillors should be aware that there are other options available to them besides the one their council offers. Legal issues about councillor websites cause more concern than they should. The legal principles are the same as in other more familiar contexts and, in practice, complaints about improper use of websites are extremely rare.

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Councillor websites provided by councils must not be used for party political purposes or personal image making. However, using them to comment on council policy and to raise controversial issues should be allowed, providing this is done in a fair and balanced way. Nevertheless, some councillors may prefer to use non-council-funded facilities where they can express themselves more freely. Links from council sites to external sites containing party political material are believed to be permissible, subject to the use of an appropriate disclaimer process. These links, and most content of council-provided councillor websites, should be removed during pre-election periods.

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General legal issues
There are some legal issues that may affect councillors as website authors or bloggers. Almost all of these issues originated before the growth of the Internet and are not specific to websites. Often there is some uncertainty about how these laws apply on the Internet, with little specific legislation or case law to help. However, this also means that the legal issues are not new. Councillors should already be aware of them in relation to other media such as newsletters, and should not be discouraged from using websites because these issues arise there too. This chapter aims only to give a brief summary of the legal issues for councillor websites. There is more detailed discussion of these issues in the National Project’s previous publications Guidance notes on key legal issues in e-democracy and Civic Leadership Blogging: legal guidance. It should be stressed that these documents cannot cover every eventuality, and are not a substitute for expert legal advice about a specific situation. Defamation Defamation takes place when an untrue statement is made about a person, damaging that person’s reputation. Defamation is known as ‘libel’ if the statement is recorded (such as in writing or in an email). It is known as ‘slander’ if the statement is made live. The conventional rules of libel still apply on websites, even in the personal and conversational style of blogs. There is some risk in providing a link to another website containing defamatory material; this risk can be minimised by using an appropriate disclaimer. Bloggers must also be aware of their responsibilities as hosts of discussions where comments are invited from readers, and must take action if they become aware of unlawful content being posted in such discussions.

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Bloggers are not liable for such content if it was posted without their knowledge, until they become aware of it. It is recommended that councillors ensure they have the technological tools (and the time) to moderate or vet comments before publication. However, councillors should be aware that if they moderate, they will share liability for any unlawful content which they allow to remain. Prompt removal of unlawful comments is an acceptable alternative to active moderation. If an abusive exchange develops between contributors where it is clearly likely that unlawful content will be posted, permission to comment should be withdrawn from those involved. It is recommended that hosts draw up a set of rules for hosted discussions. The discussion rules on ReadMyDay may be used as a basis. Copyright Copyright is the right to prevent another from carrying out unauthorised copying. The usual copyright rules apply to websites, so copying text or images onto a website from a copyrighted source is likely to breach copyright. In some circumstances, ‘deep linking’ into material on other websites without permission may also breach copyright in the linked page, although the law in this area is very unclear. For both copyright breaches and defamation claims, enforcement action may be taken in foreign jurisdictions. Internet publishing means the potential readership is truly worldwide, and claimants can often choose the easiest jurisdiction in which to bring a claim. Defending claims in a foreign legal system can be very difficult and costly. Website authors should be aware that they may be sued in any of the following: • • • • the country where they reside or are based the country where their server is situated in the case of defamation, any country where the damage is done to a person’s reputation in the EC, the country where a consumer lives

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Data protection Data protection legislation generally prohibits the publication or any other use of personal data about individuals without their knowledge. Where data is sensitive, consent should also be obtained. Where it is not sensitive, it is good practice (but may not be mandatory) to do so. Councillors who wish to publish information about someone else, even simply their contact details, should make sure the person concerned is aware that they are doing so. If any personal data is published on a councillor website not hosted by the council, there may also be an obligation on the councillor to register with the Information Commissioner (known as ‘notification’). Failure to notify is a criminal offence. If you have any doubt as to whether notification is necessary, it would be advisable to check with the Information Commissioner. A website hosted by the council will be covered by the council’s notification. It is a criminal offence to publish obscene material or to send it via the Internet. However, the definition of what is obscene is constantly changing, and the current situation is that only extreme material is likely to carry great risk. Legislation prevents incitement to racial hatred as well as discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or disability. This applies to the content of web pages. Where pages constitute a service, sites are expected to make reasonable adjustments to allow for access by people with disabilities such as blindness or poor motor control, who may be using specialist access software rather than normal browsers. The general standard for UK local government sites is level AA of the Web Accessibility Initiatives Standard (version 1.0), although this probably exceeds the minimum required to comply with the law. The technical details are complex, but council websites and specialist services for councillors should have been designed to meet accessibility requirements, so if councillors follow the procedures and guidance given to them they should not have to worry about these issues when using a council-provided facility. On a private website or a blogging service, civic leadership bloggers should check that the site is designed to comply with established accessibility standards, and make sure they understand how those standards affect the way they write their material.

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Members’ Code of Conduct There are also aspects of the Members’ Code of Conduct that can apply to websites. For instance, councillors must not publish information on their websites that they have received as confidential (which could also be an unlawful breach of their duty of confidentiality), or use their website in a way which brings their office or the council into disrepute or which does not treat others with respect. Members who have a quasi-judicial responsibility, for example in determining planning or licensing applications, must take care not to publish statements which might suggest they do not have an open mind on issues about which they may later be required to make such decisions. The use of a website to set out a clear position on a particular issue in advance of a decision could be taken as evidence of bias. Any account, after the event, of how a decision was taken must also be accurate and even-handed. In a pre-election period, expenditure on political campaigning is restricted, and councillors should be aware that resources spent on their websites may count towards their total limits on election expenditure.

Additional legal issues for council-funded sites
As well as the general legal issues, there are additional restrictions on the use of council resources, which may affect councillor websites. These restrictions arise both from legislation and from the Code of Conduct for Members. Like the general legal issues, they are not specific to the Internet; it is often unclear exactly what they mean in this context, and there is little case law to help. Unlike the general issues, many councillors find that some of these restrictions affect what they see as reasonable and appropriate ways to use their websites. As a result, this is a difficult area where conflict between the views of councillors and officers is likely, and current practice in different councils varies widely. It is good practice for councils to give their councillors specific guidance about these, and the general legal issues, when providing website facilities.

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Some sites publish the guidance, linked from each councillor’s page, and invite website visitors to complain if they believe the rules have been broken. This enhances accountability to the public, and experience shows that, in practice, complaints are very rare.

Political content
According to the Code of Conduct for Members, a councillor must not use local-authority facilities “for political purposes unless that use could reasonably be regarded as likely to facilitate, or be conducive to, the discharge of the functions of the authority or of the office to which the member has been elected or appointed”. There are very different views on what this means in practice. Some would argue that explaining local issues and policy choices to citizens is a key function of the office of councillor and should be encouraged, provided this does not include direct party political statements. Others believe that any reference to such debates, particularly if it includes airing arguments against council policy, is unacceptably ‘political’. Complying with these rules is basically the responsibility of the individual councillor, although their council should support and advise them. Increasingly, the interpretation and enforcement of the Code of Conduct for Members is a matter for the local Standards Committee rather than a national process, so there is scope for different practice in different councils. This should be consistent with the approach taken locally to the use of other resources provided to councillors. There is, for instance, varying practice on whether council computer equipment provided to councillors must only be used for council business, or may also be used for personal purposes to some extent (on the argument that this does not cost the council anything extra). A councillor website not provided by the council might be regarded as personal use, in which case it could be affected by this.

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From the point of view of officers, a council must not publish material which “in whole or part appears to affect public support for a political party” (Local Government Act). The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity (“the Publicity Code of Practice”) states that publicity material issued by councils about individual councillors “should not be, or liable to misrepresentation as being, party political”. However, publicity “touching on issues that are controversial, or on which there are arguments for and against the views or policies of the council” is permitted, provided that issues are “presented clearly, fairly and as simply as possible” (but without over-simplifying). It adds that “publicity may also include information about individual councillors’ proposals, decisions and recommendations only where this is relevant to their position and responsibilities within the Council”. It is the council’s responsibility to comply with these rules. Officers are often nervous about the risk of a councillor breaching these rules on a council-provided personal website, and may consider it essential for sites to be reviewed by an officer to ensure that the council will not break the law by publishing them. It is difficult for an officer doing this to avoid also considering the somewhat different wording of the Code of Conduct for Members, taking on a responsibility which should be for the councillor. There is also a real danger that councillors will see it as censorship by officers of their communication with their constituents. At least one councillor has complained that “the leadership’s views and policy are seen as merely statements of the council policy and, as a result, not political, whereas any alternative view or proposal is political … and is silenced by the censors”. This can be a particular issue for opposition councillors. It may result from a misunderstanding of the Publicity Code of Practice. The main thrust of this section of the Code seems to be that “personalisation of issues or personal image making should be avoided”, whether that is by an executive member or a member of the opposition. If councillor websites are to be a real tool for councillors to communicate with their constituents, they should not be limited to transmitting only the same messages as the council’s corporate communications.

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Despite the level of concern and discussion about these issues, and the considerable scope for interpretation in the wording, the risk of legal action appears very low in practice. Some councils, and the LGA-supported councillor.info service, have taken a relatively open approach for some time, and complaints are almost unknown. The Standards Board for England’s case summaries show no instance where misuse of a council-funded councillor website for party political purposes has even been investigated and only one (case no. SBE255.02) where there has been action against a councillor as a result of any misuse of a website. There has never been an action against a council alleging breach of the Local Government Act or Publicity Code of Practice requirements in relation to a councillor website. Officers should perhaps be more aware of the opposite risk – that by limiting publicity about ‘political’ issues and debates, they may prevent the public from understanding the role of councillors and the difference they can make, and so contribute to a perception that local democracy is irrelevant. It is noteworthy that former minister David Miliband now has a public blog on the Defra website. Although the legal position for national and local government is not exactly the same, the content of this gives some indication of how the DCLG (the body responsible for the Publicity Code of Practice) interprets restrictions on ‘political’ expression using public resources. There has already been some discussion on his blog about these issues.

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Links to political websites
If a councillor has a website not provided by the council, it may be questioned whether the council website should include a link to it. The councillor website may well contain clearly party political material. By providing a link to this material, the council is certainly drawing attention to it, and might appear to be endorsing it, contrary to the Publicity Code of Practice. However, if a council does not provide links, it makes it harder for citizens to find out about political campaigns which may affect council services, and misses a key opportunity to encourage democratic participation. In addition, the amount of council resources used in providing a link is minimal. This is another instance where the legal risk appears very small in practice, provided reasonable care is taken, although the interpretation of the law is not clear-cut. A number of councils have long provided links, not only to external websites for their councillors but also to the sites of political parties, MPs, etc., without challenge. Such links should be made in a way that clearly distances the political site from the council one, using a prominent disclaimer drawing attention to the fact that the council does not support the linked site or endorse its content. The disclaimer text may be shown adjacent to the link. Alternatively, there may be a ‘gateway’ page – the website user following the link is not taken immediately to the external site, but first sees the disclaimer and must register their acceptance before proceeding. It is, of course, also essential for links to be provided even-handedly to all councillors who ask for them. Councils and councillors also need to be aware of restrictions on political donations and expenditure. If these guidelines are followed, it is not likely that a council-provided councillor website will count as a regulated donation. However, a link to a councillor’s own pages could come within this definition. The link is permissible under the Representation of the People Act 1983 provided that its value, including any time spent on maintaining it and providing technical backup, comes to under £50, which would usually be the case.
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What changes during election campaigns?
It is standard practice, supported by the Publicity Code of Practice, to withdraw certain facilities normally available to councillors during the period between the notice of a council election and the election itself. The rationale for this is that current councillors should not be able to use that position to gain advantage, particularly in terms of publicity, compared with candidates who are not councillors. It is common, and probably advisable, for councils to suppress most content of the councillor websites they provide during this period, and to remove links to external councillor websites. Facts about councillors, such as contact details and roles, can safely remain – councillors, unlike MPs, remain in office until the election actually takes place. Councillors should also be aware that their expenditure in setting up and maintaining a website or web pages, incurred in connection with an election, should be included in the returns which they have to submit accounting for election costs.

Other considerations
The Code of Conduct for Members also prohibits a councillor from using local-authority facilities “improperly to confer on or secure for him or herself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage” – so use of a council-provided website for personal gain, such as to promote business interests, would certainly not be permissible. There is no controversy about this aspect.

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Example of typical blogging terms and conditions
1.1 <your org> owns the intellectual property rights in this project and the contents of this website, including, for the avoidance of doubt, information provided by participants to the website [However, the pages of individual bloggers belong to those bloggers and] the views expressed on them are not necessarily those of <your org>. <your org> is not responsible for the content of those pages and excludes all liability for such content to the fullest extent possible under English law. 1.2 By registering on this site you agree to the processing of any personal data in your blog post and comments and to the reproduction of your message by <your org> for research and evaluation purposes. 1.3 Potentially unlawful statements (including potentially defamatory statements) may be removed from the site at any time without notification. Any references to, or of allegations of, criminal activity may be passed on to the Police in your locality. 1.4 Posters on the <your org> website must be aware that the site is accessible to the public and should not disclose any personal information (such as their telephone number, home or email address) that they do not wish to be made public. About your posts: All use of this site is subject to English law and jurisdiction and is subject to the acceptable use policy. 2.1 Contributions must be civil and tasteful. 2.2 No disruptive, offensive or abusive behaviour: contributions must be constructive and polite, not meanspirited or contributed with the intention of causing trouble. 2.3 Harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, racially offensive or otherwise unlawful or objectionable material is not acceptable.

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2.4 No spamming or off-topic material. Please don’t submit (i) the same or very similar contributions more than once, (ii) the same or very similar contributions to more than one discussion, or (iii) off-topic material in subject-specific areas. 2.5 Advertising is not permitted, however <your org> reserve the right to add a small banner at the top of blogs or in the administration area advertising the activities of <your org>. 2.6 Contributions containing languages other than English may be removed. 2.7 No impersonation or anonymous postings. 2.8 No inappropriate (e.g. vulgar, offensive etc.) user names. 2.9 You must have appropriate permission to use any material which is not your own original work, such as quotes or extracts from publications. 2.10 No use of oversized fonts, JavaScript, etc. 2.11 If your status as a civic leader is revoked, you become unemployed or your job changes then you must inform <your org> team within one calendar month of the change. Failure to do this may result in suspension of your membership. 2.12. If you breach these Terms of Use: If you fail to abide by these terms of use or our acceptable use policy (or any amended version which may be published on this site), we may edit or remove your contribution. We will usually send you an email which informs you why your contribution has been removed or edited, but we cannot guarantee this.

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Example of typical acceptable use policy
About your posts: • • Contributions must be civil and tasteful. No disruptive, offensive or abusive behaviour: contributions must be constructive and polite, not mean-spirited or contributed with the intention of causing trouble. No unlawful or objectionable content: unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, racially offensive or otherwise objectionable material is not acceptable. If you use multiple logins for the purpose of disrupting the forum or annoying other users, you may have action taken against your accounts. Readers be patient: allow the moderators time to check your message before it is posted on the site. No spamming or off-topic material: we don’t allow the submission of the same or very similar contributions many times. Please don’t re-submit your contribution to more than one discussion, or contribute off-topic material in subjectspecific areas. No advertising. Contributions containing languages other than English may be removed. No impersonation. No introduction of content that may result in actions for libel, defamation or other claims for damages. No inappropriate (e.g. vulgar, offensive, etc.) user names.

• •

• • • • •

Representation of the People Act restrictions During election times (from the ‘notice of an election’ to the election itself), councillors who use this site must suspend links to their local authority. Visitors will still, however, be able to contact them through the website.

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If you breach this policy If you fail to abide by these house rules when taking part in the consultation, you will be sent an email which informs you why your contribution has been failed or edited. This mail will also include a warning that continuing to break the rules may result in action being taken against your account. This action may include your relevant account being placed into temporary or permanent suspension. If you post or send offensive or inappropriate content anywhere on the forum or otherwise engage in any disruptive behaviour on <your site> and the team considers such behaviour to be serious and/or repeated, the team may use whatever information is available to it about you to stop any further such infringements. This may include informing relevant third parties such as your employer, school or email provider about the infringements. The team reserves the right to delete any contribution, or to take action against any account, at any time, for any reason.

Example of typical legal page footers
<your org> owns the intellectual property rights in this project and the contents of this website, including, for the avoidance of doubt, information provided by participants to the website [However the pages of individual bloggers belong to those bloggers and] the views expressed on them are not necessarily those of <your org>. <your org> is not responsible for the content of those pages and excludes all liability for such content to the fullest extent possible under English law. <your org> does not accept any responsibility.

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PROVIDING SUPPORT

When first setting out to establish their own website, most councillors
will look for training about the technical procedures to update the content, add links and images, and so on. They may also recognise a need for continuing technical support to help them deal with problems as they arise. Councils providing website facilities for their councillors will probably anticipate and provide for these needs. One-to-one training has generally been found to work best. Different councillors will have very different levels of ICT skills and experience, and group sessions often alienate the less accomplished. Councillors who have computers at home particularly value home visits for training, which, as well as being more convenient for them, can cover their individual equipment.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: PROVIDING SUPPORT What may be less obvious at the start is that councillors also need to learn how to use a website effectively, and to receive continuing encouragement about the value of their site and suggestions about how to improve it. For nearly all councillors this is an unfamiliar medium, and it takes them some time to appreciate its potential and to develop a valuable website. One way to help is to show them good examples of other councillors’ sites, with a variety of formats and approaches. There are several ways in which this can be done. One-to-one support by officers can be valuable if they understand not just the technology, but also what is likely to be useful for a councillor website. They will need to put some effort into identifying ideas and examples from elsewhere, to show their councillors how they can make good use of a website. This guidance document provides a starting point. However, there are differing views between councils on whether and to what extent officers should help councillors use their websites, or even produce sites for them. Some take the view that a poor councillor website reflects badly on the council, so officers should ensure that all councillors have adequate sites even if that means, in some cases, writing it for them. Other councils consider that if some councillors have poor websites, that must be seen as entirely their own responsibility, so officers should avoid any involvement at all and let the electorate decide if the site is unacceptable. Mentoring or ‘buddying’ – a one-to-one link with another councillor who has already established a website and will share their experience – has proved very effective in some cases. This may be organised through the council, or informally arranged by the councillors themselves. As well as helping a newcomer get started, this can be useful as an ongoing arrangement to help both parties continue to develop the use of their sites. In some areas with multi-member wards, one councillor in a ward maintains a website on behalf of all the ward councillors – but although this can produce an effective website, it is not encouraging the other councillors to learn. Wider sharing of experience is available through specialist service providers who support the websites of councillors from many authorities. They may provide regular updates highlighting good sites and interesting new approaches being tried by councillors from all parts of the country who use their service.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: PROVIDING SUPPORT As well as what to do with a website, many councillors are unclear about why they should do it. A few enthusiastically embrace the new opportunity to communicate, but many are initially unconvinced about the value of a personal website and reluctant to find the time, in their already busy schedules, to maintain one. There are several ways in which they can be persuaded. Telling sceptical councillors about the numbers of visitors to their website, and to those of other councillors, is one of the strongest arguments. The busiest councillor websites now receive up to a few thousand visits per month. More typical sites receive perhaps a few dozen – but even that compares reasonably well with the number of people who are likely to attend councillors’ surgeries or contact them in other ways. Many website visitors are likely to be from groups who are difficult for councillors to contact in other ways. For instance, there are indications that younger people are unlikely to talk to a councillor on the doorstep – for them, a website is a more convenient, credible and culturally appropriate form of communication. Some visitors will not be constituents or even from the council’s area, and it is difficult to tell how many are, but indications from a few sites are that the proportion may typically be about half. Many councillors with existing websites would like to see more detailed analysis of their visitors, which might reveal more about how the sites are used, who the visitors and what they are looking for. One way to generate more visitors to councillor websites is to highlight them with links from the council’s website – perhaps even having a ‘councillor website of the month’ on the home page. This also shows councillors that their websites are valued by the council. Local journalists are very likely to visit a councillor website that has any substantial content. The Internet is now a primary tool for journalists’ research, and some councillors consciously use their websites to cover stories that they would like to see reported in the local press. This may be useful as a counter-argument to those councillors who still believe that nobody in their ward uses the Internet – even if that were true, there is an audience that the most traditional of councillors will recognise as important.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: PROVIDING SUPPORT Peer pressure from other councillors can be persuasive. If those who already make active use of websites talk to their colleagues about the response they get and the results they achieve, it can be more convincing than any national guidance or advice from officers – particularly if the councillor talking is not seen as an obvious enthusiast for technology. A degree of competition between councillors over the number of visitors to their websites can also be a motivator! Active support from party groups has made a significant difference in some councils. If the leader of a party group makes it clear that group members are expected to maintain websites, this can carry considerable weight. It shows that using this new medium is something that is now expected as part of being an elected representative, in the same way as councillors have traditionally used surgeries and paper newsletters. On the same lines, some councils have made training on website use part of their induction process for new councillors. This establishes it from the start as a normal part of the role. A few have linked this with other electronic tools for councillors, such as those for handling issues raised in surgeries or for claiming expenses, to make it clear that using technology is now essential to being an effective representative.

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Training

Councillors in North Lincolnshire converge for a group crash course on blogging. Two types of training are needed: technical training on the platform itself (assisted by online help texts) and training on how to create alluring posts. Coaching in the form of workshops and an ongoing point of contact are required to successfully deploy a solution. Finding expertise on technical training is not very difficult, but finding UK trainers on the subject of good practice blogging is difficult. Some options are provided below: 1. www.theblogcoach.co.uk Rates based on a half-day or full-day workshops; a full day is £650 for a maximum of eight people. 2. www.wigleyandassociates.com Griff is an experienced web coach from Minnesota, USA. 3. www.icele.org ICELE can organise training for large groups on your behalf.

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Glossary
blog blogosphere blogroll HTML a personal journal on the web the collection of all blogs on the web a collection of links to other related blogs HyperText Markup Language – the raw code used to create web pages Information and Communications Technology Portable Document Format – a device-independent format for printable documents a URL that will continue to point at a particular blog post even after it has moved from the front page to the archive Really Simple Syndication – a method of providing links to the latest set of posts on a website a highly compressed format for audio files unsolicited commercial email software that browses the web looking for email addresses to which spam can be sent Uniform Resource Locator – another term for a web address a video blog another word for ‘blog’ ‘What You See Is What You Get’ user interface

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