Almost a decade ago there was a drive to encourage people to have a say about the future of their city.
At first glance, it was bold, imaginative and ambitious with posters splashed across Birmingham. It had a catchy name. The Big City Plan.
It’s aim was to fire imaginations and to capture ideas. It had two flaws. It was written for planners and to have a say you had to send your views to one email address. All that buzz online? Ignored.
So, the Brum Bloggers group built a website with a plain English translation, captured opinion and sent them to the council themselves. Almost 300 of the 1,600 comments came from the site. Birmingham City Council managed to incorporate those comments. Eventually, the city council copied the approach which made it easier for people to make a comment and for the city council to listen.
Please speak human
Eight years on from the lessons of Big City Plan, a Facebook ad dropped into my timeline one Sunday afternoon from my local council. A good piece of targeting, I thought.
It asked me to comment on the Black Country Core Strategy. I don’t know what this means. Even after eight years in local government and being the son of a planner I don’t know what this means.
So, what would the man on the 404A guess it was? I’ve no idea.
On the site were pdfs. There is much written as to why pdfs are a bad idea. There are email addresses and a list of events. Gamely, I found a survey to comment on. But that didn’t render all that well on a mobile phone.
Please listen to people
Back on the Facebook page there was a lively debate about building houses on the green belt and a host of other things. Debate there had come alive and people were – in council speak – engaging. Or in other words, talking.
But as a resident what really got my goat was the council pages’ disclaimer half way down the thread that comments on Facebook wouldn’t be accepted. It had to be the official consultation.
Or in other words, a Facebook campaign that wouldn’t allow people to have their say on Facebook.
(Disclaimer: I worked for eight years at Walsall Council which is one of four Black Country councils behind the campaign. I have a high regard for many people who work at all four of those councils.)
Local government does a brilliant job. My council does a good job. My children go to school there. There are good parks and the roads are gritted (thank you!).
So, when I blog this, I do it with love and because I want local government to communicate better with me as someone who lives here.
Please, please, please…
So, please, have a website that speaks human.
Please call the website something more interesting than ‘core strategy.’
But above all and I really do mean this, please listen to what people say on Facebook. Particularly when your campaign is on Facebook itself.
You may need to speak truth to power on this. But fail to do this really simple step and I don’t know what you can tell people when they next tell people their council is remote and don’t care what they think.