Networked Councillor: connecting with your councillor (or council) online

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Rows of chairs in front of a line of tables
City Council Chamber, Seattle , 1962 from Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This morning I came into work with the intention of writing a blog post about Networked Councillor. The idea was to try to say something meaningful about the project for myself. You can learn more about what that’s all about here.

Anyway, I couldn’t think of anything particularly meaningful that hadn’t been said by someone better qualified, so I figured it might be a good idea to investigate, for just a minute, how easy it might be to contact a councillor for myself.

Problem was – and this is a terrible confession to make – I wasn’t even sure what the name of my ward was, let alone my councillors’ names, so I needed to take a look on the Brighton and Hove City Council website to find out. Unfortunately – and while it really is a very nice looking website – when I found the ‘find your councillor’ page within the Council and Democracy section, it didn’t help.

I’d expected to find a postcode look-up service, which I remember the council having before. So I asked the council on Twitter. Within a few minutes, not only did I have a response, but a commitment to resolve the problem, as you can see from this Storify of the tweets…

Brilliant. A few years ago, a (very minor) problem like this could have gone unnoticed for weeks because, while people would have spotted it, they may have considered it too trifling to bother with given the time it would take to tell someone. Now social media permit people to quickly say something that can lead to real action with minimal fuss.

That is as important for councillors as it is for councils. If I’m being brutally honest, the time I’ve got to share stuff with politicians is limited. Just as if I’d been faced with filling out a form or writing a letter I might have not told the council about the problem with the website, if I’m faced with attending a surgery in person or writing a letter, I probably wouldn’t talk to my councillor. Frankly, if councillors don’t make it easy for me to talk to them, I won’t and I’m guessing I’m not alone in holding this sentiment. In that light, it’s natural that many of us don’t think councillors are people who can solve problems for us – when , in fact, they often are.

That’s a problem for us all, because it can have a corrosive effect on the power of local democracy to solve local problems, which obviously is a bad thing. But cases like the one I’ve highlighted offer a little light at the end of the tunnel, as does the Networked Councillor report, because it sheds light on how we can be better connected to local democracy.

This blog post was supposed to add to the debate around the report – on what we should expect from councillors and how they should navigate this world. I’m afraid it’s done absolutely nothing to help that. But at least, maybe, it’s illustrated why getting online makes sense – and how  it will help councillors connect with people like me, who are online, time poor, short of attention but nonetheless have something to say. There are more than a few of us, I’m guessing.


Gritting bins in Brighton

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Brighton in the snow taken by Neate Photos - on a Creative Commons Licence

With all the cold weather I thought it might be useful to have a little look at the gritting information available for where I live.

I’ve taken a PDF file on Brighton and Hove’s website and made it into a spreadsheet, which you can see here.

I’ve also made the spreadsheet into a kind of pivot-table type explorable gadget, which you can see as a tab on the spreadsheet. This should make it easy for you to be able to play a bit with the data – and find out where the grit bins in your area are. Word of warning: This provides the location of the bins from the PDF – which, as I understand it, can be used by public when necessary. Lots of wards (including my own, Brunswick and Adelaide) don’t have bins, probably because they’re quite built up. The pixel limit of my theme means I can’t stretch it across the page, but you can see it below. To play with it properly I’d recommend that you go to the spreadsheet.

The council has recently added a number of bins since the cold weather last year (and early this year) and you can use the gadget to see where the new bins are.

What’s missing at the moment are the lat-long co-ordinates for each of the bins. It might (also) be helpful to find out whether the bins are full – and what ‘yellow, green, cream’ bins are specifically for.

Brighton and Hove has lots of information about the bins, but nothing specifically about routes. In Birmingham there was a list of the roads that get gritted. Dave Harte of the Bournville blog made that in to a map for his area and turned it into a spreadsheet. Inspired by this, a few folk who are members of the local OpenStreetMap group turned it into a more comprehensive map for the Midlands.

It’d be nice if we could start a similar bit of community activity here in Brighton, but I’m too new to the area to have a clue where to start! However, I’ve made an open copy of the spreadsheet. This is just in case anyone else wants to add information – for example lat/long or more info about the location of the grit bins.