Social media has taken the world by storm.
Like all other technological advancements, one can use, misuse or abuse social media. The rules are still developing, however lacking a common state wide guideline on social media use in local government can certainly lend itself to new abuse of good governance among councils and their peak bodies.
This is a an emerging good governance risk that every ratepayer group should be aware of, when their councils ramp their uses of social media. “Don’t be evil” was once the corporate value of Google and is no longer when Google began tracking users universally across all its services and did many unethical deals, to make its billions.
Social and other online media are great tools for engagement and two-way communication. Example of these tools include blogs, facebooks. twitter, youtube, instagram, linkedin groups, flicker and others such as Oursay. Without a common/statewide and good practice social media guidance put in place, these tools can also bring about significant risks when inappropriately used.
Social media is a double edge sword. It can foster and kill democratization. Social media creates coordinating networks. These networks of participatory citizens can empower collective social action and facilitate change – the process of democratisation. Repressive governments are becoming better at using social media to suppress dissent, to allow their agendas to pass. Evil groups such as IS are successfully using social media to motivate people to hate and kill.
We would like to hear of your stories of your councils’ social media uses, good and manipulated, for sharing with all ratepayers. Email us your story through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Monash ratepayers, our first case story is Monash Council.
The Monash Case Development Story
Timeline 1: In 2014, individual Councillors decided to create their own personal social media resources, such as blogs. They dressed these tools up, as though they are official Monash Council social media resources. How can they do such thing, which is against good governance principles? Easy, not only because the LG system is broken, but also because the Monash Council did not have a social media policy, even to this day.
Timeline 2: On Nov 15 2015, a smart spark Mayor Klisaris announced in the local papers that council has decided to hire a communication expert to decipher planning jargon into ‘plain English’ (Monash Leader, 15 Nov 2015). Monash Council was “looking for a leading-edge and innovative communications expert to help the council explain proposed new planning zones to ratepayers…. and that the successful applicant must be a communications expert rather than possessing a town planning background.” (Herald Sun, 17 Nov 2015)
A few days later, Mayor Klisaris announced that the chosen “leading edge and innovative” communication expert was Oursay (Monash Leader, 19 Nov 2015).
Actually, Oursay is an Internet cloud based social media service provider. What is miscommunication mixup and bamboozle in Monash Council, partly also caused by lacking technology literacy among its decision makers, notably its Councillors.
What is Monash Council really doing with Oursay?
Communications carry meanings and they are revealed in the manners of what, how, when and where things are said. The Monash community is a learning community, well learned about its council’s communication style and manipulation techniques, especially media manipulation. It is also a technology savvy community, more so than its Councillors.
Joining the dots, the Monash Community is cautious about what their Councillors may be up to in hiring Oursay, to deliver “plain English” communications to market Monash city planning changes. To Monash ratepayers, social media engagement can be used inappropriately to achieve the desired agendas, the unannounced communication goals.
Genuine community engagement requires communications planning, online or not. This is a no brainer good practice. In a trusted municipal/community engagement context, this communication planning is a must.
The Monash community is keen to be involved how the Oursay tool can be setup and used, to ensure the online engagement is totally transparent and trusting. Trust is the first rule of social media. The communication plan would be clear and open about:
- Defining the outcomes and objectives underpinning the online and intertwined engagement and communication activities
- Stating which IAP2 level is applied in the online engagement experience;
- Defining the participatory roles the Monash Community can play in developing and using the online engagement and communication activities
- Clarifying the user experience journal in using the Oursay application, to result in best value outcomes
- Sharing the analytical data that it collects about the users of the tool
Monash ratepayers view that this communication plan is vital to rebuild trust between them and their council, especially what happened in selling the aged care facilities in 2013. Monash City Development and Housing Strategy involves selling more public assets, which the local community does not support, especially when the Council has at least $40mio of unrestricted cash. Some Monash Councillors are keen to sell public land before the next 2016 LG election, to boost their profiles and election chances when they can claim brownie points for new developments, such as another “state of the art” Glen Waverley Library Community Hub, which was already decided by this term’s returning Councillors in 2012. Hence the communications plan is a critical transparency prerequisite for realizing a truly genuine and trusted Oursay social mediated council/community engagement experience.
The big Q is “Will Monash ratepayers be allowed to participate in planning the (not just using) the Oursay social media apps and its underlying communication plan?” The case is still developing, pending on what Monash Council does next.