Best of the frontline bloggers (week ending 21st September 2012)

We love public and voluntary service bloggers. At their best, they capture the day-to-day reality of public services in a way that Westminster-commentators can’t  and they have the real expertise and insights we need to improve social policy. Here’s our selection of the best frontline blogs we’ve read this week. Do send us your suggestions for great posts we’ve missed – and those frontline bloggers we should follow in the future.


A rare shaft of light

From The Jobbing Doctor

Posted on 15th September 2012

“Anna Soubry, the new junior minister at the Department [of Health], is reported to say that the Government screwed up by not engaging with the professions. She is right, although they never really intended to win hearts and minds: we are not idiots and could always see what was planned. This comment is a shaft of light in the murk of the plotting to break up the NHS.”

The Jobbing Doctor, a GP working in a large industrialised conurbation outside London, argues that the Government health reforms are not about empowering the professions but a detailed and planned assault on the service – supported by all the main political parties and a ‘tiny list of supporters’ to provide cover.


A new summing-up

From Scenes from the Battleground

Posted on 16th September 2012

“The central contention of this blog is that our state school system is simply not good enough. It does not provide a decent quality of education for the vast majority, and most would avoid it if they could afford to. Too many people with power over education are content to provide a service that they would not think good enough for their own children.”

A dumbed-down curriculum and teaching methods, the ‘behaviour crisis’, and bureaucratic and incompetent management: the problems facing the education system as described by an ‘utterly dissatisfied’ secondary school teacher – and what the future holds.

Social care

Consulting on the CQC

From The Not So Big Society

Posted on 20th September 2012

“For a regulator to have public confidence, the public have to know what they do, what they are responsible for and what they are not responsible for. …Inspectors could have a greater visibility online and using broader social media to communicate with the public – not just through PR people. I want to know what inspectors do every day. I’d love to see a regular blog from an inspector (without needing to mention any specific services but just with broad themes – generally frontline blogs are more interesting than management blogs!)”

Ermintrude, a ‘social worker by trade but so much more’, reviews the new draft strategy for the health and adult social care services regulator the Care Quality Commission – and argues for a much more people-based approach.


Care is care. Let’s stand together for political and social change

From The Caregivers’ Living Room

Posted on 19th September 2012

“The thing is …we are all sitting around here talking about big ideas like nurturing leadership in our disabled youth population and whether we should lobby for more disability arts initiatives. What I think we should talk about is whether in ten years time, there will be anyone around to wipe our bums. I believe we are heading toward a time when giving care will be devalued and we will all end up being warehoused in institutions with lousy care and no one will notice.”

Donna Thomson, former actor, director and teacher, now parent to a disabled son and with a ‘second career’ as a disability activist, reflects on the challenge she once heard in a meeting of activists – and the need to think like a movement in order to achieve political and social change for the good of families and the future.

A perfect storm

From Welsh Wallace

Posted on 17th September 2012

“…according to the new test for the benefits I wasn’t disabled. I could pick up a pencil off the floor (regardless I had to feel around for it for a good five minutes first). I can walk (regardless I can only stand for about 5 minutes before my spine gives out) but enough in their words to walk from a taxi to an office. …So because I passed these “tests” I was refused on those grounds for disability benefit. Being blind was not an issue because I could still walk so with that logic walking a few steps enabled me to see where I was going, to read letters, to cross the roads without danger just as any sighted person could. It was a miracle! I was cured!”

A powerful post on what it’s like to ‘walk in the shoes’ of a blind man – and to undergo the disability test when you’re having a very bad week.


Universal Credit – how is this simplification?

From DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts)

Posted on 16th September 2012

“Overpayments under the new system will not be subject to the same rights of dispute which currently exist, so many claimants simply won’t be able to properly contest an unfair decision. When government is asked about the problems all of this creates they stick to script and tell us all how ‘work pays’. The emphasis on work is backed up by an assurance that simplifying the benefits system makes it more possible to transition from welfare to work; the new highway for making the transition is Universal Credit which we are all told is ‘on track’.”

Universal Credit is meant to merge all working age benefits into a ‘single streamlined payment.’ Not according to this detailed analysis it doesn’t, originally from the MyLegal forum.

Previous reads

Here are a few more great posts from the past few weeks.



From This is My Blog

Posted on 12th June 2012

“The big line being pushed by our beloved government this week is about “problem families” and the need to “crack down” on them. …So what makes a “problem family”? How do we define the country’s “worst scumbags”?

Mary, a 30-year-old knitter living with her husband, a robot vacuum cleaner – and ME – finds the Government’s definition of ‘problem families’ uncomfortably close to (her childhood) home.


The high price of cutting costs

From Minimum Cover

Posted on 5th July 2012

“…there is sometimes a huge chasm between the headline saving and the bottom line cost. Some officers, including me, have resorted to sorting these types of issue at their own cost on more than one occasion. It’s just what we do to keep things running smoothly.”

M.C.’s blog – a “mixture of personal experience, factual accounts, [and] a modicum of fiction here and there to ease the literary process and protect the innocent” – reflects on how ‘cost-savings’ have turned replacing a 29 pence light bulb into a kerfuffle costing £100.

Standing outside the fire

From Cate Moore’s Blog

Posted on 12th June 2012

“I am telling you to play clever. And safe. You do not need to shy away from your ideals and the things that you care passionately about. Indeed you are letting the public down if you do. Speak truth, speak it fairly and speak it pleasantly.”

A retired policewoman encourages other officers to use social media to comment on government policy – but to do it carefully.

If you’re a frontline blogger, do send us your latest blogs on policy issues or posts from the past that you’re particularly proud of, and they could be included in next week’s round-up. Get in touch with us at: or via Twitter @guerillapolicy

Local authorities on Twitter

This is the fifth in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’ve been counting down local authorities according to the size of their following – this post reviews the results and offers up some thoughts.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which councils appear to be using social media, in this case Twitter, the most?

We’ve looked at the corporate Twitter accounts of all 434 UK local authorities – district, county, metropolitan borough and unitary authorities. This shows that 91% of local authorities have a corporate Twitter account. Of these that don’t, Northern Ireland is disproportionally represented, with 15 authorities out of the 39 not having a Twitter account. The 91% figure represents a significant expansion of local authorities’ use of Twitter since 2009 (at that time, a study by LGEO Research showed that only 124 councils were using Twitter, now this has grown to 395 authorities).The total Twitter community around councils is 941,610, whilst local government has tweeted 646,755 times.

The top ten authorities are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Glasgow City Council @GlasgowCC 24,016 1,765
2 Edinburgh City Council @Edinburgh_CC 13,054 2,527
3 Newcastle upon Tyne City Council @NewcastleCC 11,992 5,521
4 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444
5 Manchester City Council @ManCityCouncil 11,313 2,962
6 Cardiff City Council @cardiffcouncil 10,054 4,926
7 Nottingham City Council @MyNottingham 9,374 2,694
8 Leeds City Council @leedscc 9,161 1,838
9 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
10 Kent County Council @Kent_cc 8,664 2,782

Nine of the top ten councils are large cities, with only one traditional county council represented – Kent. None of the top ten are district authorities, in fact only two appear in the top 50 – Oxford (no.25 – 5,688 followers) and Preston (no.46 – 4,747 followers). Both are large towns with populations of approximately 140,000 to 150,000. No London Boroughs appear in the top 20, although 7 appear in the top 50 with Lambeth (no.21 – 6,434 followers), Lewisham (no.28 – 5,411 followers) and Westminster (no.29 – 5,392) leading the way.

Six local authorities have more than 10,000 followers. Whilst 38 have more than 5,000 followers, representing 10% of councils. 28% of local authorities have less than 1,000 followers. So whilst this expansion has taken place, this is not universal. Our research points to both an urban connection and the use of Twitter and the number of followers.

A slight aside, we also observed the Government’s policy to rationalise back off functions in councils manifest through their social media presence.  Adur and Worthing share a joint Twitter account.  Whilst in Dorset, a number of authorities are sharing a Twitter account @dorsetforyou.

In our previous research on think tanks, we only looked at the number of followers. In this case, we also included the number of tweets sent. We didn’t analyse the quality of tweets, or separate out broadcast tweets from those that engaged in dialogue with local citizens. Nonetheless, we found that 203 local authorities have tweeted more than 1,000 times. Meanwhile, seven authorities with a Twitter account have never sent a tweet. Clearly, resourcing social media efforts matters. Walsall Council for instance has a team of five people who are named as their tweeters on their feed.

Top ten tweeters are:

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council @WalsallCouncil 5,214 12,949
2 St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council @sthelenscouncil 3,886 9,514
3 Sunderland City Council @SunderlandUK 8,202 7,835
4 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
5 Monmouthshire County Council @MonmouthshireCC 4,109 7,044
6 Winchester City Council @WinchesterCity 3,151 6,963
7 Stoke on Trent City Council @SoTCityCouncil 4,603 6,877
8 South Ayrshire Council @southayrshire 3,097 6,628
9 Surrey County Council @SurreyCouncil 4,534 6,585
10 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444

There also seems to be a connection between activity on Twitter and the number of followers. Of the 106 councils with less than 1,000 followers, only eight have tweeted more than a 1,000 times.

Position on top Twitter list Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
283 Allerdale Borough Council @allerdale 997 3,785
288 Mole Valley District Council @MoleValleyDC 949 1,747
289 Bexley Council @whatsoninbexley 943 1,141
291 Copeland Borough Council @copelandbc 911 1,169
298 East Staffordshire Borough Council @eaststaffsbc 855 1,578
312 Surrey Heath Borough Council @Surreyheath 717 1.572
316 Melton Borough Council @MeltonBC 657 1,127
328 Derbyshire Dales District Council @derbyshiredales 502 1,427

We also found some interesting examples that further point to this connection between activity and presence on Twitter. Fenland District Council who were an early adopter of Twitter appears at no.65 on our list (4,234 followers) compared to neighbouring South Holland, which appears at no.389 (24 followers). South Holland and Fenland have many common similarities. Fenland and South Holland have similar population sizes (91,000 and 76,000), demographic and economic make up. The difference does seem to be connected to their investment in social media. South Holland has never tweeted whilst Fenland has tweeted over 500 times.

North Devon, Mid Devon and Torridge also offer up a further interesting comparison. All are neighbouring rural district authorities with similar population sizes ranging from 65,000 – 91,000. North Devon appears at no. 78 on our list (3,796 followers) compared to Torridge at no.373 and Mid Devon at no.377 both with less than 200 followers. North Devon has however tweeted nearly 5,000 times and has dedicated tweeters compared to 220 and 26 tweets sent by Torridge and Mid Devon.

Fenland and North Devon, both with small rural populations demonstrate the possibilities of increasing reach in a cheap and easy way using social media. Our recent blog on 5 top tips for think tanks using social media has many transferable lessons for local government.  Some lessons from this piece of research for local councils could be:

  • Actively use social media – the more active you are, the more likely you are to build a community;
  • Engage in dialogue, don’t just broadcast;
  • Promote others and not just yourself. A good local council account is a repository of a range of community information and news;
  • Social media is personal – individuals who work for local councils are critical in extending reach and impact;
  • Think without limits: social media offers up endless possibilities.

Of course, only looking at the number of tweets and number of followers on the main local authority feed doesn’t provide a broader analysis of the effective use of social media by any authority. It doesn’t take account of quality of engagement or local population size in particular – and these are factors that we could incorporate into future analysis. Even so, it still provides some indication of local authorities’ take up of social media and offers some interesting insights and lessons. Your views on the results – and what further questions and analysis should be conducted (by us or others) – are welcome.

Local authorities on Twitter – the top 100

This is the fourth in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’ve been counting down local authorities according to the size of their following – this post reveals the top 100 local authorities on Twitter.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which local authorities are seizing the opportunities of social media the most, at least according to this quick bit of research? (Let us know if we’ve got anything wrong and we’ll correct it asap). Congratulations to the top tweeters, and in the next post we’ll review the results and offer some thoughts.

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
1 Glasgow City Council @GlasgowCC 24,016 1,765
2 Edinburgh City Council @Edinburgh_CC 13,054 2,527
3 Newcastle upon Tyne City Council @NewcastleCC 11,992 5,521
4 Belfast City Council @belfastcc 11,639 6,444
5 Manchester City Council @ManCityCouncil 11,313 2,962
6 Cardiff City Council @cardiffcouncil 10,054 4,926
7 Nottingham City Council @MyNottingham 9,374 2,694
8 Leeds City Council @leedscc 9,161 1,838
9 Brighton and Hove City Council @BrightonHoveCC 8,718 7,573
10 Kent County Council @Kent_cc 8,664 2,782
11 Sunderland City Council @SunderlandUK 8,202 7,835
12 Sheffield City Council @SheffCouncil 7,665 5,870
13 Swansea City Council @SwanseaCouncil 7,657 2,750
14 Essex County Council @Essex_CC 7,624 2,481
15 Devon County Council @DevonCC 7,581 3,786
16 South Lanarkshire Council @SouthLanCouncil 7,076 2,471
17 Derbyshire County Council @Derbyshirecc 6,955 2,634
18 Hampshire County Council @hantsconnect 6,892 4,445
19 Fife Council @FifeCouncil 6,522 6,316
20 Norfolk County Council @NorfolkCC 6,484 2,387
21 Lambeth Council @lambeth_council 6,434 1,122
22 Salford City Council @SalfordCouncil 6,399 4,506
23 Birmingham City Council @BCCNewsRoom 6,345 5,747
24 Bristol City Council @BristolCouncil 6,102 1,930
25 Oxford City Council @OxfordCity 5,688 800
26 Nottinghamshire County Council @NottsCC 5,657 3,055
27 Kirklees Council @KirkleesCouncil 5,574 4,502
28 Lewisham Council @LewishamCouncil 5,411 1,967
29 Westminster City Council @CityWestminster 5,392 1,681
30 East Renfrewshire Council @EastRenCouncil 5,372 3,426
31 Cornwall County Council @CornwallCouncil 5,364 2,998
32 North Yorkshire County Council @northyorkscc 5,285 4,164
33 Camden Council @camdentalking 5,227 3,481
34 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council @WalsallCouncil 5,214 12,949
35 Southampton City Council @SouthamptonCC 5,052 3,770
36 Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council @SolihullCouncil 5,030 4,285
37 Coventry City Council @coventrycc 5,014 1,676
38 Dorset Councils online (some Dorset authorities) @dorsetforyou 5,009 2,220
39 Derby City Council @DerbyCC 4,936 1,288
40 Greenwich Council @Royal_Greenwich 4,907 3,125
41 Renfrewshire Council @RenCouncilNews 4,895 1,898
42 Southwark Council @lb_southwark 4,821 1,695
43 Aberdeenshire Council @Aberdeenshire 4,814 2,832
44 Liverpool City Council @lpoolcouncil 4,801 696
45 Lancashire County Council @LancashireCC 4,790 3,500
46 Preston City Council @prestoncouncil 4,747 2,879
47 Bournemouth Borough Council @bournemouthbc 4,726 3,598
48 Wandsworth Borough Council @wandbc 4,673 2,355
49 Stirling Council @StirlingCouncil 4,671 3,061
50 Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council @RochdaleCouncil 4,613 1,703
51 Cheshire West and Chester Council @Go_CheshireWest 4,611 5,424
52 Stoke on Trent City Council @SoTCityCouncil 4,603 6,877
53 Wakefield City Council @MyWakefield 4,579 3,234
54 Hertfordshire County Council @hertscc 4,575 1,187
55 Surrey County Council @SurreyCouncil 4,534 6,585
56 Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council @TamesideCouncil 4,488 2,861
57 Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council @BoltonCouncil 4,479 1,757
58 Medway Council @medway_council 4,401 3,242
59 Staffordshire County Council @StaffordshireCC 4,358 3,637
60 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council @StockportMBC 4,338 1,638
61 Hillingdon Council @Hillingdon 4,333 3,117
62 Lincoln City Council @lincolncouncil 4,307 3,512
63 Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council @GMBCouncil 4,284 1,363
64 Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council @sandwellcouncil 4,249 4,177
65 Fenland District Council @FenlandCouncil 4,234 534
66 Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council @WiganCouncil 4,211 5,424
67 Monmouthshire County Council @MonmouthshireCC 4,109 7,044
68 Norwich City Council @NorwichCC 4,065 958
69 Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council @OldhamCouncil 4,046 3,943
70 Warrington Borough Council @WarringtonBC 4,018 851
71 Dundee City Council @DundeeCouncil 4,010 521
72 Shropshire Council @ShropCouncil 3,965 5,133
73 York City Council @CityofYork 3,950 2,393
74 St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council @sthelenscouncil 3,886 9,514
75 Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council @stocktoncouncil 3,844 4,232
76 Durham County Council @DurhamCouncil 3,811 4,904
77 West Sussex County Council @WSCCNews 3,801 3,794
78 North Devon District Council @ndevoncouncil 3,796 4,950
79 Falkirk Council @falkirkcouncil 3,780 709
80 Vale of Glamorgan Council @VOGCouncil 3,774 1,944
81 Bury Metropolitan Borough Council @BuryCouncil 3,697 2,892
82 Blackpool Council @BpoolCouncil 3,544 3,438
83 Aberdeen City Council @AberdeenCC 3,479 3,741
84 Chorley Borough Council @ChorleyCouncil 3,466 2,303
85 Sutton Council @lbsuttonnews 3,447 2,561
86 Bracknell Forest Borough Council @BracknellForest 3,431 5,245
87 Lincolnshire County Council @LincolnshireCC 3,409 1,201
88 Suffolk County Council @suffolkcc 3,390 849
89 Barnet Council @BarnetCouncil 3,389 1,053
90 Gloucestershire County Council @GlosCC 3,333 2,133
91 Telford and the Wrekin Borough Council @TelfordWrekin 3,282 3,643
92 Hackney Council @hackneyliving 3,279 728
93 Croydon Council @yourcroydon 3,267 2,280
93 Northamptonshire County Council @mycountycouncil 3,267 2,162
95 Southend on Sea Borough Council @SouthendBC 3,215 2,359
96 Oxfordshire County Council @OxfordshireCC 3,201 886
97 Argyll and Bute Council @argyllandbute 3,189 1,360
97 Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council @Calderdale 3,189 1,372
99 Winchester City Council @WinchesterCity 3,151 6,963
100 Cumbria County Council @CumbriaCC 3,150 1,578

Local authorities on Twitter – 200 to 101

This is the third in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. We’re counting down local authorities according to the size of their following, and then considering the results.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which local authorities are seizing the opportunities of social media the most? (Let us know if we’ve got anything wrong and we’ll correct it asap).

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
101 Leicester City Council @Leicester_News 3,142 4,820
102 Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council @blackburndarwen 3,135 2,452
103 East Sussex County Council @EastSussexCC 3,134 2,283
104 South Ayrshire Council @southayrshire 3,097 6,628
105 Burnley Borough Council @burnleycouncil 3,086 1,084
106 Cambridgeshire County Council @CambsCC 3,084 2,575
107 Pembrokeshire County Council @Pembrokeshire 3,074 2,382
108 Wolverhampton City Council @WolvesCouncil 3,066 2,464
109 Islington Council @IslingtonBC 3,040 1,567
110 Brent Council @Brent_Council 2,993 1,111
111 North Ayrshire Council @North_Ayrshire 2,991 2,029
112 Hammersmith and Fulham Council @LBHF 2,981 854
113 Wrexham County Borough Council @wrexhamcbc 2,956 4,476
114 Kingston upon Hull City Council @Hullccnews 2,935 2,283
115 East Ayrshire Council @EastAyrshire 2,875 2,031
116 Highland Council @HighlandCouncil 2,843 2,655
117 Orkney Islands Council @OrkneyCouncil 2,833 254
118 Harlow District Council @HarlowCouncil 2,830 629
119 Redbridge Council @RedbridgeLive 2,825 922
120 Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council @KnowsleyCouncil 2,803 2,270
121 Torfaen County Borough Council @torfaencouncil 2,768 1,663
122 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council @TWellsCouncil 2,736 946
123 South Ribble Borough Council @southribblebc 2,691 720
124 Peterborough City Council @PeterboroughCC 2,687 1,878
125 Reading Borough Council @ReadingCouncil 2,684 850
126 North East Lincolnshire Council @NELincs 2,655 1,131
127 Stratford on Avon District Council @StratfordDC 2,647 1,339
128 Maidstone Borough Council @maidstonebc 2,593 816
129 Bromley Council @LBofBromley 2,591 749
130 Braintree District Council @BraintreeDC 2,589 3,260
131 Richmond upon Thames Council @LBRUT 2,575 2,486
132 West Lothian Council @LoveWestLothian 2,559 4,776
133 Northumberland County Council @N_landCouncil 2,557 3,953
134 Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council @dudleymbc 2,536 2,091
135 Cheltenham Borough Council @CheltenhamBC 2,526 1,739
136 Exeter City Council @ExeterCouncil 2,524 805
137 Babergh District Council @BaberghDistrict 2,509 823
137 Torbay Council @Torbay_Council 2,509 2,403
137 Worcestershire County Council @worcscc 2,509 1,294
140 Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council @NPTCouncil 2,507 1,766
141 Lichfield District Council @Lichfield_DC 2,483 1,660
142 North Lincolnshire Council @NorthLincsCNews 2,472 2,831
143 Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council @TraffordCouncil 2,435 1,979
144 Warwickshire County Council @wcc_news 2,433 4,254
145 Borough of Poole @BoroughofPoole 2,405 1,050
146 Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council @WirralCouncil 2,399 963
147 Cannock Chase District Council @CannockChaseDC 2,368 3,166
148 Bath and North East Somerset Council @bathnes 2,334 3,107
149 Cherwell District Council @Cherwellcouncil 2,282 807
150 Windsor and Maidenhead Royal Borough Council @RBWM 2,278 2,117
151 Lancaster City Council @LancasterCC 2,276 1,262
152 North Somerset District Council @NorthSomersetC 2,267 1,188
153 Tower Hamlets Council @TowerHamletsNow 2,263 341
154 Chelmsford City Council @ChelmsCouncil 2,252 1,776
155 Ealing Council @EalingCouncil 2,245 797
156 Ispwich Borough Council @IspwichGov 2,244 607
157 Darlington Borough Council @darlingtonbc 2,228 4,518
158 Powys County Council @PowysCC 2,209 1,097
159 Perth and Kinross Council @PerthandKinross 2,207 1,526
160 Clackmannanshire Council @ClacksCouncil 2,199 1,653
161 Plymouth City Council @plymouthcc 2,188 2,406
162 Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council @barnsleycouncil 2,169 769
163 Pendle Borough Council @PendleBC 2,153 2,766
164 Thanet District Council @ThanetCouncil 2,129 749
165 Merton Council @Merton_Council 2,117 1,068
166 Thurrock Council @thurrockcouncil 2,113 1,032
167 Flintshire County Council @FlintshireCC 2,093 2,507
168 Wyre Borough Council @wyrecouncil 2,077 714
169 South Oxfordshire District Council @SouthOxon 2,064 736
170 Rugby Borough Council @rugbybc 2,037 1,704
171 City of London @cityoflondon 2,036 633
172 Wokingham Borough Council @WokinghamBC 2,029 1,574
173 Midlothian Council @midgov 2,026 1,012
174 Tandridge District Council @TandridgeDC 2,024 2,095
175 Dover District Council @DoverDC 2,014 691
176 North East Derbyshire District Council @nedDC 2,009 3,054
177 Caerphilly County Borough Council @CaerphillyCBC 1,996 2,528
178 East Lothian Council @ELCouncil 1,994 1,596
179 Newark and Sherwood District Council @NSDCouncil 1,992 1,117
180 Warwick District Council @Warwick_DC 1,988 799
181 Elmbridge Borough Council @ElmbridgeBC 1,984 3,231
182 Gwynedd County Council @CyngorGwynedd 1,984 2,950
183 Middlesbrough Council @MbroCouncil 1,975 644
184 Wycombe District Council @wycombedc 1,965 1,530
185 South Staffordshire District Council @south_staffs 1,955 1,821
186 Eastbourne Borough Council @EastbourneBC 1,948 4,959
187 Rother District Council @RotherDC 1,928 747
188 West Berkshire Council @WestBerkshire 1,923 4,904
189 North Hertfordshire District Council @NorthHertsDC 1,883 1,416
190 North Warwickshire Borough Council @North_Warks_BC 1,882 4,580
191 Bedford Borough Council @BedfordTweets 1,869 764
192 Swindon Borough Council @Swindonnews 1,852 328
193 Cheshire East Council @CheshireEast 1,842 736
194 Lewes District Council @LewesDC 1,837 686
195 Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council @BasingstokeGov 1,795 752
196 East Dunbartonshire Council @EDCouncil 1,787 806
197 South Derbyshire District Council @SDDC 1,784 2,175
198 North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council @NTCouncilTeam 1,768 1,448
199 Fylde Borough Council @fyldecouncil 1,765 4,056
200 Wealden District Council @wealdendistrict 1,758 172

Local authorities on Twitter – 300 to 201

This is the second in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. Over the next week we’re counting down local authorities according to the size of their following, and then considering the results.

As we’ve suggested here before, social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, for think tankscentral governmenttrade bodies and directly elected mayors. We even think it could be used to open-up policy research and development, for example for local authorities to connect with their communities. So which local authorities are seizing the opportunities of social media the most? (Let us know if we’ve got anything wrong and we’ll correct it asap).

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
201 Hastings Borough Council @hastingsbc 1,756 743
202 Eden District Council @EdenCouncil 1,751 1,066
203 Cambridge City Council @camcitco 1,747 930
204 Worcester City Council @myworcester 1,736 2,215
205 Kensington and Chelsea Royal Borough Council @RBKC 1,729 1,502
206 Guildford Borough Council @GuildfordBC 1,710 1,619
207 Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council @MyDoncaster 1,704 1,258
208 Enfield Council @EnfieldCouncil 1,689 590
209 South Hams District Council @SouthHams_DC 1,677 259
210 St Albans District Council @StAlbansCouncil 1,659 703
211 Wiltshire Council @wiltscouncil 1,648 1,223
212 Tamworth Borough Council @TamworthCouncil 1,646 4,277
213 East Riding of Yorkshire Council @East_Riding 1,634 2,050
214 East Dorset District Council @EastDorsetDC 1,629 421
215 Harrow Council @harrow_council 1,620 927
216 Brentwood Borough Council @Brentwood_BC 1,618 1,070
217 Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council @BlaenauGwentCBC 1,615 1,028
218 Bromsgrove District Council @BromsgroveDC 1,607 412
219 North Kesteven District Council @NorthKestevenDC 1,599 878
220 Denbighshire County Council @DenbighshireCC 1,587 1,106
221 Portsmouth City Council @portsmouthtoday 1,571 1,280
222 Leicestershire County Council @LeicsCountyHall 1,560 1,055
223 Crawley Borough Council @crawleybc 1,558 1,626
224 Luton Borough Council @lutoncouncil 1,552 1,387
225 Hertsmere Borough Council @HertsmereBC 1,546 2,235
226 Sefton Council @seftoncouncil 1,542 268
227 Broxtowe Borough Council @broxtowebc 1,513 2,616
228 South Lakeland District Council @SouthLakelandDC 1,512 760
229 Northampton Borough Council @NorthamptonBC 1,497 959
229 Reigate and Banstead Borough Council @reigatebanstead 1,497 595
231 Gloucester City Council @GloucesterCity 1,472 590
232 Basildon Borough Council @BasildonCouncil 1,468 1,456
233 Rushcliffe Borough Council @Rushcliffe 1,458 876
234 Bolsover District Council @BolsoverDC 1,456 406
235 Rossendale Borough Council @RossendaleBC 1,445 1,362
236 Colchester Borough Council @yourcolchester 1,441 858
237 Buckinghamshire County Council @buckscc 1,428 923
238 Dacorum Borough Council @DacorumBC 1,411 768
239 Epping Forest District Council @eppingforestdc 1,407 674
240 Chichester District Council @ChichesterDC 1,402 1,869
241 Bradford Council @Bradfordmdc 1,398 1,243
242 Stevenage Borough Council @StevenageBC 1,396 777
243 Daventry District Council @DaventryDC 1,387 682
244 Selby District Council @SelbyDC 1,368 682
245 Newcastle under Lyme Borough Council @NewsNBC 1,346 1,885
246 Eastleigh Borough Council @EastleighBC 1,321 1,172
247 West Dunbartonshire Council @WDCouncil 1,313 561
248 East Lindsey District Council @EastLindseyDC 1,308 1,582
248 South Gloucestershire Council @sgloscouncil 1,308 759
250 Welwyn Hatfield District Council @WelHatCouncil 1,299 1,353
251 Hounslow Council @LBofHounslow 1,298 1,664
252 Richmondshire District Council @RichmondshireDC 1,296 148
253 Vale of White Horse District Council @WhiteHorseDC 1,275 436
254 Hambleton District Council @HambletonDC 1,274 1,244
255 South Somerset District Council @Southsomersetdc 1,267 640
256 Ryedale District Council @RyedaleDC 1,266 427
256 Watford Borough Council @WatfordCouncil 1,266 707
258 Suffolk Coastal District Council @SuffolkCoastal 1,259 863
259 Three Rivers District Council @ThreeRiversDC 1,240 2,377
260 Shepway District Council @shepwaydc 1,239 499
261 Herefordshire County Council @HfdsCouncil 1,223 1,797
262 Maldon District Council @MaldonDC 1,193 1,275
263 New Forest District Council @newforestdc 1,192 201
264 Gedling Borough Council @GedlingBC 1,182 1,040
265 South Cambridgeshire District Council @SouthCambs 1,150 1,437
266 Great Yarmouth Borough Council @greatyarmouthbc 1,142 1,012
267 Fareham Borough Council @FarehamBC 1,132 2,902
268 Central Bedfordshire Council @letstalkcentral 1,124 3,357
269 Scottish Borders Council @scotborders 1,118 564
270 Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council @RMBCPress 1,115 2,215
271 Dumfries and Galloway Council @dgcouncil 1,114 313
272 Scarborough Borough Council @ScarboroCouncil 1,096 1,043
273 East Hertfordshire District Council @EastHerts 1,091 374
274 Angus Council @AngusCouncil 1,082 1,185
275 Wychavon District Council @Wychavon 1,080 888
276 East Northamptonshire District Council @ENCouncil 1,078 1,220
277 St Edmundsbury Borough Council @stedsbc 1,073 107
278 Halton Borough Council @HaltonBC 1,067 770
278 South Kesteven District Council @southkesteven 1,067 416
280 Moray Council @TheMorayCouncil 1,063 730
281 Conwy County Borough Council @ConwyCBC 1,052 702
282 Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council @hinckandbos_bc 1,049 752
283 Slough Borough Council @SloughCouncil 1,040 1,357
284 Allerdale Borough Council @allerdale 997 3,785
285 West Lancashire Borough Council @Westlancsbc 996 583
286 Inverclyde Council @inverclyde 978 493
287 Milton Keynes Council @mkcouncil 970 295
288 Havering Council @LBofHavering 969 500
289 Mole Valley District Council @MoleValleyDC 949 1,747
290 Bexley Council @whatsoninbexley 943 1,141
291 Ashford Borough Council @AshfordCouncil 942 370
292 Copeland Borough Council @copelandbc 911 1,169
293 Swale Borough Council @SwaleCouncil 909 248
294 Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council @WestNorfolkBC 905 548
295 Waveney District Council @waveneydc 896 901
296 Isle of Wight Council @iwight 875 508
297 Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council @NBBCouncil 870 274
298 East Devon District Council @eastdevon 862 451
299 East Staffordshire Borough Council @eaststaffsbc 855 1,578
300 Redditch Borough Council @RedditchMatters 851 576

Local authorities on Twitter – 395 to 301

This is the first in a series of posts on local authorities’ use of Twitter. Over the next week we’re counting down local authorities according to their followers.

It’s not that we think that Twitter is the be-all-and-end-all of political communication, but as we’ve suggested before – in relation to think tanks, central government, trade bodies and directly elected mayors – social media is a cheap and easy way to engage stakeholders, and even to open-up policy research and development. So which local authorities are seizing the opportunities of social media, and which aren’t (those marked with ‘n/a’ in the table below)? Let us know if we’ve got anything wrong and we will of course correct it – and we welcome your thoughts.

No. Local authority Twitter name No. of followers No. of tweets
301 Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council @MerthyrCBC 825 470
302 Woking Borough Council @wokingcouncil 796 59
303 Carlisle City Council @CarlisleCC 785 326
303 Test Valley Borough Council @TestValleyBC 785 302
305 Blaby District Council @BlabyDC 777 973
306 Derry City Council @derrycc 766 126
307 North Lanarkshire Council @NLanarkshire 755 0
307 Tendring District Council @Tendring_DC 755 479
309 Newport City Council @NewportCouncil 752 355
310 Waverley Borough Council @WaverleyBC 727 736
311 Barking and Dagenham Council @lbbdcouncil 723 288
312 Teignbridge District Council @Teignbridge 721 425
313 Surrey Heath Borough Council @Surreyheath 717 1.572
314 Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council @RedcarCleveland 707 843
315 Newtownabbey Borough Council @NewtownabbeyBC 698 679
316 Stafford Borough Council @Staffordbc 670 292
317 Melton Borough Council @MeltonBC 657 1,127
318 Breckland District Council @BreckCouncil 610 624
319 Hyndburn Borough Council @HyndburnCouncil 604 754
320 Craven District Council @CravenCouncil 602 340
321 Stroud District Council @StroudDC 570 220
322 Hartlepool Borough Council @HpoolCouncil 568 648
323 Adur District Council @adurandworthing 558 440
323 Charnwood Borough Council @CharnwoodBC 558 885
323 Worthing Borough Council @adurandworthing 558 440
326 West Lindsey District Council @WestLindseyDC 520 914
327 Spelthorne Borough Council @SpelthorneBC 511 88
328 Forest of Dean District Council @FoDDC 503 324
329 Derbyshire Dales District Council @derbyshiredales 502 1,427
330 Mansfield District Council @MDC_News 498 355
331 West Somerset District Council @wsomerset 493 549
332 Rutland County Council @rutlandcouncil 479 541
333 Carmarthenshire County Council @CarmsCCPress 472 412
334 Canterbury City Council @TweetCanterbury 443 111
335 Cookstown District Council @visit_cookstown 437 376
336 Haringey Council @haringeycouncil 436 117
337 Bridgend County Borough Council @BridgendCBC 434 402
338 Bassetlaw District Council @BassetlawDC 432 55
339 West Oxfordshire District Council @WodcNews 429 373
340 South Norfolk District Council @SNorfolkCouncil 428 303
341 Cotswold District Council @CotswoldDC 413 523
342 Ceredigion County Council @CeredigionCC 409 349
343 Barrow in Furness Borough Council @BarrowCouncil 402 402
343 Sevenoaks District Council @SDC_newsdesk 402 151
345 Horsham District Council @HorshamDC 392 420
346 Malvern Hills District Council @MHDCcomms 391 67
347 Mid Suffolk District Council @MidSuffolk 386 267
348 Western Isles Council @cne_siar 368 44
349 Wyre Forest District Council @WyreForestDC 359 428
350 Harborough District Council @HarboroughDC 336 340
351 Newham Council @NewhamLondon 328 170
352 Chesterfield Borough Council @ChesterfieldBC 317 87
353 Rochford District Council @RochfordDC 313 546
354 Castle Point Borough Council @CastlePointBC 307 170
355 High Peak Borough Council @HighPeakBC 297 179
356 Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames @RBKingston 294 98
357 Rushmoor Borough Council @RushmoorCouncil 290 291
358 Amber Valley Borough Council @OurAmberValley 282 216
359 South Northamptonshire District Council @SNorthantsC 279 154
360 Uttlesford District Council @UttlesfordDC 265 141
361 West Devon Borough Council @WestDevon_BC 258 193
362 Broadland District Council @BroadlandDC 256 203
363 Epsom and Ewell Borough Council @EpsomEwellBC 253 274
364 East Hampshire District Council @EastHantsDC 242 59
365 Arun District Council @ArunDistrict 235 293
366 Erewash Borough Council @ErewashBC 211 34
367 Craigavon Borough Council @craigavonc 208 325
368 Huntingdonshire District Council @huntsdc 189 56
369 Tewkesbury Borough Council @TewkesburyBCgov 188 283
370 Boston Borough Council @Bostonboro 187 220
371 Sedgemoor District Council @SedgemoorDC 185 238
372 Havant Borough Council @HavantBorough 180 118
373 Torridge District Council @torridgedc 171 221
374 Somerset County Council @SomersetCouncil 147 0
375 East Cambridgeshire District Council @liveastcambs 146 151
376 Forest Heath District Council @forestheath 118 16
377 Mid Devon District Council @MidDevonDC 118 26
378 Newry and Mourne District Council @newrymournedc 96 51
379 Chiltern District Council @ChilternCouncil 88 32
380 Mid Sussex District Council @MSDCNews 83 0
381 Dartford Borough Council @dartfordcouncil 79 0
382 Carrickfergus Borough Council @CarrickfergusBC 72 76
383 Coleraine Borough Council @ColeraineBC 61 90
384 Down District Council @DownDCofficial 60 136
385 Waltham Forest Council @WalthamForestCo 40 1
386 South Bucks District Council @SouthBucksDC 34 13
387 North Dorset District Council @northdorset 33 4
388 Shetland Islands Council @ShetIslandsCll 26 17
389 South Holland District Council @SHollandDC 24 0
390 Antrim Borough Council @AntrimBCouncil 23 0
391 Oadby and Wigston Borough Council @Oadby_Wigston 4 5
392 Moyle District Council @moylecouncil 3 2
393 Gravesham Borough Council @graveshambc 1 0
394 Harrogate Borough Council @HarrogateBC 0 0
394 Kettering Borough Council @Kettering_BC 0 0
  Ards Borough Council n/a    
  Armagh City Council n/a    
  Ashfield District Council n/a    
  Aylesbury Vale District Council n/a    
  Ballymena Borough Council n/a    
  Ballymoney Borough Council n/a    
  Banbridge District Council n/a    
  Broxbourne Borough Council n/a    
  Castlereagh Borough Council n/a    
  Christchurch Borough Council n/a    
  Corby Borough Council n/a    
  Dorset County Council n/a    
  Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council n/a    
  Fermanagh District Council n/a    
  Gosport Borough Council n/a    
  Hart District Council n/a    
  Isle of Anglesey County Council n/a    
  Isles of Scilly Council n/a    
  Larne Borough Council n/a    
  Limavady Borough Council n/a    
  Lisburn City Council n/a    
  Magherafelt District Council n/a    
  Mendip District Council n/a    
  North Down Borough Council n/a    
  North Norfolk District Council n/a    
  North West Leicestershire District Council n/a    
  Omagh District Council n/a    
  Purbeck District Council n/a    
  Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council n/a    
  Ribble Valley Borough Council n/a    
  Runneymede Borough Council n/a    
  South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council n/a    
  Staffordshire Moorlands District Council n/a    
  Strabane District Council n/a    
  Taunton Deane District Council n/a    
  Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council n/a    
  Wellingborough Borough Council n/a    
  West Dorset District Council n/a    
  Weymouth and Portland Borough Council n/a    

Are directly elected mayors making use of social media?

We’ve been blogging over the past couple of weeks about how various bodies – think tanks, commissioners, civil servants and trade bodies – can make better use of social media such as Twitter. In this post we consider how directly elected mayors can use social media in their work – and share some observations from a brief piece of work we have just undertaken to look at their Twitter presence.

Everyone knows that we’re witnessing an increasing democratic deficit, with cynicism about politicians rife and voter turnout at elections declining. It is increasingly urgent that we find ways to reconnect politics, politicians and voters. Greater localism and devolution is seen by many commentators as the answer to this challenge, with directly elected mayors as an important part of revitalising local political engagement (although it’s been a difficult birth, with the recent referendum in 10 cities resulting in only one switch to a mayoral system in Bristol). Social media has an important role to play in providing a means for directly elected mayors and other local elected representatives to engage in a direct conversation with the people they represent – so are they using it?

With one obvious exception, the answer is ‘no’. Directly elected mayors are largely missing out on the opportunities of social media. We looked at the 16 directly elected mayors across the UK and found that only eight of these have an active official Twitter account (in further two cases – Sir Peter Soulsby in Leicester and Stuart Drummond in Hartlepool – we aren’t sure whether the account is actually theirs, and in any case neither have ever sent a tweet).

In terms of total Twitter following, the winners are:

Elected mayor No of followers
1. Boris Johnson, London 332,580
2. Joe Anderson, Liverpool 2,127
3. Dave Hodgson, Bedford 1,364
4. Dorothy Thornhill, Watford 1,157
5. Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets 1,029

The most prolific tweeters are:

Elected mayor No of tweets
1. Boris Johnson, London 2,096
2. Dave Hodgson, Bedford 1,132
3. Dorothy Thornhill, Watford 1,074
4. Joe Anderson, Liverpool 470
5. Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets 255

Mayor Boris Johnson is the obvious outlier, due to his national political profile and the fact that he is mayor of the UK’s capital. Overall, the social media reach of directly elected mayors, at least measured by Twitter, is small.

Not only this, but it’s often hard to find some elected mayors on local authorities’ corporate websites, for example Mayor Tony Egginton in Mansfield doesn’t have any pages devoted to him on its website. Mayor Ian Stewart in Salford had a campaign Twitter account (@stewart4salford) which has now been taken down and not replaced. It is understandable that this account might be suspended to comply with electoral law, but over in Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson is continuing to use his campaign account (@joeforliverpool).

We are particularly surprised that independent mayors and those from smaller parties are not making more use of Twitter to build their profile. Both Mayor Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough and Mayor Peter Davies in Doncaster don’t appear to have an official account. Given that Twitter is proving to be an invaluable research tool for journalists, this seems even more surprising. Liberal Democrat mayors do however seem to be more fluent with social media compared to those from other parties.

The missed opportunity here is that social media offers significant benefits to directly elected mayors, for example to:

  • Connect with voters using a cheap and easy way to communicate;
  • Build their profile both in their local community and more widely;
  • Engage in an open, transparent dialogue with voters about their concerns;
  • Cut through traditional media by developing an independent news feed that they can control;
  • Ensure that they are seen as accessible and open to voters.

Given that directly elected mayors are seen by the Government as a way to reconnect voters with politics at a grassroots level, we had expected to see much greater use of this medium as a way to engage in civic dialogue. The simple finding is that mayors are missing out.

As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcome – including via Twitter on @guerillapolicy and @newthinktankuk, this blog, and on our homepage.

Directly elected mayors on Twitter

The list below shows the elected mayor, the place and party they represent, their Twitter name, number of followers and number of tweets. The list was up to date as at 1st July 2012. Eight out of 16 elected mayors have an active official Twitter account.

Mayor City / Town Party Twitter name No of followers No of tweets
Boris Johnson London Conservative @MayorofLondon 332,580 2,096
Joe Anderson Liverpool Labour @joeforliverpool 2,127 470
Dave Hodgson Bedford Liberal Democrat @DaveTheMayor 1,364 1,132
Dorothy Thornhill Watford Liberal Democrat @MayorDorothy 1,157 1,074
Lutfur Rahman Tower Hamlets Independent @MayorLutfur 1,029 255
Sir Steve Bullock Lewisham Labour @mayorbullock 955 199
Tony Egginton Mansfield Independent @MayorEgg 418 205
Sir Peter Soulsby Leicester Labour @SirPeterSoulsby 182 0
Stuart Drummond Hartlepool Independent @HartlepoolMayor 81 0
Linda Arkley North Tyneside Conservative @Linda_arkley 67 38
Ian Stewart Salford Labour n/a n/a n/a
Gordon Oliver Torbay Conservative n/a n/a n/a
Sir Robin Wales Newham Labour n/a n/a n/a
Ray Mallon Middlesbrough Independent n/a n/a n/a
Jules Pipe Hackney Labour n/a n/a n/a
Peter Davies Doncaster English Democrats n/a n/a n/a

How can civil servants make better use of social media?

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been posting on how various bodies – think tanks, commissioners of public services, and trade bodies – can make better use of social media such as Twitter. In this post we consider how civil servants can use social media in their work – and suggest why many of them aren’t at the moment.

Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service, has recently been explaining why he sees social media as a vital tool for the civil service and why he’s on Twitter himself (@sirbobkerslake). Kerslake acknowledges that social media is changing the way government works, and says it will have an increasingly important role to play in formulating and delivering government policy. Significantly, he recognises that social media isn’t a ‘one-way’ broadcast medium, rather the civil service should embrace social media as a means of listening to and engaging both with staff and the public at all stages in the policy process. This is a radical and progressive view.

It’s a pity then that the advice government is giving itself fails to reflect this. The Government Digital Service and Home Office recently launched new guidance on social media for civil servants called Lets Get Social [sic]. The first paragraph of the guidance certainly supports Kerslake’s vision: “The Government wants to be part of the conversation; understands that it cannot do everything alone or in isolation and will work with those who can and are willing to help.” Yet most of the guidance’s ‘Ten tips for using social media’ are defensive – they aren’t so much encouragements to experiment with social media, rather warnings not to screw-up:

  1. “Have a clear idea of your objectives in using social media (behaviour change/service delivery/consultation/communication);
  2. Learn the rules of each social media space before engaging;
  3. Abide by the Civil Service Code and ask for advice if you are not sure;
  4. Remember an official account belongs to the Department not the individual;
  5. Communicate where your citizens are;
  6. Build relationships with your stakeholders on and offline – social media is just one of many communication channels;
  7. Try not to channel shift citizens backwards (move from email to telephone for example);
  8. Do not open a channel of communication you cannot maintain;
  9. Understand when a conversation should be taken offline;
  10. Do not engage with users who are aggressive/abusive.”

Of course, government is a sensitive business, and its business needs to be handled sensitively. But advice like this seems more likely to inhibit than inspire civil servants to explore the potential of social media (for a more positive and hopefully encouraging alternative, see our own ‘Five top tips for think tanks in using social media’).

Moreover, as in any organisation it helps if leaders model the behaviours they wish to see in employees. Why then do only six of the civil service’s 38 leaders have Twitter accounts (highlighted in bold in the table below). It’s not as if these people have to tweet themselves (many very busy leaders in organisations authorise others to tweet or blog on their behalf). While we wouldn’t expect the heads of MI5 and MI6 (pictured above) to be tweeting furiously about what they’re up to, it does seem odd that the Permanent Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport doesn’t have his own social media presence. The rest of government needs to be less like the Secret Intelligence Service and more like an open intelligence service – inviting and drawing on expertise and insight wherever it is.

The irony is that the Government agrees. As part of its efficiency and reform agenda, the Government is pushing for more of its services to be ‘digital by default’. It also thinks that more of its work should be conducted using networked technologies and social media. Last week the Government published its civil service reform plan, which includes some very interesting and potentially radical ideas on ‘open policymaking’, for example through:

  • commissioning policy development from outside organisations such as think tanks;
  • crowdsourcing questions to shape the definition of the problem (not just consulting on solutions);
  • using ‘Policy Lab’s to draw in expertise from a range of people and organisations and test new policies before they are implemented;
  • making more data available freely so experts can test and challenge approaches effectively; and
  • using web-based tools, platforms, and new media to widen access to policy debates to individuals and organisations not normally involved.

If you’ve read this blog before, you won’t be surprised to hear that we think all of these ideas are worth further consideration and development. But if leading civil servants aren’t using something as simple as Twitter to tell us what they’re doing – if they aren’t personally confident that social media is worthwhile – what does this suggest about their appetite to use technology to open-up policymaking?

As ever, your thoughts and comments are welcome – including via Twitter on @guerillapolicy and @newthinktankuk, this blog, and on our homepage.

Civil service leadership (those with Twitter accounts are in bold)

The table below is taken from the civil service website here. However, the published list is substantially out-of-date. This is hardly a good sign for a Government that wants to be ‘digital by default’. Guys, please update your own staff list! The list is inaccurate in the following ways:

  • Jon Cuncliffe has become the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU;
  • Peter Ricketts is now British Ambassador to France – replaced by Sir Kim Darroch;
  • Philip Rutnam is the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport;
  • Lin Homer is Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary at HMRC;
  • Ursula Brennan is the new Permanent Secretary at the MoJ;
  • The MOD’s Director General for Security Policy, Tom McKane, has become the acting Permanent Secretary;
  • The Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service is Dr Malcolm McKibbin, Permanent Secretary of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister;
  • Richard Heaton is the First Parliamentary Counsel;
  • Gillian Morgan has announced she is retiring.

However, this doesn’t affect the overall result – professional Twitter use by the senior civil service leadership is very, very limited.

Sir Jeremy Heywood Cabinet Office (Cabinet Secretary)
Sir Bob Kerslake (@sirbobkerslake) Head of the Civil Service & Permanent Secretary for Communities and Local Government
Ian Watmore (@ianwatmore) Cabinet Office (Efficiency and Reform) (but he’s just about to leave the civil service)
Sir Jon Cuncliffe Cabinet Office (International Economic Affairs and Europe)
Sir Peter Ricketts Cabinet Office (Security)
Keir Starmer QC Crown Prosecution Service
Martin Donnelly Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Jonathan Stephens Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Chris Wormald Department for Education
Bronwyn Hill Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Mark Lowcock (@DFID_Mark) Department for International Development (but he has only sent two tweets)
Lin Homer Department for Transport
Robert Devereux Department for Work and Pensions
Darra Singh Department for Work and Pensions (Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus)
Moira Wallace Department of Energy and Climate Change
Una O’Brien Department of Health
Professor Dame Sally Davies Department of Health (Chief Medical Officer)
Sir David Nicholson Department of Health (NHS Chief Executive)
Simon Fraser Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Professor Sir John Beddington (@uksciencechief) Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Iain Lobban Government Communications Headquarters
Dave Hartnett (@D_Hartnett_HMRC) HM Revenue and Customs (Second Permanent Secretary) (but he has never sent a tweet)
Sir Nicholas Macpherson HM Treasury
Tom Scholar HM Treasury (Second Permanent Secretary)
Dame Helen Ghosh Home Office
Ursula Brennan (@urs18) Ministry of Defence (but she has a private account, and has only sent 13 tweets)
Bernard Gray Ministry of Defence (Chief of Defence Material)
Professor Mark Welland Ministry of Defence (Chief Scientific Adviser)
Jon Day Ministry of Defence (Second Permanent Secretary)
Sir Suma Chakrabarti Ministry of Justice
Sir Bruce Robinson Northern Ireland Civil Service
Sir Stephen Laws Office of the Parliamentary Counsel
Sir Peter Housden Scottish Government
Sir John Sawers Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
Jonathan Evans Security Service (MI5)
Paul Jenkins Treasury Solicitor’s Department
Jil Matheson UK Statistics Authority
Dame Gillian Morgan Welsh Assembly Government

How can trade bodies make greater use of social media to improve the impact of their policy and research work?

How can trade bodies make greater use of social media to improve the impact of their policy and research work? Chris Sherwood, Co-Founder of Guerilla Policy and Director of Innovation and Development at Scope, argues that public sector trade bodies could make much greater use of social media to improve the impact of their policy and research work.

The lifeblood of trade bodies is to represent the interests of their members effectively to Government. Generating impact from their policy and research work is critical to both maintain confidence of members but also to ensure that their organisations have a credible platform from which to lobby from. Social media can help to achieve this – especially if trade bodies wish to set the agenda not just respond to it.

Like many people in my position, I’m often invited to meetings held by trade bodies, which are intended to try to capture and reflect the views of their member organisations. I tend to take a lot away from them and, like many participants, I appreciate the opportunity to network at these events. I recently took part in a consultation event on one area of government policy, which involved drawing together 40-50 individuals from the leading organisations in the sector to discuss a series of policy recommendations to improve this area of policy. The event was summarized in a report that was submitted to the Government. It was a well-attended event and a good quality report emerged as a result. However, it also prompted me to think: how could social media have helped to achieve a better outcome?

At the moment, we’re thinking about the wider application of Guerilla Policy. Guerilla Policy is an experiment in how research and policy development can be opened up through the use of social media and the internet generally. Could this approach be applied to trade bodies in order to generate greater impact from their policy and research work? On this blog we’ve already discussed the potential benefits that could be gained from social media to the development of policy and research, especially by inviting collaboration from a wider group of people who use and provide public services. These lessons, we believe, also apply to trade bodies.

Social media can help trade bodies in the following ways:

  • Help them to work collaboratively with their members to set the policy agenda in an open and transparent way;
  • Reduce the costs of involvement such as travel and time costs;
  • Enable ongoing dialogue between members and trade bodies, which allows for greater time for reflection and consideration;
  • Provide greater transparency over what happens to the contributions that people make, so that they can see the connection between the ideas they offer up and the final product;
  • Engage more people, in particular frontline practitioners and service users who bring a different perspective on the issues to hand;
  • Strengthen relationships between trade bodies and their membership and in particular to deepen these by engaging more people in member organisations;
  • Hook the media early on in order to build interest, rather than relying on a press release at the end of a project.

Social media offers other possibilities for trade bodies. A dedicated social media community would also enable trade bodies to conduct quick trawls for case studies and evidence to enable them to respond to an increasingly fast media cycle or to collaborate more effectively with partners. Finding the right case study to articulate your ‘policy ask’ can often be critical in generating interest. Social media enables also trade bodies to expand their networks, and since many journalists already use Twitter as a main news source when researching articles, trade bodies need to increase their social media visibility if they are to continue to be heard.

There are obvious barriers to adopting such an approach, not least that this way of working could be quite different to the way that some of the organisational members of trade bodies work. Developing policy in an open and collaborative way might also be daunting – what happens if you arrive at a different conclusion to the one you expected? There are also concerns about accessibility of this kind of technology, since generally-speaking social media is more popular with younger workers.

Yet the benefits are likely to come in terms of the impact of trade bodies’ work. The Spartacus Report is a model to learn from – but also a warning. This report on welfare reform was developed by disabled activists using social media. The impact was significant with it trending no 1 on Twitter before hitting mainstream media including Newsnight. This example shows that in a crowded media agenda, it is important to think creatively in order to cut through on behalf of members and their issues. It also points to a potential risk for trade bodies in that they could face competition from groups who can claim to represent their members, as social media facilitates the formation of new common interest groups.

Social media offers up a range of possibilities for trade bodies to increase the impact of their policy and research work on behalf of their members. It allows them to strengthen their relationships with their members, gives them a better chance to cut through, represent their members and ultimately influence Government policy.

How could commissioners make greater use of social media?

How could commissioners make greater use of social media? Chris Sherwood, Co-Founder of Guerilla Policy and Director of Innovation and Development at Scope argues that commissioners should use social media as a way to collaborate with citizens to open up commissioning.

In the previous two blogs I have argued that an open, iterative approach to commissioning where citizens and providers collaborate with commissioners will ultimately lead to better, cheaper services.  In this blog I will consider how social media can be utilised by commissioners to achieve this objective.

Social media is an important tool that commissioners are missing out on. As I’ve suggested previously, social media is a way to engage a wider community of people around a particular issue and allows for the discovery of new ideas and networks of people. Commissioning is a complex, multi-disciplinary process, which involves a range of disciplines including research, analysis and evaluation – all areas where social media could play a helpful role. To adopt social media at scale in the commissioning landscape means that the expected skill set and training offered to commissioners would need to change to include social media as a key part of this.

Social media also offers up the opportunities for professionals to collaborate with each other, which has been pointed out in a comment from Alex Kenmure at Camden Council on an earlier blog post. In developing Guerilla Policy, we have considered its potential as a platform to facilitate collaboration between professionals within a sector as well as between sectors. Commissioners, whose numbers are under pressure, often don’t get the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with each other or with potential providers. Social media could really help in this regard.

As I’ve argued in the first blog in this series, commissioning is often effectively a ‘closed shop’. I was involved in one recent national commissioning opportunity. The funding stream was a brand new one that targeted troubled families, and the government department launched a consultation exercise with prospective bidders on the proposed programme. The programme also involved close cooperation with local government (as they would be the source of referrals), yet they were not involved in this consultation and instead bidders were asked to contact them as part of the four-week commissioning window. The approach to involvement of these stakeholders was weak and rather late in the day, which meant that the ability to influence of the design of the programme was constrained.

Social media could have added significant value here as a cost-effective platform to facilitate a wider discussion between prospective service users, local authorities and providers. This example also points to a wider challenge that Guerilla Policy seeks to address, which is that too often the people who use and provide services are involved to comment (at best) on an already defined agenda rather than being involved in setting the agenda.

How could social media help? The commissioning cycle could be re-imagined as an iterative rather than linear process. The way we commission involves a number of different skills and disciplines, which a linear process could draw out and utilise. Safeguards could easily be built into the process to protect the interests of taxpayers, providers and service users.

This argument isn’t really about specific social media platforms or technologies but rather is about how to open up commissioning to wider participation of a community of interest for which social media could be a valuable tool.  As a starter for ten the following areas of the commissioning cycle strike me as primed for opening up using social media:

  • Undertaking a population needs assessment – could this be crowdsourced? The needs assessment conducted by the public body could be shared publicly as part of the commissioning process with comments invited from the community on the analysis that has been reached.
  • Developing tendering documentation – could suggestions be generated through a community blog site? Could aspects of the documentation (e.g. the outcomes the service is looking to achieve) be shared publicly with comment invited?
  • Scoring and selection of proposals – whilst this is a sensitive area because of commercial sensitivity, could a closed community (and anonymising of bids) be used to crowd source the scoring of bids?
  • Evaluation and monitoring – could users be invited to blog or upload a film to a YouTube channel documenting their experience and feedback on the service commissioned? Social media can play a role as a research tool, e.g. a hashtag could be set up on Twitter and this could be used as a way to trawl for comments and people to be invited.

Community Budgets, which are being piloted in 16 different areas to support families with complex problems (involving 28 different local authorities) and the recent announcement of whole-place and neighbourhood-level pilots, both offer up opportunities to experiment with social media. These pilots are designed to make better use of resources including local knowledge, community assets and voluntary effort, and afford greater control to local people over services. Making use of social media as part of the commissioning process could offer real benefits to these communities.

Ultimately this comes back to culture. Are we prepared to take risks and try something new? Social media can help to open up commissioning. It means that commissioners could involve a wider community ensuring both greater accountability and buy-in to commission services that deliver better outcomes, potentially for less money. Where and how do you think that social media could be applied in commissioning?  What are the constraints and where are the opportunities? Tell us what you think.