Ideas to turn Birmingham City Council from a monolithic black box to a living, communicative, organisation that has numerous communication strategies and methods, points of access, and voices. To do that it will need to have clear rules and standards that allow it to be flexible in approach.
Become ‘Crystal Mark’ Council: all council comms to conform to Plain English Campaign guidelines (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/crystal-mark.html ).
Democratise Council Comms: radically alter the way the PR/Comms dept works, smart collaborative working, working more in public, more devolution to people who do the council’s work (openness about jobs, roles, initiatives — including internal networks). The job of the comms dept should be to facilitate information getting out, not to spin or prevent.
Targeted Electronic Comms: learning more about Brummies and getting information to them in a faster and more specific way. Allow them to opt out of paper communication—save money.
Open Processes: agendas online for all public-facing meetings before they happen, comments allowed and public. Officers trained to bring relevant information and opinion into the meeting. All meetings streamed and available as recorded online. All voting and attendance records available in theyworkforyou.com style.
Transparent/open 311: Phone, online, office based, letters — all public/council contact displayed online once privacy issues have been taken care of (encourage other agencies to feed in to this). Allows people to see actions of council, and the data can be used to better target resources. Will require refocus of methods of public contact with council (inc Service Birmingham).
Public-first for all data created by Council: unless there are privacy issues.
Proactive FOI: aim to reduce number of FOI requests by publishing information before it’s asked for and making it easy to find. At a base level information requested should be published and updated from thereon in.
Data analysis and infographics to be part of comms: The city’s information is like its parks — public, open spaces with facilities curated for common good. Have to accept that not a huge audience is interested in the data itself; but important learnings need to be curated and shared.
A Public Advocate’s office: home to a highly visible team or named officer with responsibility to help residents through maze of council comms and process (public advocates could be new name/role for neighbourhood managers, or even councillors). US cities often have this as an elected post and give the PA increased ombudsman-style responsibility, ours would be more about access and organisation change.
A Consultation ‘API’: an API is a series of rules for interaction with a system, which allows others to perform parts of tasks and feed back into the system at defined points. Here, this is not a specifically electronic thing: more a system of rules, processes, access points, and guidance to let citizens and groups conduct engagement and consultation and feed it directly into council process. There wouldn’t have to be an ‘official consultation’ open for the public to gather and submit opinions. Hope to, within this, formalise a “better petitioning” system that isn’t about ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but contains nuance.
Representative comms: training and support for Councillors in public comms, connected to a “contract” about availability and response to the public.
NB. birmingham.gov.uk : it’s possible that many of the ideas above will require a more flexible, well-ordered, better designed (yes in terms of look, but mainly in user experience) , differently focused, and better staffed Internet presence — getting this right is a big overarching problem but one that can be tackled starting from day one.