June 14, 2010
Titus and I had a wonderful opportunity this past week to speak to civic leaders at the Ontario Municipal Administrators Association about the importance of engaging online websites, social media, and open data. The underlying theme of the day was that better engagement from the city/regions results in better citizenship engagement and an overall improvement to the quality of life in those regions.
We had some tough questions from the audience around social media policies; where do the lines between personal liberties and freedom of expression cross into professional conduct and employment agreements. We were very grateful for the additional insight provided by Dennis Flaherty from the City of Markham around the importance of having a good, clearly communicated policies AND social media training in place.
Both Titus and Dennis brought up that the challenges with social media and employees excercising poor judgement in a public forum is not a new challenge, and in fact many of the employment contracts already have provisions in them that protect the municipality in the event that employees are excercising poor judgement, provided the aforementioned policies and procedures are in place.
One interesting point that came out during the question and answer period is the lack of information around community pages on Facebook, and a general lack of participation in Wikipedia. A challenge I’ve put out to attendees from the session is to task someone within your team to ensure that your municipality is participating in generating the content for both community pages and on Wikipedia.
During the presentation, we showed some examples of some websites that do a great job of broadcasting out information to their constituents:
We also discussed Social Media Policy and suggested a starting point could be our own social media policy generator:
There is a lots of information about social media and to get a handle on the scope, popularity, and sheer importance of it all, we recommend the excellenet Socialnomics video:
We gave some examples of what some municipalities and citizen groups have been able to do with Open Data:
And suggested that if there was interest in learning more, some great resources are;
- A great resource for open data discussion/dialogue – www.eaves.ca
- Our blog (you’re on it!)
- Another passionate individual on the topic of Open Data talks at TED
Our slide deck was mostly visuals to aide in the discussion, but here are the key talking points per section:
- We are living in an age of participation and websites need to encourage that
- Avoid using “closed” file formats that require additionally programs to open, such as PDFs
- Start using RSS Feeds to push content to citizens
- Conversations are happening online and municipalities should be part of that
- Content should be engaging and connect citizens with services
- Explore the POST method to develop a strategy
- Help your Citizens – Do more, with less
- Engage Citizens in Public Policy debate
- Better sharing of data across government lines
- Create new, innovative technologies
- Crowd source solutions
- Enable new, commercial applications
We wrapped up the session by issuing a challenge to all present to work harder to position their Municipalities as leaders in these areas. The changes we’ve seen in the first decade of the 21st century are only the tip of the iceberg and there is no better time to get involved.