The results of a survey conducted by Networked Neigbourhoods in 2011 are revealing that local government leaders are paying more attention to neighborhood websites than ever before. The UK consultancy’s survey results shows that local council officers and elected members consider neighborhood websites to be the most useful online channels, above others such as Facebook or Twitter.
Networked Neigbourhoods works with public service agencies and communities in the United Kingdom using technology-based approaches to support the delivery of more efficient public services, as well as strengthen neighborhoods. Networked Neighbourhoods defines the independent neighborhood websites as having the following characteristics: “they are established and run by local citizens with most of the content relating to local issues or interests, and are open to discussion and contributions from anyone living in the area or with an interest in the area.” Examples are:
This is the second survey of UK council officers and elected members conducted as part of the overall Online Networked Neighourhoods Study. The first survey conducted in 2010 found that councillors and officers are likely to see neighborhood websites as beneficial to citizens and local government leaders. With 2011’s survey the organization wanted to determine if there have been any changes in relations with and awareness of these neighborhood sites.
At the time of the survey, the region was experiencing the turmoil of the 2011 English riots where several London boroughs and districts of cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson. Social media sites were involved in the orchestration of the criminality and in the ensuing responses of residents. While the police were at the heart of the conflict, the discussion may have encouraged many in local government to give heed to these online platforms.
Networked Neigbourhoods also wanted to understand how those surveyed now perceive the local sites in relation to the most popular social media channels of the day. It was indeed one of the most intriguing findings: Neighborhood websites are valued as the most beneficial online channel, above others such as Facebook and Twitter, by officers and elected members.
Correspondingly, the level of awareness of neighborhood sites has increased significantly over the past year. Those claiming that they know of one or more of these platforms in their area rose from 63% in 2010 to 84% for members, and from 55% to 92% among officers responding.
But are these local government leaders recognizing the benefits of the sites? Survey results also showed that members and officers recognize a range of social roles for the sites, such as “quickly identifying issues of concern for residents,” “acting as a link to council online services” and “sharing council news and information on council services and events.” In fact, 90% of members feel that they should keeping up with and contributing to neighborhood websites as active participants, compared with only 65% in 2010.
The survey also explored any barriers for councils to fully engage with the citizen-led sites. These include the lack of clarity on council responsibility for interacting with the sites and the lack of council guidance. Currently, a little over half of officers claim that their authority already has or will be developing a policy for engagement with neighborhood websites.
On the whole, Networked Neigbourhoods advises that the future health of neighborhood websites and the health of local government are intertwined. As they work to improve the overall quality of local life, independent neighborhood platforms in the UK will clearly be enhanced by an enterprising relationship with their local council.
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