Hyperlocal Government Engagement Online

This collaborative study will investigate the current and future potential value of digital technologies in the work of hyperlocal government, in this case Scottish Community Councils (CCs). This is highly relevant to the CCN+’s remit focussing on the impact of digital technologies on everyday life, citizenship and community. The study will test the theory that hyperlocal government bodies that are more highly engaged than others are more successful at developing resources for policy generation and implementation. A further anticipated outcome of the study is the development of partnerships between CCs. Hosted within the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) at Edinburgh Napier University, this study draws upon the disciplines of social informatics and knowledge management to engender lasting positive change. The CSI is a team of experienced researchers with a track record of contributions to e-government, e-participation and e-democracy.

This project is important because, firstly, there is a dearth of research into hyperlocal e-government (Medaglia, 2012; Susha & Grönlund, 2012). More importantly, there is a dearth of true local democracy in Scotland, and ignorance and distrust of that which does exist (Bort et al, 2012; Goodlad et al, 1999). CCs’ specific statutory duty is to ascertain and disseminate their communities’ opinions, yet few CCs use digital methods to inform their citizens, let alone consult them (Ryan & Cruickshank, 2012). Digital engagement has clear benefits, such as increasing deliberation quality and policy impact (Åström & Grönlund, 2011), while transparency increases trust in government (Weerakkody et al, 2013). CCs will be enabled to manage community assets by the Community Empowerment bill: (e-)engagement would enable CCs to learn community opinions about these assets.

This study will critically interrogate emergent strategies for digital engagement between hyperlocal government and community, answering questions about achievability and sustainability of e-participation initiatives. It will generate evidence to be drawn on by practitioners and policy-makers (for example, other CCs, Community Council Liaison Officers1, Improvement Service (IS)2, COSLA3, the Scottish Government’s local government and communities directorate).

The project’s central theme, e-engagement in hyperlocal government, should be explored because those CCs that do use digital methods are barely on the first-rung of the e-engagement ladder (Macintosh, 2004) – they inform citizens but do not ask what citizens want or include them in decision-making. By understanding how engagement can be initiated and sustained, this study will provide resources for other CCs wishing to work with their citizens.

Cruickshank, Case for Support

 

Outputs

Cruikshank, P., & Ryan, B. 2015, ‘Hyperlocal Government Engagement Online: Final Report.’ Working Papers of the Communities & Culture Network+ Vol.5 (April 2015).

 

Key Participants

Peter Cruickshank, Principal Investigator: Peter Cruickshank has supervised or led projects related to and motivating the theme of this application including the 2012 survey of Community Councils’ internet presences, which is currently being repeated and updated).

Peter has a background in Information systems and information governance, lecturing on areas such as strategies for effective use of Internet technologies in organisations, roles of individuals and sense-making in the effective use of information resources, information handling systems and their role in facilitating decision-making.

He has been a lead researcher in several EU-funded e-participation projects (e.g. EuroPetition and eRepresentative) focusing on the links between citizens and their elected representatives. Other projects include a Smart Cities project (2009-2011) and the RiLIES Projects which looked at the barriers to impact of research on library and information science practitioners. He works with partners at Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute of Informatics and Digital Innovation to develop and exploit social media tools.

Peter is on the Program Committee of a number of relevant conferences.

Dr Bruce Ryan, Co-Investigator: Bruce Ryan will carry out the bulk of the field work. His research and personal interests coalesce around hyperlocal democracy as it exists in Scotland, namely Community Councils. He undertook the data collection and analysis the 2012 and 2014 surveys of internet usage by CCs. He has recently researched factors behind the uptake of digital communication by CCs which found that the biggest practical problem faced by those who run CC online presences is that they generally have little support, even from fellow CC members.

He was also worked on a project commissioned by the Improvement Service to create a website enabling citizens to find their nearest CCs, and then find online information about them.

He was treasurer of St Andrews CC, and is currently minutes secretary for Leith Central CC and Leith Harbour and Newhaven CC. He is also joint webmaster for Leith Central, and has built wordpress.com-based websites for Leith Harbour and Newhaven CC, and Granton and District CCs. He volunteers at Edinburgh Social Media Surgeries.

Final Report

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