Monday, 9 February 2009

Meet Postal Comments, Barnet's most active citizen

Please check out this website and tell me what you think of it. I would draw your attention particularly to the Forum section and Events. I would be interested in whether you think it deserves the endorsement it got recently from Richard Grice, Future Shape programme director.

If you look at Forum and Events you will perhaps understand my scepticism. Sherlock-like I have looked at the clues I found there and suggest the following narrative:

Forum: the website has been around since September 2008. In November-December 2008 a member of Barnet staff was employed typing in a load of comments/complaints that some department of the council had received by post (explains the posts made by the prolific contributor 'Postal Comments'). This was done to kick-start the website forums. Since then scarcely a living soul has visited the forum to add a remark.

Events: hardly anyone has posted any events. Witness February. It looks like only the Beaver Scouts are making any regular use of it. Before anyone accuses me of being a miserable-hearted knocker, please look at December 2008. You will see there that I have entered an event, the unions' 'Future Shape' lobby of Barnet council Cabinet on 3 December. I believe in giving these things a chance. It's just that I think you have to come to the conclusion that this website is not doing what it was set up to do, and certainly not what Richard Grice claims for it - providing a means to engage with Barnet residents - in any meaningful fashion whatsoever.

It is not living up to its billing. On the website itself it says:
As Barnet is experiencing rapid social change we need to build a stronger relationship with our citizens, have wider and deeper conversations to help understand their needs and preferences. The council has a role to provide the space for citizens to debate with the council and public agencies, and with each other, the competing priorities and build a consensus on priorities for the area, and explain how decisions are reached. This new social media website provides an excellent platform to have this conversation with our residents.
I admit that I haven't ventured into the part of the site dedicated to videos, I will do that tomorrow. The photos section looks at a first glance singularly uninspiring. I doubt either of these sections can turn my opinion around.

A failure or, worse, a fraud?

It's one thing to say that the website has failed to live up to expectations. There is a debate to be had about whether it represents good value for money. I will try to find out the cost and let you know what I think on that score.

But I think worse things are going on than that. During my investigations, I have learned that Barnet council has gained a high reputation among local government professionals for innovation in the way it engages with residents using social media. I have read articles on many websites making claims along these lines (see here, for example) but I think that's cr*p and to go on claiming as much is nigh-on fraudulent.

1 comment:

Rog T said...


It's quite simple, they want to privatise the council so they can concentrate on the big issues, such as making you tube videos of council officials talking about the benefits of having clowns running the council.

When George Orwell wrote 1984 do you think he visualised this?