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Should mayors rule the world?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This interesting TedTalk the brings up lots of great questions about modern democracy. I have long thought that small is better. Small units of government – decision-making and action-taking units – can access and leverage local knowledge way better than provincial, state or country wide systems. Provided of course they have a strategy or system in place to inform,  engage and empower their community.

How do mayor’s inform and engage their community?

In our connected world it’s easier than ever to get messages out and educate constituents on local issues. I did a quick Google search for “mayor’s who blog” I found that many mayors do indeed use blogs to reach out to community members, to be more accessible and through the subscribe option on many blogging platforms allow for push notifications. That kind of process makes it easier for community members to stay informed without having to remember to visit the city website.

Great example of mayor’s who blog is Mayor Karen Farbridge of Guelph Ontario. Here are the fist few lines of her first blog post in 2008:

Welcome! I decided to start a blog to encourage more dialogue about civic affairs in the community. One of the goals of our Strategic Plan is to have the highest per capita municipal election voter turnout of any city in Ontario. How do mayor’s engage their community? More…

Check out her About the Blog page. How cool is that?! It’s her blog, she makes that clear but I bet more people go to her and her blog than to their official city website. They do that because she is person. Funny thing, we people like to get information and engage with other people, even if technology is mediating the process.

I do have a question about city websites.. and the Guelph site is awesome but not an exception. How come I can’t subscribe to updates? I can subscribe by RSS but that confounds a lot of people. Why no “subscribe to” button? There are a lot of areas of interest that I would love to stay more informed around in my own city but honestly I need new information pushed to me. Let me sign up for a newsletter about X. Face i t you already publish the information so it’s not like you’d have to write anything new. You just have to get it to me. I’m not unbusy enough to easily make time to go hunt stuff down. Are you? Who has that kind of time? That is why I subscribe to blogs that have value and turn to Twitter for a lot of information.

Many a mayor and city councillor have embraced social media to communicate and engage in conversations near and dear to local citizens. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Foursquare are being using increasingly to connect with community members where they (virtually) hang out.

In the Spanish town of Jun, near Granada, Mayor José Antonio Rodríguez (@JoseantonioJun) makes local government more accessible and more accountable to its citizens through the use of Twitter.  All public offices and employees are required to have an official Twitter account, which is prominently displayed on everything from police cars and uniforms to garbage trucks. More…

I’m not going to include platforms like PlaceSpeak or VisionCritical or even the always near and dear to me Thoughtstream system in this category. That is how city hall connects, or tries to connect and gather sentiments across a city. I will say that there seems to be, in too many cases, a lack of strategy attached to the use of these kinds of tools. And yes, I could definitely say the same for the use of all other technologies. Tools are tactics, they are not strategies.

How do mayor’s empower their community?

This is the real question.. and in case you haven’t notices I’m writing this along a continuum based on the IAP2 model of citizen participation.  I recently wrote a post about this on the Thoughstream blog so will link to that rather than reinvent the whole thing here.

I think Mayor’s and by extension city councillors should rule the world. They are our best chance at  genuine participatory democracy provided they are engaging their community as a way of empowering constituents to have a voice, take part, co-create, collectively envision and change the world for the better, one city and one issue at a time. If they aren’t then they are just politicians playing a political game.

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