I meant to blog this at the weekend but annual tree decorating party got in the way. As the halls are now fully decked with boughs of holly (and a lot of paper chains thanks to extensive child labour) normal blogging resumes…..

I wanted to capture some thoughts about the community ambassador role which is fairly central to the whole Virtual Town Hall concept. In short – we are planning on creating a network of community ambassadors who will mediate between the wider social web and the civic space which we are creating. We want to do this for a couple of reasons:

  • If the whole point of this is the fact that there are existing conversations that we want to invite into a shared space we should be connecting the people having these conversations!
  • We think the public can moderate themselves – they don’t need government to do it for them
  • It’s a lot more sustainable than expecting huge resources from council’s to do this work

You can read here what my first thoughts on this role and I don’t think the person description has changed much – buts but needless to say – having met some potential ambassadors it is clear that I had both over complicated and over simplified what might be needed.

This thought comes from a particularly useful meeting at Essex last week where I met some potential ambassadors and got their view directly on the project. They were largely positive – though expressing some concerns as to whether the Council really understood what they were getting themselves into and whether, if the project is successful it will be resourced properly. Hopefully we were able to reassure them – but I think it is a very legitimate concern as we are asking for them to commit time to the project. This also built on the work at the North Lincs meeting where we met some other potential ambassadors.

Before I get into details though a big piece of feedback that has come from all of the community folks I have spoken to which will need to be resolved by Councils I think:

  • Be sociable: This is a person driven environment so make sure that you have identifiable individuals
  • Postal based turnaround times will not be good enough – you need to think about how you can respond quickly – even if it is just with an acknowledgement

However the main point of this post is to highlight the fact that a community ambassador could be far more things than we originally started imagining it as. The diagram below shows the map so far but I expect this to grow:

Mind map of the community ambassador role

A few observations about this:

  • Why not. The reason we tried to define a role was to recruit people – we don’t need that definition if we are able to find people who are interested. We should perhaps instead focus on defining tasks and then ask for volunteers to do those
  • That being said there is a need to give people an actual role of some kind so that they know when they are speaking for the Civic Space. Someone at the meeting suggested ‘Advocate’ as someone who would help other citizens navigate the democratic space
  • If we start to rethink the community ambassador role we perhaps start to relieve some of the tensions that might have been set up between this and the role of the representative. If we think of tasks and not people then the role is not a representative one – though if you carried out all of the tasks you should arguably be standing for election. Perhaps this is where our 21st Century Councillors come from as we start to break down the process of democracy into measurable and discrete tasks and parcel it out – anyone who is prepared to take a large share of this should be able to stand for election!
  • There is a marked difference between how we should be dealing with effective individuals – the social reporters – and people who are managing local community sites. Their motivations and concerns are really different and we have to reflect this in the roles that they have within the Civic Space.
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