Trust cannot be centralised, it must be embedded in everything you do. This is how social media can help cities create change in a post-truth era says Eddy Adams
Eddy reflects on his experience of working globally with cities in order to develop creative solutions for complex problems. He will co-facilitate the Digital Identities workshop in Amsterdam on 16 March.
Hi Eddy, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m interested in cities and innovation. I work with international networks such as the European exchange and learning programme URBACT, which promotes sustainable urban development. Much of this work is about supporting peer-to-peer learning between cities. In this context, I see myself as a facilitator of relationships.
What are some of the key challenges that cities face?
Where do I start? The dramatic demographic shift, rising proportions of older people and its implications on housing, health and care. Many European cities are getting to grips with the arrival of third country nationals from troubled parts of the world. Meanwhile, there is an expectation for public services to be available 24x7. There’s also pressure on civil servants to be more accessible. All in all, it’s a tall order.
“Cities should harness the power of social media to talk about complex issues that require citizen buy-in, such as migration, environment and employment… these channels can be manipulated and trolled, but they are the most direct way to build trusted relationships with citizens.”
Why add social media to the mix?
We need new, creative and collaborative ways of working. Social media can play a vital role in the ongoing shift from the old command and control mode. I believe cities should harness the power of social media to talk about complex issues that require citizen buy-in, such as migration, environment and employment. Look at the recent impact on world politics to see the power and the potential of social media for good and for bad. These channels can be manipulated and trolled, but they are the most direct way to build trusted relationships with citizens.
What do you mean by trusted relationships?
Trust as a macro concept is no longer relevant. We have to look at places where relationships can be rebuilt. I believe the most appropriate level is the local one, where you can have that face-to-face connection and create a sense of rootedness and democratic accountability, which seems to be missing at the present moment. Social media can have a powerful impact by build a network of hyperlocal relationships to mobilise citizens as decision makers. Such networks can be scaled across a city.
“Digital resources, when used tactically, can help you get things faster and engage people in precise ways.”
Aren’t local authorities engaging with local communities anyway? Why do you need social media?
Look, it’s not an either-or situation. It’s about using the range of freely available tools to supplement and complement your offer. Digital resources, when used tactically, can help you get things faster and engage people in precise ways. We need to be creative and imaginative in how we use these tools, especially if we want to engage with hard to reach communities.
Could you give us a few examples of where this works in practice?
In Finland we examined the Ohjaamo integrated support centres for young people. The centres were co-designed with young people and the service combined face-to-face support with active outreach activity and extensive use of social media. The latter two are especially important in reaching customers who are harder to connect with. Genova is using social media to get Erasmus students to promote the city via social media, and Semaest in Paris is working in innovative new ways to promote business start ups.
‘It isn’t one person’s job to be social. Trust cannot be centralised. Cities have to invest and develop capacity for all staff to engage with social media.’
Local governments are complex organisations, so where do start?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Cities are dealing with social media in different ways. In some cases, you have digital strategists embedded in the chief executive’s department. At the other extreme, you have cities that still prohibit employees from using social networks in the workplace. The most common configuration is to have the communications team leading on this agenda. Some cities take this a step further and have a designated digital communications person in each department. I think that’s fine, but it isn’t one person’s job to be social. Trust cannot be centralised. Cities have to invest and develop capacity for all staff to engage with social media. So, we have to look at this as a core part of our repertoire, rather than as an optional add-on.
Eddy Adams and Abhay Adhikari will co-facilitate the Digital Identities workshop in Amsterdam on 16 March. They will be joined by Cori Moore who will run a Lego Serious Play taster. General admission is now sold out. We have a few places remaining for URBACT cities. Click here more information.