#swct Social Media and Civic Involvement Redux

Last week, as part of Social Web Week in Connecticut, there was a panel on Social Media and Civic Involvement. Much of the discussion focused around how elected officials can better communicate with their constituents. However, communications via social media is a two way street and some of the discussion focused on how constituents can better communicate with their elected officials as well.

Today at City Hall in New Haven there will be a meeting about establishing a Mayor Task Force on Social Media. (See this New Haven Register report for more information.) What sort of outcomes are people looking for? There are a few different areas that I think it would be beneficial to focus on.

The most obvious is how the city communicates with its residents. Currently, the Mayor’s office sends out press releases, and includes the CTNewsWire on the distribution list. This list is distributed to bloggers, citizen journalists and to anyone else that is interested. Previous press releases remain available online. This helps get some of the message from city hall out to a broader group of people. Mayor DeStefano and his Chief of Staff Sen Matteson are both on Twitter. They haven’t been especially active and don’t have a lot of followers. However, they have been retweeting messages from NHSchoolChange. This is particularly important and I hope to see more efforts like NHSchoolChange on Twitter. NHSchoolChange doesn’t have a lot of followers, but it is a fascinating list to look at to find others focused on social media in New Haven.

It would be great to see other more daily operations of the City Government posting to Twitter. Ideally, the press releases from City Hall should be set up in a way that automatically post to Twitter. It would be great to see emergency services messages going to Twitter, as well as simple things like scheduling in the Mayor’s office.

At the session last week, there was a lively discussion about how State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield from New Haven out tweets all the other political figures tracked by TweetCT. (For more information, see this New Haven Independent story.) Gary’s Twitter and Facebook messages provide an important insight into what is happening in Hartford, as well as a valuable means for constituents to provide input. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Aldermen that are currently writing about Aldermanic meetings in the same way, and this would be a great service to the community.

Durham First Selectwoman Laura Foley Francis spoke about how using social media has greatly opened up the processes of selecting commissioners in her town. This has brought about greater involvement and is another idea from last week’s session that the Mayoral Task Force should explore.

A session later last Tuesday was sponsored by the New Haven Economic Development Corporation, and Social Web Week as but a small example of how social media can help build New Haven’s economic base. Efforts to promote New Haven as a destination should be continued and expanded, as should efforts to help create both New Haven and Yale as centers of excellence in terms of civic social media.

This should also apply to efforts like the Livable Cities Initiative and urban revitalization. Social media needs to join with murals and other efforts to bring pride and respect back to run down parts of the city.

One area where this could be particularly powerful is in education. Let’s open up NHSchoolChange. Let’s get students, parents, teachers and administrators all communicating together via social media about what is happening in their lives. Gary Holder-Winfield writes in a strong authentic voice about his efforts as a State Representative. Several years ago, the New Haven Public Schools were blessed with Gina Coggins.

Gina taught in the New Haven Public Schools and wrote articles about her experiences for the New Haven Independent. They provided insights into what is happening in education that are too often missed in so many initiatives. She encouraged her students to write; to find their voices.

We need voices like Gina’s writing from inside the city schools. We need to find ways that we can hear the students’ voices and the parents’ voices as well.

The most important thing that we need to do is remember that Social Media is not simply a new platform for sending out press releases. It is a chance to have open discussions about how we can draw together as a community to improve where we live, work and play.

Will a Mayoral Task Force spawn new discussions? Will it further what has happened with GoogleHaven and Social Web Week to draw together people in business, education, non-profits, government and daily life into new communities to share ideas to make our lives better? Let us work together to get that chance.