local democracy week – let’s tell the story

Story telling is important. The Local Government Association is looking for better story telling about that vital part of democracy - the elected member.

 by David Holdstock

In case you don’t know, it’s Local Democracy Week this week and the LGA will be continuing to promote our successful ‘Be a councillor’ campaign.

In the run up to Local Democracy Week I wrote to communications colleagues asking for case studies of how councils are encouraging people to find out more about how to become a councillor. I got some fantastic examples back but also quite a few responses along the lines of, “Sounds great, do you have any support materials we could use?” (we do by the way – more on that later).

Whenever we talk about encouraging people to become a councillor we often use phrases such as “engaging in local democracy” but what does that actually mean to people who may not be involved in local politics let alone national politics? 

We need to get better at talking to the public about what this actually means in an accessible way. Not just the nuts and bolts but the bits that get us, and more importantly, them excited – the positive benefits of having a local voice and making a difference.  Many councils are doing this when they explain to residents about council services, council tax and so on but what about when we talk directly to people about them getting involved?

We need to tell the story better - How many councils have posters at their front desk helpfully telling people how they can complain about a councillor but not information about what councillors do or indeed, how to become one? Everyone has a responsibility to help promote understanding, knowledge and enthusiasm for the work of councillors – not just for residents to have a better idea of what they do, but perhaps inspire those who would make great councillors.

Often, this is seen as officers getting too ‘political’ but this is simply not the case.    We are not promoting individual councillors or political parties – we are promoting the office of the councillor.  Councils are political institutions and should be confident in showing that side of what we do.

If we want people to get excited about local government we need to present it in a way that inspires and engages.   If you have done anything recently about promoting the role of a councillor please let me know – we’d love to hear about it. Also, if you do have a chance, take a look at your website and see what information is available.  Would you be inspired to become a councillor?

Our Be a councillor toolkit is a set of pre-made materials that we hope is a starting point.  However, at the heart of this is for councils to promote local government in a way that works for them.

So, do whatever works for you and your residents but tell a story that people can relate to – that is positive and appealing – that is routed in the politics, people and place of your council.

David Holdstock is head of communications at the Local Government Association. 

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