New ways of networking

In all facets of my work – in Parliament, at City Hall and as a councillor – networking is hugely important. I used to think it was an art form. To see a Member of Parliament walk into a room knowing no one, and speak for hours to people they had never met, left me in awe. This important skill is something I have worked hard to develop over the last few years.

With the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools, the way we network has changed dramatically. It is with this back drop that last week I wrote to members of the Barnet Civic Network to let them know that the group will no longer meet in its current form.

The Network was formed six years ago to bring together representatives from Barnet-based voluntary and community groups, to provide a networking forum, and to encourage them to work together.

The council ran evening events twice a year that usually attracted about 100 people. At these events, the council was able to speak to a wide range of organisations and ask them what they thought about any new plans or ideas that were being developed.

The Network has influenced the development of some important policy over the years, including the Safer Communities Strategy and the Sustainable Community Strategy, which I presented. But its most important function has been to connect, sometimes quite disparate, groups and allow people to meet, make contacts and exchange ideas.

Now the group is established, the council is able to engage with them in different and cheaper ways. Running a large event – providing a room and supplying refreshments – is an expensive way to speak to people, particularly when you consider the financial constraints faced by the council. There are now a whole range of free (or almost free) social media tools that allow people from different groups, in different locations to network and collaborate online.

I want to encourage The Network to form their own virtual communities. This could take the form of community groups from a particular sector starting an online forum, broadcasting their messages through Twitter or building communities of interest using Facebook. Pledgebank is another useful tool that they can use to bring people together.

Barnet already uses social media to communicate with residents. This technology allows the council to take messages to the spaces where people congregate online. If you haven’t already done so, check out Barnet’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts – there is a new video on YouTube about Community Coaches that’s well worth a look. The council is currently trialling Twitter as an alternative to telephone contact to help to improve customer services.  These services are not perfect yet – but we’re getting there!

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