The overarching aim of this project is to investigate how technology can be developed to help regenerate democracy at the local community level. Community councils are the 'grass roots' level of local government in Scotland. They are, by law, made up of local residents, giving them direct access to their constituents at a more detailed daily level than most politicians could ever hope to achieve. Living in the community they serve, they know personally many of the issues and can readily judge the impact of new or changed policies and suggestions from government. In principle and in practice much of what Community Councils do can be described as 'engaging with the community'. The Association of Scottish Community Councils report from their most recent survey of members that:
- "One in three Community Councils publish a newsletter
- A quarter have a website
- Almost all had carried out a survey or held a public meeting in the previous two years.
- Two thirds of Community Council meetings are not covered by the press.
- The average level of public attendance at meetings is 5 persons.
- Just over one in three Community Councils e-mail their minutes to others in the community."
Online methods are clearly being taken up by Community Councils in an effort to use limited resources more efficiently and improve communications with the public. This appears to be restricted to information provision, as the survey gives no examples of online interaction with the community.
The 6 communities represented in the project are located in central Scotland, mainly in the areas served by Stirling Council. They are Bannockburn, Cambusbarron, Strathfillan, Thornhill and Blairdrummond, and Torbrex. The exception is Stepps, which lies in the area served by North Lanarkshire Council. In June 2005 they were joined by a 7th, Drymen Community Council.
The e-Community Council project has two phases each lasting one year and each with its own aims and deliverables. In this first phase, which began in February 2004, version 1 of the e-Community Council toolkit has been developed for a target community council that is currently familiar with, and using IT to conduct some aspects of their work. This is the Strathfillan Community Council. By focusing on this IT literate group the impact of some of the known variables - in particular access to and familiarity with technology - is minimised. At the end of year one, and after piloting and evaluation, the initial toolkit is being generalised and tested again with the 6 other Community Councils with varying degrees of literacy and covering both urban and rural communities. The results of this second phase will allow an overall roll out mechanism for Community Councils and other community groups in a region to be developed.
The resulting software product is the "e-Community Council toolkit", which comprises a number of integrated "weblog-based tools". The overall purpose of this toolkit is to facilitate the work of Community Councillors, helping them to engage with the community and represent its views. It is doing this by supporting: -
- Provision of information and communication between Community Councillors, and between Community Councillors and the public.
- "top-down" consultations on behalf of the local authority and other public agencies
- "bottom-up" participation of community members in the work of the Community Council
- communication between Community Councillors and the Local Authority and other public agencies
The toolkit is operated as a centrally managed web-based service, to be provided by ITC for the duration of the project, and used mainly by Community Councillors and residents in the community from their home, library or community centre.
The overall success criteria reflect the needs of the Community Councils, the communities they represent and the funders of the project, from the perspectives of the Community Councillors participating in the project.
The 5 criteria and a summary of the indicators to be used are as follows:-
- Community Councillor take-up of the e-Community Council tools.
- The impact of Community Councillor take-up on the Community Councils' activities
- Public awareness and take-up of the e-Community Council
- The impact of public take-up on Community Council activities
- Sustainability of the e-Community Council
Links on this website
- Stirling Council
- Association of Community Councils for the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park
- Association of Scottish Community Councils
- Stirling Assembly
Each publication is linked to its reference
- An e-Democracy Model for Communities: Final Report of the e-Community Council Project
- An e-Democracy Model for Communities: Annexes to the Final Report
- Towards an e-Democracy Model for Communities
- e-Community Council User Requirements Specification
- Using Weblogs to Support Local Democracy
- Renewing democracy with "e-Community Councils"