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OPINION - ANNA RANDLE

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Community relations can be cemented online ...
Community relations can be cemented online

If I suggested councils should take a serious look at websites such as FriendsReunited or LoveAndFriends.com, you might think I am referring to the socially challenged among us who count local government as their first love.

And you might have a point. But other than helping the love lives of these noble lotharios,

I am suggesting that both the new technologies and the social trends which make these sites useful can boost councils' relationship with their citizens.

What these popular forms of 'social software' demonstrate is that people will interact online around shared interests.

However, we are learning the internet is not always about finding far-flung persons with whom you share an unusual passion for local government white papers. Increasingly it is about finding those with whom you share the common interest of your locality. In short, the internet is becoming more local.

Websites such as UpMyStreet.com recognise this market for local interaction and the role technology has in helping shared interests to become more evident.

People are engaging online about local issues and bonding to address challenges and problems.

Although neighbours might not chat to each other over the fence each morning or attend town hall meetings in person, they may go online at home in the evening with local issues in mind.

As the New Local Government Network report Invisible villages argues, councils should be looking at these examples and considering what they might offer them in their role. This is not just about soft notions of social capital through local interaction.

As our communities become more complex and mobile, councils need ways to understand and respond to their needs.

To do this councils must understand their citizens' shared interests, and citizens need ways to make their common concerns more evident.

In effect, the social trends that make online dating and socialising so successful also make online interaction about local issues both possible and welcome.

Councils could consider this 'techno-localism' the future of online local government beyond the limited 2005 targets. Councils have an important role to play, facilitating contact between citizens, providing access and acting as brokers or supporters of local initiatives and conversation.

This is about real interaction between councils and citizens in ways which make sense to our evolving lives.

E-government and online dating? Clearly a partnership made in heaven.

Anna Randle

Head of organisation, New Local Government Network

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