Conversations with @andreareimer and @MayorGregor
2011 Vancouver Municipal Election: I recently caught up with Vancouver City Council's Andrea Reimer. She was wrapping up a month as Deputy Mayor, which consists of working long days and attending more than 10 events every day. As our conversation moved towards new media and innovation in Vancouver, Andrea pulled up her sleeves, leaned forward, and broke it all down.
“Social media is one of the only democratic spaces that exist. When someone wants to speak up, they don't need to feel comfortable writing me a letter or attending an official community forum and speaking at a microphone. This allows us to hear voices that we wouldn't normally hear.” Andrea explained with fervent enthusiasm.
In addition to everyday interactions, Andrea has noticed that public issues are increasingly percolating as conversations on twitter and Facebook. Communication through email and traditional mail is becoming less popular.
Social media opens up conversations, so that they are more dynamic. Citizens can reach out to their leaders in front of an online audience. They can also speak amongst themselves. Therefore, these conversations are a constant churning of ideas and diverse opinions occurring in real time.
“I also see this sort of inclusion and diversity occurring in the analog (non-digital) world when I am in our local community gardens. In these spaces, I see all different ages, cultures and income levels working together and connecting.” explained Andrea.
Primary social media tools
As you may know, the two main tools in social media are Facebook and twitter. Facebook is good for sharing and discussing experiences through images. However, twitter is extremely powerful for leadership. It has the ability to disseminate information in real time to massive audiences that “retweet” content to their corresponding audiences. It is a conversation that expands exponentially. As information ripples outward, anyone can speak to the issue and reply to a leader’s tweet.
Three years of online engagement in Vancouver
Since 2008, Mayor Gregor Robertson, Councillor Andrea Reimer and other local politicians have embraced new media, in order to connect, listen and converse with the citizens of our city. This process has increased democracy by improving accessibility to public consultations and giving air time to folks who were not previously heard.
Instead of clinging onto the past and lamenting what is familiar and predictable, Vancouver City Council is stepping into the future with innovation and an open mind. In addition to staying current with facebook and twitter, there have been online advancements that are making our city more open and inclusive.
Mayor Gregor Robertson stays connected online
When I asked Mayor Gregor Robertson why he appreciates social media, he spoke about how he values the ability to stay connected with so many people, despite the fact that he is in high demand. As mayor, Gregor Robertson connects with people in person all day. He often attends more than 10 events per day. When you are trying to connect with over 2 million citizens, it can be hard to give everyone enough time and energy.
"When I use social media, I get that feeling you get when you run into an old friend. There are so many people that I wish I could see more...and it is really nice to keep in contact online," he explained.
Examples of online community engagement in Vancouver:
Open Data: Andrea Reimer passed a motion to make Vancouver City Council's data open and accessible to everyone wherever possible, adopting open standards for that data and considering open source software when replacing existing applications. You can read more about this topic in my previous interview with David Eaves: "City Hall Gets Naked: David Eaves and Vancouver's Open Source Era"
Talk Green to Us : This initiative has helped Vancouver rank among the greenest of them all when it comes to environmental performance, placing first in Canada and second overall in an assessment of North American cities. Read more about this in: "Vancouver named greenest city in Canada"
Talk Housing to Us: City Hall launched a city-wide engagement campaign that focused on affordable housing. The website features a forum which allows users to post their opinion about what needs to be done to end street homelessness and create more affordable housing. Read more about this initiative in: "City launches affordable housing campaign".
New Media and the Current Vancouver Election on cbc.ca
Social media has been intersecting with democracy during Vancouver's current election. A great example of this is what CBC has been doing during the mayoral debates. In addition to live streaming, CBC has been facilitating conversations online and in real time during debates. Citizens were able to follow the debate online, with live updates and comments on "Cover It Live" featuring CBC civic election reporter Theresa Lalonde. We were also able to weigh in on twitter with the hashtag #cbcdebate.
Beyond Vancouver, many world leaders are engaging online. For example, the following politicians have become active on twitter:
@BarackObama President of the United States: 10,961,888 followers
@pmharper Prime Minister of Canada: 178,158 followers
@NajibRazak Prime Minister of Malaysia: 272,224 followers
@johnkeypm Prime Minister of New Zealand: 31,061 followers
@PaulKagame President of the Republic of Rwanda: 34,810 followers