The Centre for Social Informatics is currently undertaking a project entitled Information Literacy for Democratic Engagement (IL-DEM). Supported by a grant from the CILIP Information Literacy Group, our work investigates levels of digital and information literacy within Scotland’s Community Council system.
Specifically Peter Cruickshank, Dr Bruce Ryan and I are exploring how community councillors develop the skills required to inform and engage with the citizens that they represent, and how libraries support this work. In doing so we’re extending two established research streams within the Centre for Social Informatics: Cruickshank and Ryan’s work on digital engagement in local democracy (such as our DigiCC workshops), and mine with Christine Irving on information literacy and life-long learning. This work also builds upon our group’s track record in library and information science research.
Scottish Community Councils (which are analogous to parish councils in England and Wales) are a vital link between local communities and higher levels of government. Their membership generally comprises ordinary people who often face challenges related to their interactions with information. In some cases they lack the skills required to disseminate information and communicate news in ways that suit their constituents, for example by social media.
The overarching goal of our project is to generate understanding of the types of learning and training that can help our most local representatives work with – and for – their citizens. While central government and local authorities have IT teams and dedicated communications staff to manage their information functions, community councillors are left to do this all by themselves, relying on average annual budgets of just £400 to support all their work. We are therefore investigating how community councillors:
- access and understand information on their duties and rights;
- keep up to date with local developments of relevance to the communities that they serve;
- disseminate information to their communities.
We also hope to identify where future efforts need to be directed to improve the information skills and practices of this group. This will contribute to the development of strategies to improve citizen engagement in democratic processes at community level.
We’re now at the mid-point of the project, so it’s a good time to consider our progress to date. So far we have confirmed our research approach (data collection by interview and survey, analysis using Activity Theory), drafted a literature review, and conducted a first set of interviews with community councillors. We’ve also distributed a survey to Community Council Liaison Officers (CCLOs). In the next few days we hope to confirm data collection activities with public librarians in the Scottish local authorities. If all goes to plan, we should have collected and analysed all our data before the Christmas break, and be in a position to draft the project outputs for our stakeholders in the New Year. We also plan to disseminate the findings of our research to academic audiences later in 2017 through the presentation of conference and journal papers.
To find out more about IL-DEM and other research and related materials in the areas of community, (hyper)local democracy, connections and knowledge, please visit the Community, Knowledge, Connections web site at https://community-knect.net.