My thoughts about Facebook communication on Hornby Island
There are some novel communication methods on Hornby Island. One of the traditional methods is a weekly printed newsletter called the First Edition sold at one the two stores. Quaint is the adjective that comes to mind. It is printed in a style and font that is reminiscent of yesteryear. I suspect the font is done intentionally as it and the name The First Edition hark back to the time of the printing press. Articles include gardening to spiritual life and updates from local committees and events. There is some advertising. Communication to and from the many non profit groups on Hornby exists through email, FB, signage, word of mouth and the COOP radio station which does not reach the west side of the island.
In recent years, Facebook groups pertaining to Hornby Island have come and gone with various foci including s events, ferry updates, calls for assistance, buy and sell, housing pleas, job offers, and discussion of hot topics such as funding for different projects and causes. Among the hot topics that have emerged in the FB groups are a proposed center of the arts, seniors housing and funding for a bus. In other places these items would come to city council but on Hornby there is no city council as there is no municipal government. Hornby and other Gulf Island come under the governance of the Islands Trust and the Comox Valley Regional District. There are elected reps to the IT and to CVRD.
Residents of Hornby can express their needs and concerns to their elected reps who are active in the FB groups and are accessible via email. However, the FB groups appear to act as a public form to either garner support or raise concerns about proposed changes. FB groups act as combination of letter to the editor and town hall meetings. According to the Economist, 30 % of the world is on Facebook. Outside of Hornby, some places have set up citizen panels to advise on issues via surveys and/or public meetings. (West Van and Vancouver).
Island Trust Survey Results
The IT conducted a survey in 2016 by phone, had a 2% response rate and concluded they needed to do more on island in person polling. Fifty-six percent of respondents were over 65. Most respondents prefer to receive information from their local government through local newspapers (63%) and email (55%). 2-in-5 respondents prefer to receive information via Canada Post (39%). This is only 3 years ago. It is striking the lack of interest/use in online information.
There is an interesting snap shot from the survey showing the challenges on the islands with the biggest challenges being transportation (ferries) followed by housing. The issues of access to WIFI appears to not have been included in the challenges list. Nevertheless, it is an issue of concern on Hornby, Gambier and Thetis.
The pros of using Facebook as a city hall are:
- There is active participation by those who are engaged in Facebook. There were about 1000 members of a recently closed HI FB group. With a resident population of 900, this would represent more people that who actually live on Hornby but many people are only part time residents.
- New ideas are generated.
- Incorrect information flagged
- Residents are informed about issues
- It is easy to use by those people who use Facebook
- Facebook has emerged as a vehicle to build and foster special interest groups and in some cases has become a tool for social change. To a small degree, that same function occurs in the HI Facebook groups. It has been a good tool to see which way the wind is blowing on a variety of issues. Although one cannot say the sample is representative. It is like a mini Gallup Poll.
- Membership in the Groups is closed and, in some cases, limited to people who live on the island but no strict criteria for membership is used.
- Some people on the Island are older and either not computer savvy or chose not to be computer savvy or can’t afford computer access. As the survey below shows, most people prefer mail or newspapers.
- Posting on the FB groups is at the discretion of the group admin.
- Some postings can sometimes lead to emotional reactions that are not well received. This can result in people being labeled as rebels or outcasts and could have negative repercussions on individuals or the community.
- Facebook postings are limited in length and do not lend themselves to a coherent or thorough examination of complex issues, in much the same way as email can lead to misunderstandings.
- Its really hard to follow the train of the discussions on FB.
- The discussions have no way to be captured and communicated to the governing bodies.
- If discussions go nowhere, FB users may increase their level of irritation resulting in uncivil level of discourse.
- If there is no record of the discussions on FB, the governing bodies lose the rich material generated by the discussions.
- Facebook is changing with more and more advertising which may lead to a fall off in readership.
Questions about Facebook City Hall.
- How are the FB group working for HI residents?
- How can non-residents become involved? Should they be involved?
- How can the FB groups be used by the IT/CVRD?
- Is the community input to IT/CVRD adequate?
- Are staff of the IT/CVRD members of the groups?
Possible Goals of Communication Systems on Hornby
Visitors and HI residents will:
- have timely input into discussions at the IT/CVRD/HIRRA
- be more informed about issues
- Have input valued regardless of which side of the issue they are on.
- have greater confidence in the capability of governance entities.
So what would an ideal communication tool look like on Hornby?
- Accessible to people with or without a computer. Some people choose not to use computers and rely solely on a land line phone or mail to communicate with others.
- People without computers can use the mail and a 1-800 #. Maybe have a free drop box at the COOP might work. The existing free mail at the CO-OP is messy and not secure and would benefit from an improved mail box structure. In time these mail boxes will probably become obsolete.
- Priories and annual work plan of the IT/CVRD/HIRRA would be combined into one document and be reviewed each year in a community forum and clearly posted on web sites. It would be ideal to have one meeting annually that would include the three entities.
- Information/participation should be accessible to people who visit HI or who can’t attend meetings in person.
- All this work would be done by staff at IT/CVRD/HIRRA.
- All business meetings would have a min 30 min for networking.
- IT/CVRD/HIRRA report on community feedback.
- Information be summarized in the following brief way, posted on line and paper copies be made available by mail:
- Executive summary including recommendations 2 pages
- Content of report
- Environment scan within the Gulf Island and perhaps the San Juans.
- Options considered
- Pros and Cons
- Costs and benefits
- The day will come when all residents of HI will be computer users. How far in the future? 5-10 years?
- 100+ committees on Hornby (truth or rural myth?) could be involved in the communications systems and processes. How many? Phase in over time?
Recommendations about communications on HI with governing organizations.
The three governing organizations Islands Trusts, Comox Valley Regional District and the Hornby Island Residents and Rates Payers Association will facilitate the development of:
- a formal FB group for feedback into policy decisions on HI. Staff of the 3 entities to monitor FB group discussions.
- an annual schedule of open meetings of Governance Entities posted on all websites and FB
- a process to attend meetings through audio conferencing..
- email lists and address lists for distribution of related information and meeting notices.
- notice of meetings distributed by mail and First Edition until uptake is adequate via email.
- substantive networking time at all business meetings.
- brief power point presentations to summarize issues at meetings
- annual open calls for volunteers for each governance entity with clear roles and responsibilities, qualifications needed, job description posted on websites and recruitment through FB group and websites.