Making Council meetings social

Council meeting room
Image credit: tricky

Tidying up a few bits on the IDeA Performance site, and seeing Steven Tuck’s comment on my previous post about it, I thought about how these techniques could be used in different situations within local government.

After all, here is a way of making a face to face event more accessible for people that can’t attend, and as a way of drawing together all manner of online resources for people to share and use.

How about using this kind of online social interaction in council meetings? I’m thinking it could probably be best applied to Overview and Scrutiny meetings, perhaps, but any kind of meeting where taking in views and submissions from people with an interest would work well.

What do people think? Could this work?

And does anyone out there fancy trying it out?!

14 thoughts on “Making Council meetings social”

  1. I think some council webstreaming systems allow YouTube-style comments to be posted alongside. Not sure if anyone has actually turned that function on, I have to say.

  2. there is a lot of potential in this – as a sometime serial attender of council meetings i find myself sitting through some long agendas to get to the bit i want. this knocks on to the time cost decision everyone has to make when deciding to attend a meeting in a cold or hot room in an inconvenient building at an inconvenient time.

    at the same time one has to aim off for the epetitions effect where reducing the cost of taking part leads to huge hard to manage levels of particpation

  3. One of the big bits of the puzzle still missing is the 'paper interface' for social media listening tools etc.

    The reality of most meetings is people still want a bit of paper to shuffle with a 'report of what people are saying'… and they jot down their notes on bits of paper in the meeting…

    When I've run events trying to link social media and in-person meetings I've usually turned around a printed snap-shot of social media conversations, then tried to feed the conversation in the meeting back to the social media space. But that does involve a lot of work – and a lot of interpretive power in the hands of the 'social reporter'.

    Perhaps if we built our social media systems/strategies with an easier 'Print Summary' button (which invites and entices councilors to follow up the in-depth content on the web…) we could improve the Social Media->Council interface, at least in this time of transition to a more social world of policy making…

  4. It is a frighteningly good idea. I can almost see the ripples created from the culture shock at the mere suggestion.

    The council chamber in Huddersfield Town Hall has huge video screens either side of the chair which – if they are not showing presentations, diagrams, text etc – show the person currently speaking (very stadium rock). I am now imagining a live twitter feed being displayed on these screens. Do you think if speakers could see their words being instantly published and instant responses from the public it would effect what they say?

    I'm sure people would attend and take part online and if not it would be an interesting and relatively cheap experiment. It's certainly an idea worth developing. I'm going to give some serious thought to including it on my list of suggestions – with full credit to the source of course.

  5. Thanks Simon – god knows what intensedebate does with pings – I think I'm going to get rid of it soon.

    Here's my comment on Simon's blog post that he links to in his comment (is that right?):

    Thanks for the link Simon and I am pleased that my rather throwaway inspired some creative thinking!

    I think that things like live streaming of meetings is actually barking up the wrong tree as they don’t help solve the actual problem, which is that the form and process of council business is tricky to understand, and that if I can’t make a meeting, it’s also going to be unlikely that I can make the live stream – being able to view it afterwards is also no help as by then the decisions have been made.

    You are right to point out that consultative meetings are most appropriate for this, and one suggestion that I have received from a UK local authority is to apply this approach to the planning process, which obvious happens over a longer period of time. This will give people a chance to submit content to the process through social media, whether blogging, highlighting related web pages through bookmarking, sharing photos (which I think would be *very* cool for planning stuff) and video etc.

    I am writing a quick proposal for how this might work for the authority that got in touch, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you!

  6. My council still has a prohibition on recording any part of the meeting and I think it’s probably easier to concentrate on non-meeting participation. I’m making some small efforts in that direction, asking for opinions on the meeting topics in local web forums beforehand and reporting back afterwards, but it’s all very ad-hoc and simplistic so far and has seen fairly little participation – target audience is only about 2,500 or so people, though. Once it stops freezing out there, I’ll do some marketing of it and see if it improves, but I’d love to see other ideas!

  7. @StevenTuck – why use Twitter with is frightening small user base. Let people text their comments in for display. We used this at a conference last year with a small audience and had nearly 40 messages sent in for display and discussion by the panel. It is far far more mass market than Twitter or other social media based tools.

    • Thanks Shane – a great (and Timely) idea. As we're already signed up with an sms provider the job is already half done. I was thinking of Twitter as a means of live blogging important points coming out of the discussion much the same way as #ideaperf #cisco08

  8. We used TextConnect to provide the number and then used a Tumbler account on an auto-refreshing page to display the messages. A bit of fiddling required to ensure personal phone numbers didn't appear. If there was widespread interest we'd probably make it a little slicker and easy to integrate.

    Two great things about were starting the session by telling people to keep their mobiles on and as the audience started to flag we got a message asking for a pint. A few further requests and we knew it was time to wind it up and get to the bar. How would that go down in Council Circles?

  9. We did a trial run with Twittering our last council meeting. (see Next week, the mayor will announce that we will start trying this out as a regular service. We can’t respond to replies though since you have to be on the agenda to address the council. Not sure where this will progress but it is a start. I figure you have to try it to figure out the best way to implement it.

    I would be interested in hearing from any other cities that have or are considering using Twitter in a similar manner.

  10. Dave, as an Ex Local Councillor and Chair of Scutiny, it was always an ambition of mine to use the scutiny function to greater effect, engaging people and demonstrating through tangible outcomes that their input and contributions did have an effect on policy et al. Despite numerous efforts and channels, turnout was always incredibly low, often 0.

    I’m doing a lot of work at the moment around planning service delivery models for Councils in the future. One area I think may serve as a useful channel are gaming platforms. As an Xbox owner, I have created my own avatar, joined a community of like minded gamers etc. But if i think of the future, the TV being the front door for the generation coming through, dusting off the Xbox, plugging in the web cam, wireless remote with keypad and hey, you’re away. The Council develop a channel, and from the comfort of your home, you’re in.

    The problem is that the way scrutiny and other meetings take place need to change, or else it would be like watching BBC Parliament. It could be that people can vote, meetings could be recorded and pushed out, hey lets take it further, lets use the Xbox to keep in touch, give advice, etc, etc.

    and then I wake up!


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