I had a great time last week at the Centre for Public Scrutiny conference last Thursday. I ran a workshop, which involved me talking for a bit, and then a discussion amongst those in the room.
Here are the slides from the talk, just in case they are useful:
(If you can’t access Slideshare, here’s a PDF.)
The discussion bit of the workshop was very simple, but quite illuminating. I simply asked the delegates to have a chat around their tables about what their hopes and fears are for this new way of doing things.
Many of the hopes and (especially) fears were common across the groups. I’ve listed them below, aggregating the similar ones together. Over the next week or so I’m going to be coming up with some possible approaches to tackle some of the fears, and to ensure the hopes become reality, and I will share that here as well as with the CfPS.
- Inform future debate
- Engaging younger people in scrutiny
- Engaging those who cannot attend meetings
- Be able to get good intelligence for enquiries by listening to local forums and other online groups
- Getting members involved in forums, to learn the local view on issues
- Get a better balance of involvement, rather than just those already involved in the scrutiny process
- Use social networking in balance with traditional methods for a blended approach
- People would know what they are contributing to – and not have responses disappear into a black hole
- More open conversation with the public
- A method of getting members themselves more involved
- Culture change in the council not being scared on losing control of comms and messages
- Greater participation will give more weight to decisions and recommendations
- The authority will be more accountable
- Potential savings in time and cost for consultation activity
- Great transparency of process
- Better targetting of engagement and communication to particular service users, for example
- Potential for deliberation between the public and members without it becoming a fight
- Confusion of role between elected members and officers in answering questions etc in online spaces
- Potential for being overwhelmed by responses, or activity being generally too time consuming
- Need to manage expectations of action resulting from engagement activity
- Can councils react spontaneously – can they do “real time”?
- Capacity and knowledge both of officers and members to do this stuff
- Issue of manipulation of process by vocal and active minorities and also using pseudonyms to skew results
- Corporate communications may wish to control messages coming from the council and interfere – or shut down activity entirely
- Nobody wants to get involved!
- Resource implications of moderating and managing websites
- Potential impact on council reputation
- IT access to technology – many of these sites are blocked. Also lack of support from corporate IT
- Need to support members in this activity could be very time consuming
- Fears of negative comments which make the council want to stop its involvement
- Problems of interesting people in the less thrilling aspects of scrutiny work programmes
- Risk averse nature of most councils
- Need to be selective as not all the information can be online.