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Friday, 2 December 2016

96. Another 32 public engagement ideas for scrutineers to try

This is the write up from my Purposeful Public Engagement Workshop at the 2016 Centre for Public Scrutiny Annual Conference: ‘Democracy, governance and the truth’.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the event as a whole – some excellent speakers and an opportunity to take stock of the rapidly changing environment we are all working in whether in terms of devolution, democratic renewal or the need for a digital mindset.

My workshop was of a more practical nature - and a big thank you to everyone who came along and contributed.

Public engagement with scrutiny is challenging for everyone and each of the participants was certainly able to point to something that they wanted to improve.

I started with the assumption that there was plenty of good practice already in the room for people to draw - what the session could usefully do, therefore, was share it.  I’m delighted to say that this assumption was right and, by focussing on ‘what works’, we learnt about some great examples – even from the people who felt that they weren’t doing much – it turned out, in fact, that they were!

Anyhow, my suggestion at the start was that everyone should identify at least three ideas that they could take back to their organisations and try. These were captured on postcards and, before I post them pack to everyone, here is a list of those ideas.  I’ve captured some of the other good practice examples at the end as well.

I also fed in some of the ideas that we have borrowed from the National Assembly for Wales (see here and here) and some of these were also picked up by participants.

Of course not everything will work for everyone but hopefully the list will give you some inspiration for things you might want to experiment with – or even perhaps remind you about the good stuff you are already doing that you might want to do more of.

So, the ideas that participants were going to try:

  1. Use third parties to engage people for you [yes, it’s the double doughnut of democracy folks] +5
  2. Use existing council processes e.g. budget, planning, residents’ associations, social media, media releases, council newspaper
  3. Online poll to select topic (as used by National Assembly for Wales) / provide a topic shortlist
  4. Engage public in work programming
  5. Involve the user / interest groups in items or working groups / Talk and listen to various user / interest groups
  6. Explore the use of social media (talk to comms) / Use the comms team
  7. Use committee members to get messages out about scrutiny business / Encourage the active and passionate councillors that you have to engage the public / align to engagement champions / support the especially active councillors to do more
  8. Use focus groups +2
  9. Get out of council meetings and talk to real people – do it more often / talk to residents associations (go to their meetings) +2
  10. Press release / full page add / facebook / twitter to promote scrutiny topic
  11. Hold meetings elsewhere – go out to meet people affected by the issue
  12. Hold ‘ask the councillor’ sessions using twitter/facebook
  13. United (corporate) approach to planning scrutiny inquiries / use contacts in the council (planning / school governors etc) to advise on engagement as well as using them as technical officers / engage with front facing staff who are already involved in the topic to plan engagement
  14. Discuss topics with communities ‘off the record’ / off the record sessions before meetings that enables better questioning in later session
  15. Report outcomes on twitter / use other twitter accounts to get messages out +1
  16. Use social media streams to contact interested parties +2
  17. Follow people / councils from this workshop
  18. Use celebrities / local press to promote scrutiny work
  19. Give feedback so people can see the impact of their contribution – get creative with it
  20. Engage the public in pre decision scrutiny
  21. Engage the public in making recommendations to Cabinet

Some other ideas that didn’t make it to the postcards but are still worth sharing:

  1. Co-opt members of the public onto task groups
  2. Scan the local media to pick up issues of public concern / issues the public will want to engage with
  3. Web cast meetings
  4. Use alternative venues
  5. Web form that the public can use to suggest topics
  6. Facebook live session
  7. Use town / parish councils (the doughnut again...)
  8. Better use of the scrutiny webpages
  9. Engage via e-petitions
  10. Keep people informed throughout the scrutiny process
  11. Use council social media accounts

OK, off to the post box now...

Thursday, 20 October 2016

95. Five more public engagement ideas for scrutiny from the National Assembly for Wales

photo credit

Here are some more great ideas that I have picked up from the National Assembly for Wales.  Thanks to the fantastic Kevin Davies for sharing these in what was a sort of unofficial fringe event we had just before GovCampCymru (by the way, big thanks to all at Satori Lab who made govcampcymru possible and to all the sponsors and supporters and to Ben and Lou from Delib who really know their public engagement stuff).

Our scrutiny team have spent time with the Assembly before talking about public engagement.  You can read about that here.

Anyhow, here are five ideas for engaging the public that scrutiny can borrow from the National Assembly.

1.  Support your scrutiny connectors

I have already blogged about this in more detail here.
Essentially the idea is that scrutiny committees could do more to support and reward the wide range of people who help them to gather evidence.  Recognition, information and networking opportunities are all simple things that could be done to strengthen the double doughnut of democracy.

2.  Involve the public in inquiry planning

Planning in depth inquiries tends to be done in house.  But why not invite the public in to co-design inquiries?  Perhaps a workshop involving some of the people most affected by the issue in question?  This should help scrutiny councillors get some really good insights about who they need to talk to and how.

3.  Delegate parts of an inquiry

One interesting suggestion was that some evidence gathering could be delegated.  This might mean asking one committee member to take responsibility for an aspect of an inquiry and report back.  It might even mean asking a interested co-optee to do something like this – a kind of special agent for scrutiny.

4.  Facebook Live

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee of the National Assembly for Wales used facebook live as part of asking the public what topics they should be looking at and it worked really well.  Of course it helps if you have an active facebook page that you can add this to but most councils have that right?

5.  Give the public a shortlist of topics to choose from

The other neat thing that the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee did as part of their public engagement was ask the public to pick from one of five topics that the committee had come up with.  Typically, I think, scrutiny tends to ask people an open question about what they would like scrutiny to look at and it can be difficult for people to follow what the outcome was.  This way is much cleaner I think and has a very straightforward outcome – the most popular topic gets scrutinised!

It also got some interest from the media - as you can see here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

94. Support your scrutiny connectors

Scrutiny committees at the national and the local level depend on a wide range of people when gathering evidence.  Most of the time people contribute for free but should we do more to support, recognise and reward them?  This was a question asked by Kevin Davies for The Welsh Assembly Outreach Team before and after Govcampcymru.  Having reflected on Kevin's ideas as well as some handy input from Ben and Lou from Delib here are some suggestions about how we might build this into practice.

This (of course!) links back to the Double Doughnut of democracy idea I raised a couple of years ago (after Govcampcymru as well as it happens).  The key point being that government is not great at engaging directly and needs others to help it share and get feedback.

Currently engagement tends to take place on an issue by issue basis but wouldn't it be better to think about the people that contribute to scrutiny work as single group that we work in partnership with?

Of course this is a diverse group and includes:

  1. Communicators such as journalists, community reports and bloggers
  2. Citizens who want to share their views and opinions about the issues that affect them
  3. Service users who can share their experiences
  4. Representers who speak for a particular group, campaign or issue
  5. Experts such as academics or leading practitioners

It's not easy coming up with a name for this disparate group (sharers? friends of? co-optees? partners? associates? engagers? nodes?!?) but I'm going to suggest 'connectors' as a starting point - people willing to connect with scrutiny and people who can connect scrutiny to others that they might not otherwise easily reach.

The idea of the 'connector' also preserves the independence of those who engage - after all they are not working for scrutiny but working with scrutiny - they need to be able to be critical when they need to be.

Here are some ideas of how the connectors can be better supported:

Recognition: Does the committee do enough to thank the connectors? How could their contribution be  better publicised?  How about inviting the connectors to a thank you event at the end of the year?  A letter of thanks? Some other token? Are they mentioned in annual report? Did you tell them?

Information:  Connectors thrive on being 'in the know' - do you ensure they have access to the information that they need?  A special email for connectors? Press releases?

Networks:  Having contacts is useful for connectors - committee members and officers can be useful contacts and this can be offered in an informal way - "let us know if we can help you with anything and we will if we can".  Events for connectors can also give them the opportunity to network with each other and this might also strengthen civic society around scrutiny.

I don't think this needs to be too formal but doing more for those that volunteer their time should be a win win for scrutiny and those who get involved.  It might also just strengthen citizenship and democracy.

Friday, 16 September 2016

93. Design government and democracy around citizens not services

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OK, so this is the pitch I am thinking about for govcampcymru. It's taking place on the 24 September in Cardiff.

What might government and democracy in Wales look like if we designed around what people need as citizens rather than what they need as service users?

There is a big reform agenda around local government in Wales at the moment.  One map has been scrapped and we wait to see what the next proposal will be.

The driving force for change is efficiency and reductions in funding for public services - but I'm wondering what if we designed democracy and government institutions around the needs of citizens rather than services?

Would things be very different? Or not?

Do we actually have a clear idea of what citizens actually need? Do we have ways of finding out? Have we ever really tried?

As I have argued before, designing for citizens if different to designing for customers.  Citizens are users sure, but they use 'democracy services' (elections, consultations, representatives etc etc) and have rights rather than customer needs.

It's also quite hard to think about this without thinking about the 'solutions' that already exist such as local councils, elections and MPs.

So, how should we capture citizen needs? How should we find out what they are?

In my session I want to start with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It includes three rights particularly relevant to citizenship:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (Article 19)
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (Article 20.1)
  • Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (Article 21.1)

This leads to three questions we can ask about what government for citizens in Wales might look like:

What do citizens need so they can share their opinions with other people?

What do citizens need so they can work with other people to bring about change?

What do citizens need so they can take part in decision making?

And those are the questions I'm planning to ask.

Make sense?