It seems strange, given the importance of this stuff to local democracy, that it is so badly presented online. After all, those agendas, minutes and reports tell the story of local democratic deliberation and decision making. Its even more surprising given the availability and diversity of online tools that something clever isn't being used (as far as I know).
So, by way of giving some clever techie developer a start out there, here are my 10 essential features of social council decision making - in other words how to better present agendas, minutes and reports on local government websites, based on what I've seen on Facebook, Twitter and the Communities of Practice Site:
- Everything should be broken down into bitesize chunks to look like status updates or tweets. This makes things easier to share. Instead of agendas, minutes and reports we should be talking about discussions, decisions and documents. In other words, no more collecting everything into single agenda pack and minutes documents.
- Discussions and decisions should be taggable so its possible to easily find anything linked to a particular subject. If I want to find out everything my council has discussed and decided about wind turbines I should simply be able to click on the wind turbine tag and find out. Tags will also allow everything relating to a single geographic community to be found instantly. This will be useful for citizens but also for councillors and for the officers supporting them.
- Discussions and decisions should be shareable. If I see something I'm pleased or angry about I should be able to share it on facebook or twitter quickly and easily. Similarly if I want to bookmark something for future reference I should able to do that.
- Discussions and decisions should be commentable. Just like a status update on facebook it should be possible to add comments. It's an easy way to get people's views before a decision is taken and to find out what they think afterwards.
- A well designed widget would be a great way of embedding discussions and decisions onto blogs and other sites. Tailoring the RSS feed (yes of course there would be one) to specific tags would allow hyperlocal sites to only feature content relevant to that community or special interest bloggers to only pick up on the issues relevant to them. Here is an example of Kirklees Council doing the sort of thing I mean.
- Every committee and councillor should have their own dynamic homepage. As well as providing for 'manual' updates each home page would automatically feature content relevant to that committee or to that councillor. This would make it easy to see what your councillor was involved in and how they voted. They could add their own commentary on to what they had done which would also be open to comment.
- Reports should be stored in a searchable, taggable library just as with the communities of practice site. Presentations and any other relevant media could also be included.
- Of course it would also be nice to include a metrics page so people could see what activity was taking place and how many people were actively engaged. Again, like they do on the Communities of practice site
- Everything should take place in real time. This is straightforward for items on agendas - these can just be published when they are normally published. Points made at meetings and the decisions made may be a little more difficult to do. The process of writing minutes is currently a formal one which takes place after the meeting where different people are consulted about what they should contain. Minutes are not formally agreed until the stat of the next meeting. Having real time decisions means a change in way this is done. You can follow Kirklees Council (#kirkcouncil) on twitter to see what this might look like in practice.
- The platform that supports all this should be national. The advantages are that information could be gathered across all of local government on a particular topic, say wind turbine applications, and work could be borrowed between councils saving time and resources. This article about using the communities of practice site to do research explains much better what I mean..
There we are. That's all I want. Now go away and make it for me :-)