Sunday, 1 December 2013

60. Scrutiny Bytes

Public engagement will be an increasingly important aspect of the local government scrutiny function.  Digital tools and behaviours provide a brilliant opportunity to enhance this engagement.  It sounds like a marriage made in heaven but exactly how can it work? Scrutiny Bytes is a project we are running in my council that tries to answer that question.

I've written before about the idea of democracy bytes.  Just as a byte is a unit of digital information so a democracy byte is a unit of digital democracy.  Bytes are the simple statements that together make up democratic conversations.  They might be questions, opinions, proposals, decisions or outcomes.

Scrutiny Bytes is a project about applying this idea to the scrutiny process.  Conversations typically will be held around; the performance of a service; work on policy or strategy development; the holding to account of Cabinet Members or other decision makers; or the planning that is done for the scrutiny work process.  Conversations might centre on a single meeting but more likely on a longer process such as an in depth review or inquiry.



You can see the central idea in the diagram above.  It works in five stages:

  1. The scrutiny team convert what comes out of the formal scrutiny process into bytes through the Swansea Scrutiny website.  The key here is to produce content that people will want to share.  We are not expecting people to want to come to our site necessarily – content needs to go to the online places where people already are.  
  2. The content is then placed where councillors can share it.  In Swansea about a third of our scrutiny councillors are active on social media in some way.  The most popular platform is facebook followed by linkedin and twitter.  It is important to underline here that the emphasis is on councillors (not officers) sharing – this is a democratic process after all.
  3. The idea is that content will spark conversations between councillors and the public in which ever place it is shared.  While sharing and engaging is a fundamental part of what councillors do - doing it online is different and these new behaviours will need to be carefully worked through.
  4. The results of these conversations will be harvested by the scrutiny team and summarised into reports that can be fed back into the formal scrutiny process.  As with any research method careful thought will need to be given to how this is done.  Reports will also provide a means of feeding back to the public what councillors have heard.
  5. These reports can then be presented to scrutiny meetings, working groups etc. where they can influence the work that scrutiny councillors do in their more traditional and formal setting.  Of course new questions will be raised so the process can start again.

The purpose of this post has been to provide a brief outline of the thinking behind the Scrutiny Bytes project.  It’s early days but I will feedback as we make progress through the different stages.  Specifically I hope to share the outcomes of the work that we are doing:



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