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Friday 30 October 2015

87. Redesigning the council meeting: My #Notwestminster pitch

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This post is some initial thoughts for my Notwestminster workshop pitch (by the way - you have until 23 November if you want to pitch something - first batch of tickets are available 2 November @ 11.00 details here).

I want to do something about the local democracy design challenge on social council meetings:
Council meetings discuss many issues that affect people yet they are poorly attended by the public and often pass unnoticed.  How can we get people to take part in council meetings so that they can be involved in debates that affect them?
By Council meetings I mean all of those meetings taking place in town halls that are formally open to the public.  Full council meetings, planning meetings, scrutiny meetings etc etc.  Problem is that the public just aren't that into them.

Lots of councils use webcasting and social media to encourage greater engagement which is great but doesn't quite do it.

I think Dominic Campbell captured the problem when he suggested at a Govcampcymru session that communication is not the issue - It's the product that needs to be changed.

Colin Copus has described council meetings as being theatres of representation.  This neatly captures the way in which councillors 'perform' for the public in meetings. But not that many are buying tickets.

Councils meetings do look a bit strange to the outside world.  Odd rules of procedure, hard to decipher reports and difficult to follow debates take them about as far away from a contemporary media production as you could possibly get.  I think it is safe to say that they would be as recognisable to someone living in the 1930s as to someone living now.

Of course these are meetings bound by a host of legal requirements but there must be a better way of doing things.

The Rock and Roll democracy session I ran at GovcampCymru came up with a few snazzy ideas including meetings like gigs, with tickets and bars and councillors like rock stars.  People can imagine something better given half a chance.

So I am thinking about a Notwestminster session that asks questions like:

  • What do citizens need from council meetings?
  • What would make people want to get involved?
  • How can meetings be (more?) exciting and entertaining?
  • What could council meetings be like? Gigs? Theatre? X Factor? Question Time?
It would be great to know what you think.

I haven't worked out how the workshop should run so let me know if you have any ideas about that as well.


Vote in the poll to see what metaphor we should use...


Dyfrig said...

Having lost my comment as it doesn't seem to like the Good Practice WAO Wordpress login at the moment, this is really fascinating idea. Completely agree with Dominic Campbell on this. If people aren't motivated to attend an event, why should they watch it on a laptop screen for a few hours? Be really interested to see how people think meetings can be made more accessible and how elected members can be brought on board. Hope the workshop is a big success!

Dave Mckenna said...

Thanks Dyfrig - council meetings as a form of reality TV perhaps? Well, they are really real....

Unknown said...

A colleague of mine did a Master's thesis on political "performance" in council committees - how people perform set roles, which they rehearse and repeat at meeting after meeting. It's a fascinating read...

I do think that we can do more to make council meetings more exciting and interesting - starting with the question of why we convene them in the first place. If legal requirements were suddenly removed what would be the justification for continuing with them? Would that provoke us to design different methods to achieve the same ends? I think the opportunities to do different things with full council meetings are significant - I've always thought that as the crucible for local democracy, full council should operate more like a deliberative assembly rather than as the forum for empty political posturing it is now in many place (for clarity, I've got no problem with political posturing itself, just that when exercised at full council it is *particularly* pointless).

Perry said...

Hi Dave,

I'm about to send you an email about something else, and have just put in my own proposal for a workshop on digestible democracy, so have been having a read.

On how you might run your workshop, if it were me I would:
* Come along with a list of what you might want out of such redesigned meetings. Agree say the top three for those attending.
* Come along with a list of models, theatre, reality TV etc, as you have already listed
* Match models against criteria
* Discuss how the best scoring model could be enhanced to do even better

Just about doable in 50 minutes!

All my best

Perry Walker

Dave Mckenna said...

Hi Ed,
(Not sure how I missed this - must change my settings!)
I do love the 'would we still do this if we weren't legally required to?' question.

I suppose the political posturing might be the starting point for something much more exciting - the sort of thing that TV reality shows are much better at...

Dave Mckenna said...

Thanks Perry - I like the approach. I was thinking about identifying the best model before the workshop by survey or similar and then using the time to explore how councils meetings would work if they were more like X.

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