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:
- Use third parties to engage people for you [yes, it’s the double doughnut of democracy folks] +5
- Use existing council processes e.g. budget, planning, residents’ associations, social media, media releases, council newspaper
- Online poll to select topic (as used by National Assembly for Wales) / provide a topic shortlist
- Engage public in work programming
- Involve the user / interest groups in items or working groups / Talk and listen to various user / interest groups
- Explore the use of social media (talk to comms) / Use the comms team
- 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
- Use focus groups +2
- Get out of council meetings and talk to real people – do it more often / talk to residents associations (go to their meetings) +2
- Press release / full page add / facebook / twitter to promote scrutiny topic
- Hold meetings elsewhere – go out to meet people affected by the issue
- Hold ‘ask the councillor’ sessions using twitter/facebook
- 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
- Discuss topics with communities ‘off the record’ / off the record sessions before meetings that enables better questioning in later session
- Report outcomes on twitter / use other twitter accounts to get messages out +1
- Use social media streams to contact interested parties +2
- Follow people / councils from this workshop
- Use celebrities / local press to promote scrutiny work
- Give feedback so people can see the impact of their contribution – get creative with it
- Engage the public in pre decision scrutiny
- Engage the public in making recommendations to Cabinet
Some other ideas that didn’t make it to the postcards but are still worth sharing:
- Co-opt members of the public onto task groups
- Scan the local media to pick up issues of public concern / issues the public will want to engage with
- Web cast meetings
- Use alternative venues
- Web form that the public can use to suggest topics
- Facebook live session
- Use town / parish councils (the doughnut again...)
- Better use of the scrutiny webpages
- Engage via e-petitions
- Keep people informed throughout the scrutiny process
- Use council social media accounts
OK, off to the post box now...