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Monday, 28 March 2016

89. Twitter tips for scrutiny teams

Last week we had a good old fashioned tweetchat about how scrutiny teams can make best use of twitter.  We used the #scrutinytweets hashtag if you want to check it out.

It was initially planned as an exchange between the Swansea and Birmingham teams but others joined in - all in all it was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable hour so thanks everyone who chipped in, hope you found it useful.

By the way, if you are thinking about using social media for scrutiny you might also like this piece I wrote after after the Centre for Public Scrutiny ScrutinyCamp event in 2014.

Anyhow, here are the four tips from the tweetchat that I summarised at the time:

1. Twitter is one small part of a wider approach to public engagement for scrutiny 

Yes, use twitter but it is not a panacea and not everyone uses it. However, it is relatively low cost to use so look for the things it does do well.

2. Use team accounts but also look at using individual accounts as well

Team accounts should be the default. They are good for presenting the formal face of scrutiny but there may be times when a more personal touch is required. Use the initials of the individual tweeting in tweets or cultivate 'professional' accounts for team members. As scrutiny officers we know all about being careful with what we put into the public domain - so it shouldn't be a problem right?

(There does seem to be a decline in team accounts recently by the way, it may be that they are seen as an additional cost which would be a shame if true. Even if a team account is not an option I still think that individual scrutiny officers can use twitter to add value to their practice without it being too much of a song and a dance...)

3. Tagging really helps to get stuff out there and is a 'tap on the shoulder' for people who might engage / share

While there is nothing wrong with just 'putting stuff out there'- including one or more twitter handles in a tweet makes sure that it reaches the people that it should.  People follow so many accounts they can easily blink and miss something.

Did you mention an organisation in a meeting? Tag them. Did you want an organisation to complete an online survey? Tag them.  Did you want councillors to share their scrutiny work with residents? Tag them. Did you want an evidence giver to know that the report they contributed to has been published? Tag them.

The people you tag might also be more inclined to share stuff if it is directed at them.

By the way, hat tip to the Essex Democratic Services for the 'tap on the shoulder' metaphor.

4. Scrutiny teams should make more use of twitter to share practice and possible joint projects

Finally we agreed that we all should be much better at using twitter to work together as scrutiny teams.  


Lets do it.

Friday, 12 February 2016

88. Civic Starter

Councils facing increasing difficult budget decisions are looking for new ways to fund services that they simply don’t have the budget to support anymore.  They are also looking to involve the public in these design processes, partly for their ideas, but also as they want to involve those people who may well be contributing their time or making services sustainable by using them.

In the Notwestminster maker day we build a mock up of ‘civic starter’ as a way to invite people into these conversations.  Based on the principles of kick starter it invites people to pledge that they will be involved in a discussion.  Once enough people pledge then the discussion goes ahead involving all the people who have pledged by the closing date.

If not enough people pledge then the default decision goes ahead (e.g. ‘close the library’).

The council will then have a group of committed citizens that they can involve in discussions in whatever the best way is.  Obviously there should be a public document at the end of the process hopefully outlining a proposal that can then be presented to council for decision.

Those getting involved also qualify for rewards.  This provides a thank you for those taking part and an incentive to encourage a wider pool of citizens to participate. Rewards could include things like free swims or badges for example.

Each issue listed on the site comes with an updates section and a comments section so people can follow progress and instantly add views if they want.

Issues being discussed would be searchable by topic, area and closing date for example.

One challenge we didn’t resolve was how to ensure everyone was aware when issues affecting them went up on the site.  Another maker day perhaps...

Friday, 30 October 2015

87. Redesigning the council meeting: My #Notwestminster pitch

Photo credit

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...

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

86. Rock and roll local democracy

Imagine that overnight a miracle happens.

Local democracy becomes like rock and roll; stripped back; simple; easy to understand; emotional; exciting; and fun.

How would you know? What would you notice in your daily life? In the morning? At work? In the evening?

These are the questions I shared with two sessions at GovCampCymru. Below is my summary of the wonderful answers I got from the GovCampers.

The questions were inspired by the miracle question; a technique used in solution focussed brief therapy. The purpose of the miracle question is to help people to understand their preferred future so that they can begin to start thinking about the small steps that might move them in that direction. After all, if you don’t know where you are going you will end up some place else.

I used this technique, albeit in a very crude way, to get some ideas from the GovCampers, thinking as citizens, about what rock and roll local democracy might look like.

The ‘local democracy should be like rock and roll’ idea comes from Lawrence Pratchett who argued that local democracy is too much like jazz — an obscure hobby for the dedicated few. It come’s from Pratchett’s chapter in the rather excellent book: British Local Government into the 21st Century. Definitely worth a read.

Someone suggested, brilliantly I thought, that local democracy is more like baroque than jazz — not only obscure but never changing and from another time. I really like this metaphor although I'm hoping it doesn't upset any baroque aficionados out there.

The two sessions were also an experiment in user research for democracy design. As I've argued before, democracy and citizens have been a Cinderella in the government design world. This was certainly not the case at GovCampCymru — maybe I was looking through democracy tinted glasses but I would say that it was the main theme of the day.

Anyhow, here is my write up of the two sessions followed by some suggestions for some small steps that might be taken towards making the miracle happen. A big thanks to everyone who took part — with any luck I have done your wonderful ideas justice. I had fun and I hope you did as well. Biggest thanks go to the two Sarahs — @SarahPrag and @WorkTheWind — who took the notes in the two sessions. Kudos guys.

The morning after the miracle

So, you wake up and local democracy is like rock and roll.

You put on your favourite democracy t-shirt. It’s got the logo of your favourite local democracy collective on the front and a list of all ten of the 2015 meetings on the back.

Check your phone and fire up twitter. Several of your friends are buzzing about a couple of meetings taking place later. One is about the homelessness policy for the area. The other is about a budget decision; the local council has money for a cycle path or a library. But not for both.

Facebook next and your friends have already set up a group to campaign for the cycle path. You are not so sure but you mull it over while you shower.

Now you head for the kitchen to get the breakfast ready.

Flick on the radio just in time to catch the ‘citizens update’ just after the weather. Yes, there are two meetings later and they both sound like they are going to be popular. You've done campaigning on the homelessness issue before but they mention on the radio that Councillor Jeremy — a major local celebrity — will be going to the cycle path meeting. You know you can’t go to both. Tough call.

The kids come down and they excited about the cycle path meeting. They heard about it at school the day before in the daily ‘junior citizens’ session. It used to be just one lesson a year on ‘how the council works’ but now it is every week, and they get to talk about the issues being discussed by the council. They like it much better. After a while the argument gets a bit overheated — as ever the oldest and youngest can never agree -one wants the cycle path, the other says the library is more important.

Outside the school you talk to some of the other parents about the meetings. Two of them run the facebook group for your street and they are pretty up on the issues through the debates that have
already taken place online.

The work day

You've got the kids to school and finally arrive at your desk. The roadside posters and billboards advertising today’s meetings had kept them in the front of your mind while you were driving.
Straight away you see emails about the two meetings from co-workers and a feature on the staff intranet about the same thing. All the usual comments and questions have been added to the intranet story. It’s just what people do while they are having their first cup of coffee and getting their minds in gear.

Next you watch the 2 minute videos on youtube promoting the two meetings— over 10,000 views for each — wow — these are hot topics!

People are talking about the issues by their desks. Your manager comes over and asks you if you are going along later. Tickets are going fast on Eventbrite for both so you might need to get your skates on she says. Meetings like this are usually popular with people queuing round the block to get in.
OK, this is the nudge you need so you get some of the last tickets for the cycle path meeting and dive into your work tasks.

As with most offices, the work day finishes at 3.00 to give people proper time to get involved in democracy meetings. Of course more people had to be employed to get the work done in shorter hours so it worked out pretty well when that change came in.

Of course democracy is not everyone’s cup of tea — it’s a bit too energetic and edgy for some — but it’s easy to tune it all out if you want to. It’s your choice.

The evening

You and the kids get to the cycle path meeting in plenty of time.

They don’t hold these meetings in the townhall any more. It’s in a community centre that has a cafĂ© bar — you get a yourself a well earned beer and lemonades for the kids.

The whole thing has been organised by the local collective and crowdfunded online. You didn't get involved in arranging this one but you have volunteered for many others. It’s been much better since all these smaller local groups and parties have started to happen. Things feel so much more relevant than when everything was organised through the old style national parties. All grassroots and DIY. Maybe more punk than rock and roll.

The main hall is packed and you find your seats and realise that, wow, you are sat next to Councillor Jeremy. Yes he has had his fair share of scandals (just check out the local papers over the last twelve months!) but you like the way he makes his points and he is your generation and you do feel you have a lot in common. A leather jacket and bright red mohawk hairstyle isn't everyone’s cup of tea but there you go.

Of course these days you can speak to any councillor, not just the one who was elected for your area. A whole range of people are councillors. Men and women of different ages, backgrounds and culture — you just pick the one you identify with most and talk to them. You picked Councillor Jeremy.

Before the meeting starts Councillor Jeremy listens carefully to you and the kids and makes notes on his tablet. He knows that he will be explaining the decision to everyone later so he is taking his time to make sure he understands what everyone thinks. It’s not long though before he’s talking to the others who have spotted him as well as signing autographs. Everyone recognises him of course and everyone feels like they know him.

Soon the debate is underway and people are making their points. There’s also plenty of questions and comments coming in via social media from those outside the hall. People are excited, the room is noisy but it’s all good natured as ever — it’s great to feel part of something. You feel proud to be involved.

Yes, local democracy is like rock and roll and you know what the best part is?

We are the band!

10 Small Steps

The purpose of the miracle question is not just to help people articulate their preferred future but to help identify small steps towards making it happen.

In the same vein, this story that came out of the two sessions, and the wonderful imagination of the GovCampers, suggests a few small steps towards rock and roll local democracy. I've listed them below (they also link pretty well to the #Notwestminster Local Democracy Design Challenges).

  1. Merchandise — t-shirts and mugs for your local democratic process. Why not? If you are proud of it let people know
  2. Advertise the issues to be discussed that day using radio, TV and social media
  3. Make and share short videos to get people interested in the issues (also check out this)
  4. Junior citizens sessions in schools that discuss live council issues
  5. Feed council topics through established local facebook groups
  6. Advertise democracy events on posters and billboards
  7. Use internal comms in councils and other organisations to encourage staff to take part in the local democratic process
  8. Hold meetings to discuss single topics of public interest held in friendly venues and ticketed through eventbrite (definitely not like council meetings). Or, even better…
  9. Support and encourage local groups to hold meetings on issues that the council is deciding on — help people to crowdsource and crowdfund these events
  10. Encourage people to get in touch with the councillors they identify with most when they have any issues — not just their local representative

Thank you GovCampCymru — hope to see you next year.

Originally posted on Medium

Photo Credit: W N Bishop