Photo of people, who in my imagination are enjoying a webcast of their local full council meeting, is made available under Creative Commons by Saad Faruque on Flickr.
I recently met a couple of communication officers at a council who is webcasting full council meetings. They were having a discussion about how they could use web and social media to get viewing numbers up (this includes numbers of people watching the live broadcast and people watching the recorded version which is offered up for a period of time after the meeting.) They asked me what I thought and what followed was a totally fascinating conversation that touched on so many different things including citizen engagement, web based council services, local democracy, digital literacy corporate buy in to web and social media and access issues on the staff side as well as the customer side. Each of those things alone warrants a blog post (or a series) but I’d like to pick your brains about webcasting council meetings in this post so you’ll be devastated to know you’ll have to wait for my pontification about those other things.
Webcasting council meetings is a difficult one for me to square my feelings about. It’s a modern way for councils to be more transparent, more interactive, inclusive, accountable and visible in (increasingly) their customers’ online arena. But the service isn’t demand led (if anyone has evidence to the contrary please do post it here), the meetings a council chooses to broadcast may not be understood by the average person full stop let alone how it may be relevant to them, the meetings happen during normal working hours and citizens may not even realise the council meetings that go on even exist. So how do you promote a service that few people know about, perhaps no one asked for and hardly anyone knows that they’d find interesting?
‘How do we get viewing numbers up for our webcasted full council meetings?’
For me the answer to this question is not straightforward and it really isn’t about how the meeting is shared but that it’s being shared at all. It’s about two basic and fundamental things: making sure citizens know that by watching a council meeting they are being invited to enter into a discussion, to scrutinise and to see the people representing them at work and making sure citizens even understand what the heck a full council meeting is in the first place.
I think councils providing webcasting of meetings should not offer them up in isolation, as an add on or a cool new webby thing. Reaching out to a wider audience via the web to allow a way to be a part of a democratic process must be accompanied by information to help people understand what they’re watching, the reasons it is relevant to them and that it is a call to action. As those of us digitally interested people in and around local government know all too well and need to always remind our less digitally minded colleagues: this is not Field of Dreams.
I know there is a wealth of experience out there with regard to webcasting council meetings. What has your experience been? How do you engage people? How are you finding it?