Do social media and council meetings mix?


A post from Dave Briggs on how social media could enhance the business of council meetings – generating more interaction from the public than currently happens – has got me thinking.

Last summer’s Communities in Control whitepaper represents a real driver for increased citizen engagement.

And to my mind social media, in its many guises, is a great tool for helping with that.

So how could this work in practice?

The comments to Dave’s post make interesting reading and have experiences that help point in the right direction.

Thinking about formal meetings that make up some of the business of local government, there’s a wealth of process and protocol and the opportunities for citizen involvement are limited at the moment – usually to a few prepared public questions.

Dave notes that overview and scrutiny committees may be a more appropriate place than full council or cabinet meetings – as there’s more scope for varied citizen-member interactions at that format of meetings.

One area I think there’s real potential is in consultation meetings. These typically take the form of one or more speakers standing up in front of an assembled throng, imparting some useful information, and then taking questions from the audience. And once in while they’ll be a row or two to boot.

In my experience such meetings aren’t actually particularly effective in capturing the thoughts and feelings of the assembled audience – the linear format of question and answer limits the number of people that can engage. And that’s before you consider that many people aren’t confident enough to stand up and ask a question in such a context.

It’d be really interesting to think about how a backchannel, possibly Twitter, could be used in that kind of meeting to allow more people to have a say.

Along similar lines how could basic audio and video capture (that most people can do on their mobiles), be used in conjunction with social media technologies to allow anyone at such a meeting (physically or virtually) to register their point of view.

This is a really interesting area for local government – thanks to Dave’s post I’ve got a few things I’d like to try out in the coming months on consultation and engagement projects.