Local government approaches to flexible and remote working, required by the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been rapid and effective. However, just as suddenly local democracy has had to adapt. How can we as citizens maintain access to our elected officials and council meetings?
Terence Hudson from Kirklees Council describes how their first remote meeting was planned and produced
The meeting live stream can be found at https://civico.net/kirklees/webcast/9839 and as you can see we went live two minutes early to ensure all the ‘tech’ we put in place was working as expected.
Just over two weeks prior to the event, we made the decision to use Teams Live Events – having no experience of live streaming other products. We spent two days researching the product and reached out to Norfolk County Council and Leeds City Council to share early learning.
Once we understood the limitations of the product, we carried out a number of user tests, without briefing them beforehand, to understand whether the system was easy to navigate for new users. This highlighted some limitations with the software which we then tested using run throughs of actual meeting protocols.
Once we had built some confidence in our test group and with just one week to go, we engaged with our cabinet members. Many had not used Teams before but they quickly adapted to the new format and preferred ‘the four person view’ of proceedings over Skype.
Following another practice session, we decided to carry out the meeting with cameras and microphones on. The biggest issue was bringing in speakers, enabling cameras and microphones then presenting them ‘live’ in the stream.
In the final week we engaged with Microsoft regarding the limit of ten video presenters, the inability to pause the stream, and other options available. Our Council chamber contractor R&W helped us test the live stream to the existing Civico website providing consistency for our audience, which was critical to us.
During the meeting
In terms of running the meeting, we decided to:
- ensure we only saw one speaker at a time, to avoid confusion for the audience
- take written questions for the first meeting
- hold a visual roll call vote so viewers could see exactly how each Cabinet member voted
- ensure the meeting producer understood the running order so it flowed effectively and looked professional.
What we learned
- Treat your council meetings as events and engage a ‘producer’ for the event as well as technical IT support.
- Start small and vision what your minimum viable product will look like, then each meeting, consider bringing in new features.
- Do not underestimate how quickly your councillors take up new technology.
- Do not overcomplicate things.
- View virtual meetings like regular meetings in your chamber.
- Do remember that using multiple products can become a distraction. Keep it simple for your councillors and officers who contribute to the meeting.
- Practice does make perfect and good planning makes it more so.
- Be brave, be bold. But have thing in place to recover something going wrong, such as a holding page and a backup producer.
The Leader of Kirklees Council, Cllr Shabir Pandor said:
“Moving to virtual meetings will now allow us to bring democracy back to our decision making in Kirklees. It was really important that we got the technology absolutely right so it’s as easy as possible for our residents to use and follow. I’m really pleased with how easy the system was to use and the final product seen by residents watching online. I’m looking forward to building on this further as an authority and continuing to develop and improve how we deliver our public meetings online.”
Contact Officer: Terence Hudson, Head of IT, email@example.com
Guidance about planning and holding remote council meetings is available in the Resource Hub
Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body www.scottish.parliament.uk/Fol/ScottishParliamentLicence20160404.pdf