Virtual meetings and citizen engagement

“If we believe that local democracy needs to be revitalised and invested in, then to me digital infrastructure will be part of it.”

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When the world turned to meeting online during the pandemic, many civic organisations saw it as a real plus – including the Civic Plus group in the States:

What began as a temporary stop-gap measure to ensure administrative efficiency is turning into a preferred way for citizens to view online meetings and an opportunity to grow citizen engagement. Virtual meetings offer three unanticipated opportunities for citizen community-building and civic satisfaction, proving to local governments that they should continue offering virtual opportunities long after we no longer need to social distance. This revelation makes virtual meetings, yet another standard way of life in a world forever changed by a pandemic.

1. Greater Community Issue Awareness…2. Increased Diversity of Engagement…3. Reducing the Carbon Footprint…

Now that your citizens have experienced the convenience of on-demand, anytime, anywhere access, they won’t accept having such benefits rescinded.

Virtual Meetings and the Online Imperative of Local Government

The UK’s Local Government Association feels the same:

The introduction of virtual meetings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has proved to be a success and has brought many advantages. Initially some found it strange getting used to using Teams or Zoom but it has enabled the work of the Council to continue during difficult times. Councillors have quickly got used to the new etiquette and the debate is as lively and informative as ever.

Virtual meetings | Local Government Association

This week, Cardiff came to the same conclusion:

Before the pandemic, public meetings at Cardiff council sometimes led to rancorous debate with frequent allegations of bullying. In 2017, some councillors described meetings as “shambolic and directionless”, with claims of “baying, laughing and talking over to intimidate and undermine”.

During virtual meetings, due to the way the technology is set up, any laughing or heckling can’t be heard, as microphones are switched off unless members have been specifically called to speak. Since the pandemic began, “significantly more” members of the public have been watching live-streamed virtual council meetings, compared to how many watched them in City Hall.

Cardiff council sticks with virtual meetings due to ‘better behaviour and less heckling’ – Wales Online

Of course, there was the rancorous, bullying and shambolic meeting at Handforth which Jackie Weaver had to intervene in to establish some better behaviour – with this overview from the BBC over the weekend:

“Jackie Weaver, you have no authority here!” This immortal line, a gift to a pandemic-weary world, would probably never have been uttered had lockdown not forced local councils to meet virtually. But with lockdowns – hopefully – a thing of the past, local councils in England have been wrestling with the question of whether they should continue to live stream their sessions…

Jackie Weaver, star of the infamous Handforth parish council Zoom meeting that descended into chaos and became a viral hit last year, said in January that online council meetings ought to continue…

Unlike many European countries, local authorities in the UK have relatively little power and funding, yet are tasked with representing large numbers of people, notes Oliver Escobar, senior lecturer in public policy at Edinburgh university. Live streaming of sessions is more established elsewhere in Europe. He says that embracing technology – so long as costs are reasonable – could help communities in England and elsewhere in the UK tackle the many issues they face in the 21st Century. “If we believe that local democracy needs to be revitalised and invested in, then to me digital infrastructure will be part of it.”

Jackie Weaver and the new era for council meetings – BBC News

Meanwhile, in these parts:

10 December 2021 – East Devon extends Virtual Council Meetings until May 2022 – East Devon

   
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