About Me

Full-time husband and dad, Head of Governance and Democratic Services at Kirklees Council. Passionate about democracy, local government, Sheffield United, my mountain bike and punk rock. Views here are my own

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Councillors, Meetings and Banning Technology

I came across an article the other day that I thought added another dimension to the whole tweeting in meetings discussion.  I've blogged previously about this, seeking to present another perspective to the whole debate.

You can imagine that when I stumbled across the headline "Councillor Calls for Blackberry Ban" I was naturally suspecting that this was another re-run of the usual tweeting in meetings story - same dialogue, different cast.  It transpires that the story, emanating from Canada, had another dimension to it.  The main issue causing consternation seems to be that councillors are using their devices to communicate with each other in the meeting, particularly to "debate issues and plan voting strategy".  I'm not sure what to make of this one to be honest.  On the one hand it sort of has the feeling of school children passing notes in class whilst the teacher isn't looking and on the other it begs the question what are the party whips doing.  Party whips, at whatever level of government, have a key role in party discipline, which includes being clear as to voting intentions.  

That said, I think this article poses some greater and more fundamental questions.  Firstly, I'm not sure that "banning" per se is often the answer to many challenges and societal developments.  In this case it feels at least like one step forward and one step back.  Secondly, the most interesting part of the article to me was not the one that attracted the headlines.  A footnote to the article includes a quote from a councillor who defends the use of hand held devices in meetings:

"Councillors use their BlackBerrys to do Internet research on issues that are being discussed and to communicate with their office staff to get information on a file being discussed which might be pertinent to the debate."

There might be a real case for the research argument - informed debate is, one would think, a cornerstone of democracy and political dialogue.  Do tools like Blackberries enhance this?  Furthermore, communicating with staff (presumably those employed by the councillors / political groups in whatever capacity) during the meeting is a fascinating scenario, one that I have not come across before.  I'm not sure what I think about this, there are opportunities and potential pitfalls when applied to our own system of local government.  What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment