The origin of this post goes back to a Summer evening in Cleckheaton, a town in Kirklees. In fact it begins in Cleckheaton Town Hall where I was sat (as part of my job) awaiting the start of our Full Council meeting. The reason we were in Cleckheaton Town Hall (and not Huddersfield) was because the Town Hall in Huddersfield was being refurbished. Bear with me all of this is relevant.
Not being in Huddersfiled meant that we were unable to webcast the meeting. This was a real shame as there had been an interest developing amongst residents and staff in terms of what happened at our council meetings - people were tuning in to watch!! As I sat waiting for the Mayor and Chief Executive to enter and for the formal proceedings to begin I routinely checked my Twitter account on my phone. That was the lightning bolt moment - I'm here, my phone's fully charged, I have a full signal. For the next four hours I tweeted the meeting (using the #kirkcouncil tag), providing commentary as best I could and kept linking to papers and reports on the council web site as councillors discussed the items. As the meeting progressed there was a steady growth of interest as my tweets were retweeted and comments and views began to add to the conversation. Not a big deal really, or so I thought.
The next morning I woke up and routinely checked my Twitter account (a bit sad perhaps, but I bet I'm not the only one). I was amazed to see how many mentions and retweets had been pinging around whilst I slept. I really thought that tweeting a meeting was not such a big deal. Residents were commenting, officers from other councils were interested, a councillor asked for a copy of a report that was discussed and craziest of all a council in Sydney (yes Australia) wanted to speak to me about "how I did it". Just for the record I had a great e mail conversation with colleagues in Sydney about this and other democracy stuff. I think if I ended this post now it would be pretty cool in itself.
Back in the office I discussed this with colleagues @spencerlwilson and @steventuck. Cutting a long story short our next council meeting, back at Huddersfield, had a Twitter Fall sitting alongside the web cast. We have now used this approach twice. We now have a combination of residents, councillors in the chamber, Kirklees council officers and all comers watching and joining in the dialogue. Blending the media of web casting and twitter has proved to be a really good combination.
It is early days but there is no reason why this simple model of engagement and dialogue can't be developed and rolled out to other meeting experiences - some food for tough for me there.
For the benefit of others who might want to try this out I think there are some learning points:
- Having councillors tweeting in the meeting adds value and perspective to the event - they are politicians expressing views on important matters for the residents of their borough. People are interested in this - this should not be a revelation.
- Be lucky enough to work for an organisation like Kirklees Council that is forward thinking enough to give this sort of stuff a go - obvious but true
- Try and answer any questions that are tweeted.
- Make a virtue of the passionate web and democracy folk in your organisation
- Promote internally within your organisation - it is important that staff understand councillors and the democratic organisation they work for. This is a quick and easy way. We are all approaching budget council meetings - this will be important to residents and staff alike.
There's loads more to do with this, I feel we have only scratched the surface. Would love to know what others are doing.