Since the Spring Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Bob Neill, Local Government Minister have been urging UK Councils to open up their public facing meetings to local people and routinely allow online filming of council meetings as part of increasing their transparency, participation and open local government. Their call being to bring the public closer to their council and visa versa by harnessing the capacities of social web technologies to extend civic meetings and local democracy, especially whilst important local budget decisions are being made.
We have all watched the growing interest for civic and corporate transparency in the public realm. How dramatically this has come into focus with this week with the Murdocks and Rebecca Brooks facing a select committee to answer questions about phone hacking.
Seeing how things are also going across the US & EU and when realising the swell of interest across the UK for opening up council meetings to the general public via web stream media, it has seemed to me for some time that it would be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, UK councils will eventually start to webcast.
Even before Eric Pickles and Bob Neill’s directives, I would have been very surprised if every Head of Corporate Governance and Democratic Service across UK councils weren’t already aware of and given significant consideration to the key opportunities for transparency and democratic accountability in local government inherent to publishing local government content via streaming public council meetings. Indeed as a response to the call, some council’s have made some interesting early experiments into webcasting in-house.
Complications many see with the current approach being taken is a need to safeguard the integrity of council meetings as important civic records imbued as they are with the gravitas of governance. The potential for disruption to council meetings as well has some obvious security issues likely to arise out of people rolling up to meetings with their own recording equipment makes the idea prohibitive. Also in this day in age simply capturing and webcasting the monolog of a given council meeting is not going to be enough to fully re-engage the public with their local democratic processes. Or will it enable journalist and other such bodies to access the raw information in a way that is easy to access and manage, highly relevant and efficiently retrievable, especially when we realise that on average people are only watching 1minute 17sec of any given video from popular channels. These complications have caused some council’s to ask the question as to what a dedicated and unified live democracy platform would look like.
Civico’s purpose is to work with councils and public facing organisations to address these questions. A more meaningful live democracy platform is going to be one that goes beyond just offering live and archived webcasting to offer greater opportunities and the means for genuine participation through integrated tools. For Civico this is means providing councils with a platform they can operate themselves with key features such as: agenda/minutes screen with contextualised information, jump to points, the ability for members of the public and journalists to create their own micro edits within the timeline which can be instantly post them out etc. more on this stuff another time….
To keep possible disruptions to a minimum and to ensure relevant standards for transparency and a consistent delivery, I would expect the film recording, webcasting and archive retrieval of council meetings would most likely be sustain-ably delivered and maintained as a generic function of a councils democratic services themselves, with practice standards applied and the relevant legalities addressed. Civico is the first dedicated cloud software as a service live democracy platform for local government and presents the easiest way for councils to increase transparency, participation and open local government. Easy to manage with no expensive hardware to maintain or software to download the Civico service ensures councils can stay focused on the delivery on the smooth delivery of the civic meeting.
Clearly council meetings have a certain cultural place as important civic documents, and don’t comfortably lend themselves to the more popular third party platforms such as YouTube etc I have followed this argument as it has occasionally played out in the US which generally concludes: there would be an inherent and significant loss of content control; visibility of the media content becomes very disturbed and badly aligned with unrelated content, rollover and inappropriate advertising which will include culturally insensitive advertising, a shifting commercial agenda, degradation of context.
Relying on such platforms alone would present councils with several additional complications when they try to reintegrate and manage the video into there democratic services CMS and other related data bases systems to be accessible and stored with other associated documents for a given meeting. Which is why we see, at least in the first place, council webcasts being accessed via dedicated pages on a council’s websites with full open access, embed and link etc enabled for secondary distribution.