Went along to speak at an engagement conference yesterday. Here’s a selection of themes that came up around the room in the session I attended:
- How to avoid the problems presented by traditional ‘town hall’ meetings.
- Are we ‘marginalising the mainstream’? Engagement funding is targeted at deprived areas (and with good reason) but who else is getting left out at the community level?
- People still don’t know who represents them – the elected representative to citizen ratio is so high
- We may be in danger of making communities ‘responsible’ for solving their own problems
- Tension and confusion between representative and participative democracy – clarity and boundaries needed
- How do we ‘mainstream’ engagement so it becomes more than a ‘3yr wonder’?
I have a few initial ideas and responses to two of those more practical points, others need more thinking-time and discussion. All of them need more heads working on the subject and sharing ideas
The problem with town hall meetings
You could try hosting your meeting in a community venue at more convenient times of day than weekday evenings. With Involve I’ve been working on the Say&Play approach where a school fun day is used as the site for a consultation and so attract mums and dads with caring responsibilites can bring their children with them to the event.
There are lots of different formats other than a Q+A session which can get dominated by the same voices and can put off potential participants at their first meeting. Try a World Cafe perhaps – look at www.peopleandparticipation.net for more ideas to make your meetings more interesting and interactive.
Finding your representative
Online tools are making it much easier for people to find out who their elected representatives are but also to interact with them. Sites like WIMPS are using postcode searches (combined with great video content) to match young people with their representatives. Council websites are catching on too – see Westminster’s postcode search here.
Apart from finding out the name and contact information for your representatives, a whole lot more can be achieved in terms of participation when they go online and seek to engage with communities by blogging. This way a 2-way conversation is instantly made possible.
Here are a few examples of councillors wot blog:
Hope those quick reflections give some pause for thought. I’ll be picking up on the other issues in separate blogposts in future.
Also will be sharing my presentation on slideshare – as soon as I get the images to work properly! (Who would use new technology eh??)