Geoff Coleman, Birmingham City Council communications officer, explains how his authority has used a question-and-answer webcasts to massively widen engagement in the 2014/15 budget.
In December, cabinet members from Birmingham City Council attended four public meetings across the city to answer questions about the 2014/15 budget. The meetings were attended by a total 287 hardy souls.
On January 7, those same cabinet members took part in a webcast to answer questions about the 2014/15 budget. We recorded 517 views for the two-hour event and, as I write this, the archive has been viewed a further 1,900 times – taking the total views to almost 2,500.
Now we’re constantly told there is no interest in local government and that apathy is the order of the day as far as the day-to-day running of local councils are concerned. But at a time when local authorities are making huge decisions as a consequence of significant Government cuts, it’s more important than ever to speak to the directly public.
So to reach an audience of 2,500 for a webcast about budgets, cuts and savings is something of a victory.
2,500 against 287 speaks for itself.
To avoid any suggestion of impropriety, the webcast was chaired – free of charge – by Birmingham journalist Dan Dawson and we took questions from the public in a variety of ways:-
- In advance via email
- Via Twitter using the hashtag #BrumBudget14
- Via CoverItLive
- The questions were not cherry-picked and Dan ensured the councillors were challenged on a wide range of topics – everything from children’s social care and the living wage to park rangers and libraries.
On the face of it, this webcast was no different to the four public meetings. The questions were similar, as were the concerns expressed by members of the public.
But of course there were some key differences:
- People could participate from the comfort of their own home. Going along to a meeting is much more of a time commitment and some people are unable to attend events for a variety of reasons.
- Viewers were able to tune in and out while putting the kids to bed or cooking the evening meal etc.
- People who would find it difficult to voice a question in a public meeting had the opportunity to online
- And, most important of all, people were able to view an archive at a time to suit
- In addition to the pleasing audience figures, the feedback from viewers and councillors was extremely positive. Leader of the council Sir Albert Bore was very positive about the experience. He said: “The budget consultation meetings in December were well attended but we understand it can be difficult for some people to get along to these events. So we decided to use the equipment that streams council meetings in an attempt to take the budget consultation to a wider audience.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this but we’re keen to explore how technology and social media can help us engage with the citizens of Birmingham and it was a great experience that enabled us to reach a considerable number of people.”
So will we be repeating the exercise? Watch this space.