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Usergroup Spring 2011 – Carl Whistlecraft: Kirklees Council tweeting from meetings

By May 17, 2011One Comment

Carl Whistlecraft is the head of governance and democratic services at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. He was at the user group to describe how the unitary authority has started tweeting from council meetings to help more people get involved in the local democratic process.

Carl said that the whole thing started by accident – when a full council meeting was held at Cleckheaton Town Hall while the chamber at Huddersfield (where the authority is based) was being refurbished. It meant no webcast was possible, and Carl decided he’d try to help some of those who’d be missing out on the action by providing a commentary on the meeting on Twitter.

“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.”

(From this post on Carl’s blog.)

When he awoke the next day, Carl checked Twitter. “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”.”

As  a result of the amazing response, Carl and the democratic services team decided to develop a more formal approach to reporting from meetings. The team regularly tweet out from a variety of meetings at the council, using the hashtag #kirkcouncil. It now happens in conjunction to the webcast (rather than as a replacement for it) and involves the councillors, officers and the public.

The project has been a success in that it has:-

  • Offers the public (as well as staff and members) an additional way of interacting and keeping in touch with what’s happening at council meetings.
  • Has led to some impressive and encouraging stats – in terms of the numbers of people involved.
  • Provided positive press coverage
  • Helped councillors and staff to engage with the medium (and the meetings)

While the social reporting has proved a success, Carl said that there are a few things that could be improved upon:-

  • At the moment, conversations are more commentary than dialogue
  • It’s still the case that a relatively small group of people make up most of the conversation
  • Carl said that technology remains an issue – but not Public-i’s!
  • For the moment, it’s still the case that much of the activity is simply reporting on the event – it hasn’t yet got to the point where a really rich conversation is taking place.

Finally, he pointed out that the real aim of all this activity should be to enrich and the democratic process, which (along with the other points about what can be improved upon) is something that the council will now work hard on. It is looking at how it might incorporate community reporting into council meetings – and how it can use technology to further engage the public in the decision-making process.

He said that – for real democratic engagement – councils will really have to ‘re-engineer the democratic process’ to take account of the new ways that people are interacting with institution. He cited the example of how arcane, complicated language, such as ‘substantive motion’ can’t help people to take part.

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