Author: Dave

Meetup notes: Work planning for the win

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At this meetup we worked on the issues of work planning. We used a liberating structure called What, So What, What Next to work through a conversation in three stages.

Here are the takeaways that we captured from participants in the chat at the end of each stage.

Hope you find them useful!

Something interesting that you heard that others do

  • canvas residents, reviewing consultations
  • It’s all about communication!
  • We discussed whether committees used the first meeting of their year to finalise the work plan or whether this was established beforehand leaving the first meeting to actually scrutinise – there was a mixture of responses
  • Topic suggestions invited from the public via website and social media
  • a scrutiny café to discuss work plans
  • Social Media Campaigns
  • Communication with Chairperson/Vice Chairperson/Members/Directors and Heads of Service. openness and transparency of agendas etc
  • Public ideas for topics
  • Looking in local media for matters of local interest to be included in work plans
  • moving away from annual work planning
  • Having a google docs type document to share a draft work plan with members and officers for their input
  • corporate plan
  • Looking at the action tracker to see what’s outstanding
  • Interested to see other council using social media to get ideas from public
  • Speaking with cabinet members


What insights did you gain from sharing different work planning activities?

  • Members need to think more critically about whether their ideas for scrutiny items are good enough to make most of resources and time
  • Trying to enable more interaction/discussion at meetings – not just presentations!
  • listen to all members across the administration and opposition
  • Variety of sources for longlist of items for work programme
  • Work programme is a living document and constantly changing
  • increased communication with the public, with residents to inform the FWP.
  • Plan to use different mechanisms for scrutiny in your work programme
  • importance of good chairmanship in making meetings focussed
  • meeting with cabinet members
  • How Task and Finish Group work has continued for some.
  • That officers can talk for too long….
  • Flexible work programmes to accommodate urgent items as and when needed
  • Need to get Comms support for engaging with public to get suggestions
  • Comms involvement helps shape scrutiny and the public interest.
  • A shift in perspective about drawing insights from councillors
  • Setting up meetings with cabinet members and chairs/vice chairs starts the year in a productive way.


Something to do differently as a result of today’s conversation?

  • Virtual planning event with breakout rooms etc
  • speak to comms on what has been high traffic issue on social media recently
  • Use social media to canvass for suggestions for the public and calls for evidence during a specific review
  • looking at local media as well as complaints and consultation feedback as a source for timely and relevant topics
  • Virtual work programme planning with Committee g. use breakout rooms
  • utilise comms / public consultations to gauge better idea of public concerns
  • Liaise with cabinet members and officers more about topics for scrutiny
  • ability to make use of new technology to gather evidence from stakeholders
  • Informal drop-in sessions for people to find out more about scrutiny / suggest topics
  • Look at how we do our social media around scrutiny.
  • Planning the way we carry out the scrutiny – not just the topic
  • start pre-meets with all Members of the Committee for any questions and to inform the line of questioning to encourage pre reading of the agenda and pack.
  • Engage more extensively with Officers to suggest ideas for scrutiny
  • Scrutiny café research!
  • Engaging others and councillors more. Looking at items as a journey
  • Themed meetings
  • Seeking to widen the circle of Members who contribute their input to the work planning
  • Possibly a Scrutiny ran social media account separate from Comms?
  • Speak to comms about local issues they have picked up
  • Nurture three-way relations (portfolio holders, Chairs, Exec Directors) from the start


Sign up now for scrutinymeetup #15: Work planning for the win 🥇

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ScrutinyMeetup #15: Work planning for the win 🥇

2.00-4.00, Thursday 25th March

This topic came top of the poll when we asked participants at the February meetup. And who doesn’t love a good scrutiny work plan?

We’ll (probably) be running this meetup as a Triz – also known as the ‘anti-problem technique’, it follows the idea that sometimes identifying ways to solve the opposite issue to the current one makes it easier to find a new solution. We’ll explain it all on the day when we promise it will make sense. Well, it worked before when we did it, and we had a lot of fun, so we are confident! Oh, and we will be using Google Jamboard again so do check that out if you haven’t seen it before. (If Jamboard doesn’t work for you, it’s still possible to join in so don’t worry)

And there will be nine minute networking of course. We invite you to spend nine minutes in the company of two random scrutineers in two rounds. We suggest a couple of conversation topics but it’s up to you really.


Some practical points

Just so you know, we will close bookings the day before and then send out joining details by the night before to everyone signed up. Watch your spam folder!

In the mean time, as we will be using Zoom, you might want to sign up / install the app if you can (if you haven’t already) although you can still access through a browser. Details about Zoom here:

By the way, there are 72 spaces this time.

Hope to se you there!

Dave Mckenna @DrDaveMckenna

Matt Clack @M_ttclack

Meetup notes: What are we gonna do with our annual report?

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We thoroughly enjoyed our annual report themed meetup and thank you to the 50 participants. Special thank yous of course to the three fishes who took part in the excellent fishbowl conversation; Catherine, Camilla and Julia.

Please watch the video and check out the poll results and notes. Plenty to give you inspiration for your next annual report!


Poll results

We ran a few polls just to give an idea of where everyone is.






Here are the notes from the chat. First the questions and comments for the fishes following a round of breakout groups, second the final takeaways (we usually have a takeaway on a Friday night, mmmm).

Questions and comments for the fishbowl

  • The issue of time lag between action and outcome
  • Do you include the Key Decisions in your annual report?
  • How well do you collaborate with IT and Comms team?
  • how do you ensure the annual report is member led and influenced by us?
  • how would you use social media?
  • How do you evaluate the value of scrutiny meaningfully to report it in the Annual Plan?
  • Can you get away with a video only report?
  • Scrutiny is sometimes held to a higher standard of accountability in terms of outcomes and expectations compared to the executive for example some recommendations may take more than a year to implement and have an impact – how can this be overcome?
  • What information – if any – is essential to include in the annual scrutiny report?
  • From our group: Inspired by the way other authorities promote scrutiny, love the idea of a video/using newsletters/ Any other great ideas?
  • How can you overcome the annual report becoming just part of a process and make it more effective.
  • How have you managed any corporate resistance to your change in approach?
  • Absolutely agree around the impact oriented – refined report style. We’ve worked really hard over the last two years to make this happen and we’re pleased with the reports produced recently. New accessibility requirements cause difficulties though. How do we make our reports both accessible and impactful/attractive?
  • How to challenge the culture where scrutiny value is not accepted
  • Comms have basically told us because there is minimal engagement with the invites to the committee meetings they’re stopping doing it and there’s resistance giving scrutiny its own twitter – crazy to see its like that in so many other places, how to we combat this?
  • It is about trust and motivation of the Chair
  • We tag all of the Members into our tweets so they can re-tweet them – this increases the traffic – I should say all of the Members on that particular board
  • We also re-tweet articles that pick up scrutiny issues
  • how to show impact of scrutiny at a time when it is struggle to get attention? – balance between impact and a lasting effect for scrutiny
  • We talked about the need to make this a virtual report – links and videos are a great tool


What’s your biggest takeaway? What are you gonna do with your annual report?

  • Get comms onside with scrutiny to help with getting the message across of the benefit of scrutiny.
  • Make annual report shorter and more accessible – involve comms
  • Keep it relevant.
  • To aim to work toward a shorter more punchy and meaningful Annual report based on today’s discussions
  • This year has already been so different for all of us – so lets be brave and make this the year when we go big on making our annual report have impact!!
  • Look into possibility of video presentation to bring to life – we already have good links with Comms team who tweet most of our live streamed meetings
  • Importance of singing about the impact of scrutiny and the challenge of finding the right stage to do it
  • I will try to be more creative learning from others such as Devon, consider videos etc.
  • We should use the report short and virtual to celebrate scrutiny successes and use the voice of scrutiny members to promote it
  • That we can cover more than just the previous year – consider a newsletter approach rather than a board by board report. Using an exceptional year to make changes
  • Thinking about video and social media as ways of driving engagement. How do I make the report go viral!?
  • Member engagement key as it should be their report. Use all forms of media.
  • The question of “If it hadn’t been for Scrutiny, what would have happened?”
  • Be brave – shout about scrutiny!
  • Look at a different way of producing it.
  • Loving the group support – keep pushing for innovation!
  • I really like the idea of incorporating video into future annual reports, and making better use of comms and social media.
  • Using different methods such as video for a report. Keep it short, thinking of the audience and help measure success of the team and work of scrutiny.
  • Keep fighting! Get comms on board and focus on evidencing impact and value added through scrutiny – culture is crucial.
  • Promote scrutiny more – videos, use of newsletters get a good working relationship with comms.
  • Give more consideration to the audience of the report.
  • Short, pithy report demonstrating relevance of scrutiny.
  • Use of social media to increase the reach of the annual report
  • Political/Corporate buy-in of scrutiny is important!
  • Getting those stories or Scrutiny’s impact from others across the organisation, video option is very interesting.
  • The use of stories and quotes – the real voice!
  • Join up comms and scrutiny
  • Let’s try a  non-written report!


Sign up now for Meetup #14: What are we gonna do with our annual report?

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ScrutinyMeetup #14: What are we gonna do with our annual report?

10.00- 12.00, Wednesday 24th February

We thought annual reports would be a really good topic after we were contacted by Catherine Buckley at Knowsley. It is, of course, that time of the year when scrutiny officers are trawling the internet, looking for ideas to share with councillors. You can read Catherine’s post here.

We are going to run it as a fishbowl. We’ve done this a couple of times before and it’s worked pretty well. We ask four or five scrutineers to talk informally about their experiences of a particular topic for 20 minutes or so. Everyone then gets the chance to discuss what they have heard and suggest questions for the fishes who have another round of discussion before a final round of discussion for everyone.

I’m delighted that, along with Catherine, Camilla de Bernhardt Lane (Devon) and Julia Cleary (Wolverhampton) will be taking part. We have a couple of spare places so, if you might like to be a fish, you can let us know when you sign up.

And there will also be nine minute networking of course.

Please do note the new time – we are having our first ever morning meetup so, you know, adjust your Filofax accordingly.

Some practical points

Just so you know, we will close bookings the day before and then send out joining details by the night before to everyone signed up. Watch your spam folder – we will probably send out a separate email to say we have sent the first!

In the mean time, as we will be using Zoom, you might want to sign up / install the app if you can (if you haven’t already) although you can still access through a browser. Details about Zoom here:

By the way, there are 72 spaces this time.

Hope to se you there!

Dave Mckenna @DrDaveMckenna

Matt Clack @M_ttclack


Sign up now for Meetup #13: Open space

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ScrutinyMeetup #13: You choose the topics

14.00- 16.00, 19th January 2021

No theme this time. Following a suggestion from a couple of our participants, this meetup will be ‘open space’ – we will give you the chance to choose the topics for the breakout rooms and then decide which breakout rooms you go to. We’ve done this before and it was fun!

So do bring any ideas with you. Oh ,and we will likely be using google docs to capture the learning points – you don’t need it to participate but just, well, just so you know.

We will also have the ever popular nine minute networking of course. We invite you to spend nine minutes in the company of two random scrutineers in two rounds. We suggest a couple of conversation topics but it’s up to you really.

Some practical points

Just so you know, we will close bookings the day before and then send out joining details by the night before to everyone signed up. Watch your spam folder – we will send out a separate email to say we have sent the first!

In the mean time, as we will be using Zoom, you might want to sign up / install the app if you can (if you haven’t already) although you can still access through a browser. Details about Zoom here:

By the way, there are 72 spaces this time.

Hope to se you there!

Dave Mckenna @DrDaveMckenna

Matt Clack @M_ttclack


In practice: How can we improve our scrutiny annual reports?

This is a guest post from Catherine Buckley at Knowlsey Council. Thanks Catherine!


Each year we all complete an annual report. Generally speaking they cover the work of the function over the past year, edited highlights, perhaps a bit of impact, feedback/insight and maybe some information on where scrutiny has added value or what the plans are for the future.

When it comes to drafting the report I always do a Google trawl for good ideas or areas where they have done something a bit different with their format/content. Some of the best ones I have seen are easy to understand and really accessible (for non scrutiny people) and they also go beyond a summary report,  being more analytical and using learning from the past year to inform the year ahead.

With the shift to paperless and home working there are now real opportunities to think differently about format as well as content. I’d love to hear from other areas where scrutiny annual reports have been more innovative in their approach, to understand how they were produced and shared and how they involved Members and other stakeholders throughout the process.

Please get in touch if you would like to share some learning on this topic!


Catherine works at Knowsley Council. You can read about their scrutiny annual report here.

Do have any good examples to share or ideas to add or questions to ask? Why not comment on this post.

Or drop Catherine a line on

Meetup notes: Design your perfect scrutiny officer

At this scrutinymeetup we did two things – an informal review to help us plan ahead and a longer activity looking at the strengths we might associate with the perfect scrutiny officer.

Also we had a tenuous robot theme for some reason or other.

Review of the meetups

Here are people’s thoughts on the meetups that they put in the chat:

What’s something you like about the meetups?

  • Hearing how others LAs are approaching the same challenges
  • Being able to speak in a non-judgemental space with knowledgeable people
  • Meeting new people (I’m new to this)
  • Networking, gaining context, hearing experiences from other types of authorities, meeting new people
  • being able to participate across the country easily
  • getting ideas from people to help me solve problems I’ve got!
  • opportunity to meet scrutiny officers from around the country
  • being able to meet up with officers in such a supportive and safe atmosphere!
  • Networking and chatting to other scrutiny officers. Also your humour!
  • networking
  • It’s somewhere to find ideas for better scrutiny!
  • Networking, information sharing
  • Good chance to hear from others about good practice, but also reassurance that nowhere has the perfect set up – everyone has their own quirks to deal with!
  • a few things:  meeting folk from other authorities, hearing their experiences, and how they practice scrutiny at mo
  • General chats and social
  • Chatting with colleagues from other authorities and getting a sense of how things work elsewhere
  • meeting others
  • learning from others in breakout rooms
  • Being able to learn from others
  • meeting with officers and councillors from different areas to explore issues and ideas
  • They interactive and cooperative

What’s something you might change?

  • perhaps some active learning sessions?  taking one issue and all having a go at it…
  • slightly longer time in the breakout, more councillors involved might be interesting
  • Earlier meetings possibly?
  • More fish bowl speakers. More speakers.
  • you’ve done it now for 2021…different days and times!
  • Struggled with this, I really like them as they are…
  • The time (clash with school run)
  • Haven’t been able to attend others; so probably the time of day. morning maybe less disruptive to daily schedule
  • days of the week and times. thanks for planning a morning one
  • Don’t know as this is my first one!
  • Times, in person in the future once a year.
  • allow self led breakouts
  • I really liked the opportunity to go between groups with different topics that we could choose ourselves – would like to see this again

What might be a good topic for a future meetup?

  • Public engagement / How to engage the community in a meaningful way
  • developing resident engagement with scrutiny and using that to develop the work programme
  • scrutiny and new governance arrangements in Health / health scrutiny
  • what does effective work programming look like (2)
  • what training do other authorities provide for councillors?
  • Dealing with the relationship between members, Executive and Senior officers
  • scrutiny of the budget
  • Making use of performance data, business intelligence, and using it inform priorities and policy
  • having got to a good virtual operating level, how you use it for next level facilitating even more effective scrutiny – its been    good
  • How Paw Patrol is a metaphor for Scrutiny!
  • Share what are the best bits and worst bits of your scrutiny function?
  • covid-19 – the local perspective

Design your perfect scrutiny officer

We invited participants, in small groups, to think about the strengths required for the perfect scrutiny officer and who they might associate these strengths with (partly for descriptive power and partly, well, for fun).

We asked groups to limit themselves to five each. Some of the groups themed all five of their answers (interesting!) so we had Friends, the West Wing and Harry Potter, for example. (Organised like Hermione Granger, the Eye for Detail of Filch the Caretaker, Tenacious -like Professor McGonagal, the Political Nous of Dumbledore and the Curiosity of Harry Potter) 

Here are some of the final list of ‘if you could choose just one’ that were left in the chat. Ready to include these in your person specs, annual appraisals and development plans everyone? 

  • The political nous of Dumbledore! (4)
  • The skill of efficient, thoughtful and robust pursuit of truth.. of Poirot
  • The good personal qualities of Marcus Rashford
  • The happiness and resilience of Rachel from Friends
  • The Investigative Strength of Coleen Rooney/Wagatha Christie
  • The communication of CJ Cregg of the West Wing
  • The communications of Rachel from Friends 
  • The strategic and analytical thinking of Data from Star Trek

Thanks everyone and carry on scrutinising 🕺💃