This meetup on 19th January was Open Space so participants got to pick the topics and choose which breakout rooms they went to. It’s actually a very nice way to see what scrutineers are thinking about right now.
We had lots of fun before the meeting talking about tic doc memes (yes, yes we did). We found out which councils represent the ‘four lads’ and wondered how we might incorporate sea shanties into scrutiny. Also we pondered whether standing orders would cover councillors having cats on their laps ‘Blofeld style’ when we return to physical meetings.
There were also very helpful conversations about scrutiny stuff. Here are some of the useful points from the different break out rooms that participants shared in the chat:
Good practice exchange
- Budget simulator for public engagement!
- Get comms to ‘sell’ scrutiny
- Minutes styles changing due to recordings of meetings. Role of Cabinet Members, some Council’s have the Cabinet Member always introduce the report, with Officers only answering questions on technical points. Leader of the Council’s attendance at Scrutiny meetings was discussed. At one Council they attendded all the meetings.
- Public engagement in scrutiny is varied across the country.
- Some areas are good at sharing best practice through regional networks
- Work out what comms policy is for supporting committee chairs as well as cabinet members
- Hybrid meetings will be tricky – in some remote meetings, councillors are not using video or are only using video when they wish to speak. Different to physical meetings as probably shorter.
- Public-i have a video of how hybrid meetings can work in practice.
- I was interested in the different formats people are using to run meetings: some both camera on and mic, others audio only and the fact that access to recordings was so different with some deleting the content quite quickly
- Interesting to hear about whether councils keep the recordings of meetings on YouTube.
- Many are in favour of remote meetings continuing because speakers and cllrs are more relaxed in their own homes
- Remote meetings are the future and should carry on after the pandemic.
- Calling meetings “evidence gathering sessions” to keep monitoring officers happy when relaxing formalities to promote engagement by public
- Everyone does it differently. Lack of guidance for authorities on how to involve with residents and scrutiny.
- Importance of making meetings more accessible to members of the public, especially for young people.
- Interesting that other councils use their comms teams to promote meetings.
- Ongoing email engagement with community groups and read out their statements at scrutiny meetings.
- Very little public engagement or social media for scrutiny or other meetings. Only one involved comms in their meetings out of 9 councils. More guidance needed from central govt? Obviously more engagement if a contentious issue.
Scrutiny during covid
- Some chairs have been much more understanding than others. Scrutiny has continued but with some adjustments. Should officer workloads be taken into account? Why are bin collections so emotive?!
- Some Members are not sympathetic to the pressures of officers during lockdown.
- Dentistry scrutiny approaches! how to ask good open ended questions! resources to help folks understand commissioning provider split
- Good Question to ask is, about challenges for Integrated Care Partnerships, to get them to open up.
- In terms of Health Scrutiny ought to look at dentistry services. Organisations involved are keen to engage. Something to consider doing at a JHOSC level potentially.
At this zoom meet up 30 participants worked on the question How can we best support public engagement in scrutiny at the time of Covid-19? using ‘appreciative interviews’.
Thank you so much to everyone for their time and their contributions.
We had had over 60 ideas and I’ve organised them into 9 answers in no particular order. I hope I’ve done the discussion justice.
How can we best support public engagement in scrutiny at the time of Covid-19?
- Work flexibly
- Communicate well
- Address what matters right now
- Work effectively with councillors
- Develop our digital presence
- Use our networks
- Start with the end in mind
- Respect the public
- Get the basics right
Here are all of the ideas in full:
- Relax the rules – not so rigid
- Informal opportunities for public to engage
- Small informal groups like Task and Finish rather than formal meetings
- Accessibility! this means online as well as in person – it means being aware of time frames and doing things more quickly if needed and not being so concerned about meeting protocols
- Oh and flexibility
- Use task and finish groups
- Less rigid/more informal to encourage participation
- Being honest with what scrutiny can or can’t do
- Keeping the Local Democracy Reporter informed about the democratic process
- Openly and widely informing the public of meetings
- Scrutiny access to comms – social media
- Clear guidance to give confidence to people attending – giving evidence
- Provide information
- Be clear about why we are trying to engage people
- Good comms
- Being honest about things which didn’t go well, so residents feel like they have a full picture
- Explain up front any ‘rules’ that cant be broken , eg procurement and due diligence
- When recommendations from the public haven’t been adopted, share reasoning.
Address what matters right now
- Relevance and leadership
- Provide leadership, reassurance and local answers to the things that matter at this time
- We need to ask relevant questions, where the answers will actually make a difference to residents
- Right topic and right time (makes it easier to get engagement)
- Prioritising work
- Having a subject that the public are passionate about
- Be willing to invest the time to find out what’s relevant to the individual
- Ask people what they are worried about
Work effectively with councillors
- Ensure that member engagement is reset
- Members bought into benefits of public engagement and what to do with the feedback
- Briefing members so that they are well informed and able to ask challenging questions
- Greater use of the member communication platform
- Engage with members better first to enable them to engage with the public better
- Informal networks utilising Members -e.g. asset based community development (ABCD)
- Get members to think like users, make the issue really understandable
- Councillors provide individuals who are stakeholders or people who care about an issue that’s relevant to them
Develop our digital presence
- Involve people in online meetings – people have got used to doing Zoom/Teams meetings so you may be able to access people you haven’t done before
- Maximising use of social media
- Social media to reach out (being mindful of digital exclusion as restrictions lift)
- Right virtual environment (safe space)
- Buy in virtual experts
- Stop hiding the scrutiny page on the website
- Continually asking: “who cannot access this?” to ensure no one is being digitally excluded in this increasingly digital-reliant time
- Engage with social media and try to incentivise
- Web access and availability, relevant topics
- Think about how virtual enables us to reach the disengaged or those who can’t work out how the authority website works
- Use non online methods
Use our networks
- Using existing networks
- Use existing networks
- Use healthwatch
Start with the end in mind
- Be clear about the role and impact of scrutiny
- Outcomes required to ensure public engagement is useful
- Managing expectations – have realistic outcomes for people who get involved
Respect the public
- Respect the public
- Trust, accessibility, expectations, awareness raising, feedback
- Resources required for public engagement but this is being taken up with organising virtual meetings
- Making sure people get feedback after the event – what actually happened as a result of their engagement!
Get the basics right
- Right environment
- Good prep
- Establish clear ground rules for online focus groups
- Right witnesses
- Need to ensure public gives sufficient evidence to back up concerns
- Tempting people in
- Consider offering incentives to engage in consultation – prize draw? relevant merchandising
- What contact details do participants have to provide to take part in a focus group
We had 30 people attending this scrutiny zoom meet up (thanks everyone) and the main activity was a Users Experience Fishbowl looking at early experiences of virtual scrutiny meetings. In the fishbowl we had four officers and one councillor from West Sussex, Redbridge, Devon and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councils.
The main learning points from the participants were:
- That it can be a positive experience
- Importance of having a trial run
- Some of the tactics and approaches being used to demonstrate the continued need for scrutiny during this time
- How virtual meetings are improving culture in meetings
- It’s like a cake and the outcome depends on getting the right ingredients for your authority
- The importance of championing Scrutiny at this time when we are likely to get pushback from officers
- Need to get the ingredients in the right order, quantity and quality to get the best virtual meeting cake.
- Involvement of other SC members in Overview Board/ Committee
- The concept of member-led working groups contributing a new angle
- Scrutiny is here to help and able to support the Covid19 response is a good way of getting support from officers
- Preparation and reassurance for chairmen.
- Just do it.
- Trial runs, scripts, and protocols make for good meetings
- Importance of scrutinising the Covid response, whilst balancing the pressure that those services are already under, and getting management buy-in to do so.
- Very good to hear from those that have had virtual meetings and especially from Cllr Broadhead as chair of a virtual meeting, very interesting.
- The need to have a good protocol for virtual meetings
- Lots of helpful lessons learnt and practical points to support virtual meetings. E.g. trial runs, having clear roles on the day, member training and more!
- Organisational culture remains key – find a way for scrutiny to assist more than challenge
- The idea that Scrutiny can help by capturing real time thought and reflection – video diary testimony perhaps – on the response to Covid. Museums are asking for diaries and memories – perhaps Scrutiny can help curate contributions so that relevant memories are not forgotten or lost.
- Identify the issues that resonate for departments and partners.
- How many people live streamed / watched a meeting! Public interest is high
- Combining Committees to streamline the process
- Lots of tips on running the meeting effectively and specially to remind colleagues of how scrutiny can be a positive experience and a way to showcase the good work. And bring much needed transparency on the decisions being made.
- Everyone is facing the same challenges throughout the UK & we need to keep promoting the importance of scrutiny.
- New approaches being put in place and made to work quickly. Will be good to hold on to this openness to try new things and also evaluate what of old ways is worth going back to
How might scrutiny add value and support frontline services right now?
At the scrutiny officers zoom meet up on 21st April we worked on this question and made the following list.
Thank you so much to the 20 participants from across the country who took part 👏
- Help to gather feedback on peoples experience of services over the last few weeks
- Raise awareness of what is going on and service changes
- Looking at Business Continuity Plans to see how they are being used at the moment.
- Engage the community on what has worked and what hasn’t in terms of covid response
- There could be some discrete task and finish work on topics such as refuse collection and disposal, safeguarding and school attendance.
- Feeding in community insight/on the ground experiences
- Scrutinising the application of the emergency plan – is it doing what it is supposed to do?
- Keeping things on track with timings and targets
- Asking about alternative plans
- Dissemination of local Covid-19 information via a weekly All Member Briefing.
- Bringing a degree of transparency to decision-making processes and oversight of decisions, as well as bringing valuable community intelligence on cases
- Hold council to targets and timelines to help keep on track and avoid any drift
- Bringing together information on the key activities.
- Community engagement – what is working and what isn’t working. Are you getting the food parcels etc.
- Role of Public Health as a bridge between LA and health partners
- Chance for officers to explain how services have had to adapt and how this has been done
- Drawing on community insights and councillor knowledge
- Assist in post covid recovery efforts in task and finish groups
- Look at the processes that are being used and how they could be improved
- Officer knowledge should be captured in strategies/documents so that information can be passed on to colleagues coming into their service
- Logging decisions and reasons for those
- What would have helped us respond to this better/quicker?
- We also considered the degree to which Scrutiny should not distract and considered renaming it to something that looked more practical – task and finish orientated
- Be agile and flexible in how scrutiny is structured
- Local decision making related to Covid-19. e.g. closure of different services that are open elsewhere or the opposite
- Learning valuable lessons as we go along, not leaving it for a debrief
- Allow the public to input in to service changes (understand the ned for them)
- We also looked at how emergency plans had stood up to reality
- Ensuring coordination between directorates
- Ensuring delegated decisions are also being communicated properly
- Checking that our safeguarding of children remains strong. Ensuring care workers are properly equipped. Is the emergency plan working? What about issues arising now? eg flytippin – Covid can’t take over everything.
- How to influence/shape the economic recovery.
- We looked public health function of LA
- Scrutiny to be the mech to circulate information to enable people to understand what is happening during these times.
- Help to prioritise services in the future and review comms
- Oversight of strategic decisions, especially on budgets being redirected
- Assessing the effectiveness of the local emergency response
- Vulnerable children kept safe