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