I was a little cynical going to the Shaftesbury Listening to You session last night. I may as well lay my cards on the table, I have never liked the meetings. Not because of any reluctance to be accountable or to discuss council issues, but because I do not think they are very good examples of engagement.
The large (or small, in this case) public meeting may have its place. It is probably the best way to handle a single issue with significant public interest and are useful when the flow of information is largely from the platform to the public. However, in my opinion it just doesn’t work for the sort of session Listening to You should be, a dialogue between council and residents, and an opportunity for people to raise specific issues.
I was pleased when we decided, quite early on, to suggest to the audience that we break up and ‘mingle’ rather than stick with the platform/audience set-up. It worked well and I managed to speak to plenty of people on a variety of issues: from housing to litter, from BAC to the Lavender Hill Festival. A couple of people even made suggestions on how the Listening to You sessions could be improved.
I think everyone, residents, councillors and officers left feeling positive about their interactions. And in the case of councillors and officers, with plenty of things to follow-up on.
But I can’t help reflecting that, with around 30 people attending, it represented 0.00% (rounded to 2 decimal places) of the ward population of 12,962 (the latest Office of National Statistics estimate)!
You could argue that it shows everyone is happy with the council, so felt no need to come along. Or that it was raining, which put people off. And there will be some truth in both. But I still can’t help feeling we are missing some tricks in the way we engage (or don’t engage) with residents and that leaves the council poorer: because if last night was a positive experience with around 0.0025% of the population, imagine what could come from 99.9975% of the population.
I also know I need to improve personally, someone last night commented on my absence from Streetlife, and while I’m on Twitter and have this blog the former is mainly personal and the latter isn’t what it once was.
What should I and the council do to better engage with residents? Or are you happy not talking to us?
Rain and locations might be issues. More likely also because you should have first an agenda, in order to guide some discussions at the beginning, that should then only lead to an open debate.
Main concerns of the ward population (I immediately think of the station, but also the schools as 2 examples) were not even quoted in the note above…
I agree with Cyril – Whilst I thought the list of ward topics on the leaflet (that I didn’t get but never mind) was pretty good as ‘agendas’ go, reflecting the discussion topics that people have instigated themselves on Streetlife, the station and the schools are bigger issues, which makes me wonder why we even (barely) have ward meetings as opposed to neighbourhood meetings.
Several ward boundaries seem to cut through Clapham Junction town centre, thus divvying up issues that are actually relevant to everyone. Basically, no one cares about, knows about, or lives in, wards. Wouldn’t a Clapham Junction, or Battersea, meeting be more relevant?
And whilst I’m here, the new format seemed to work well for what it was (mass surgery) but I still see a point in open debate. You described public meetings as a dialogue between council and residents, but they’re also (or could be) a dialogue from resident to resident. I’m much more interested in what other residents think than what the council thinks, but think that there’s a role in the council for facilitating it (and attending it, and then ‘listening to us’ and doing something about it)
But you’re both right – if you want people to turn up then you do need some issues or topics that hold significant public interest. ‘The council’ or ‘the ward’ are not it.
[…] turnout was good, that is a relative term. It was good compared to previous meetings, but I think using the maths I applied to our last meeting the attendance was still 0.00% of the ward. When you have small numbers it becomes easy for a small […]
[…] the topics raised it was fairly typical of any Let’s Talk meeting (I’ve detailed some of them here, here and here): pavements, litter, dog fouling, planning, refuse collection, education, they all […]