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?