Local Government is government at a grassroots level. It is the level of government that is the closest and most accessible to the community and the one that understands the will of the people much better than most. The councillors and staff of a council are talking to their community more than anyone else, and if they don’t represent those views accurately, they could be punished at the ballot box.
The centrepiece of these great democratic organisations is the council meeting. These meetings are where important decisions are made, and the community can see democracy in the geographic location in which they live. The council meeting includes council staff who are putting up recommendations for councillors to make decisions on, as well as providing information on council operations. These opportunities to present at council meetings should be viewed as an honour and a privilege, and an opportunity to showcase the work they have done and present ideas for the direction of the community.
A Glimpse into the Demands Faced by Governance Professionals
The council meeting requires a lot of preparation, and ensuring these meetings reflect the professional nature of council operations requires a lot of work from several people, usually the governance professionals. These small groups of people often must chase up multiple people to ensure reports are submitted with enough time to be reviewed by councillors and executive staff before the meetings. They are often doing this blindly without the ability to see what the status of the reports is and often must change wording and formatting to meet the professional standards they are expected to meet.
This is a challenge, especially when agendas must be made available well before the meeting date, and deferring items after publishing the agenda can create scheduling issues, as well as damage to council's reputation.
I recently met with a council who mentioned they moved from fortnightly to monthly meetings. They mentioned that they didn’t know how they managed fortnightly meetings as the workload was immense. After each meeting, there is a lot of follow-up work to ensure the resolutions are distributed to relevant council staff and actions are tracked based on council decisions.
Discover more challenges and opportunities in our latest Insights Report - The Unrealised Potential of Council Meetings
Tailoring Council Meetings to Increase Engagement
Council meetings are showcases to the public. They are an opportunity for the public to view their elected officials and council staff in action and to see debate on issues that are important to them. So, the agenda is important to indicate if they should attend in person or view either the entire meeting or areas of relevance to them. Another problem is that these meetings often take a lot of time, and the public often only wants to see the debate in areas that concern them. Some want to live stream, while many don’t need to see the discussion in real time and only want to view it when it is convenient for them.
It is also important to remember that the actions of these meetings are important for the public record, so taking the minutes when there are so many people talking (often over each other) is often arduous. Making this easy is important, as accurately recording the voting is a key outcome.
While council meetings serve as vital forums for public engagement, there is a pressing need for modernisation to enhance accessibility.
Modern Solutions for Streamlined Council Meetings
This process seems complicated and time-consuming, but it mostly comes together well with experienced and dedicated staff making it work, often working many extra hours to ensure timelines are met. Councils are working through digital transformations. Isn’t it time this centrepiece of democracy was modernised to allow:
Governance professionals to be able to automatically build agendas.
The status of reports to be viewed.
Information available to councillors and executives at relevant times
The ability to choose areas they want to focus on, especially resolutions that need a decision.
Easy to use tools so resolutions are recorded accurately.
Electronic voting so decisions are accurately recorded.
Livestreaming of meetings to make them accessible.
Bookmarking of the video so the public can view areas of interest.
Resolutions to be distributed and then tracked.
This technology has been available for a long period of time, but take-up often lags as other areas of council operations are prioritised. By embracing these technological advancements, councils can not only meet the diverse needs of their communities but also ensure a more transparent and effective democratic process for all.
Isn’t it time this showcase of democracy is given priority?