Going live: streaming local democracy

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Live-streaming council meetings: is it worth it? And, if so, how best to do it?

A number of local authorities in the UK and elsewhere have been live-streaming their meetings for some time. I’m a big advocate for opening up local democracy.

At my council, we’ve talked about it, looked into expensive-sounding AV solutions and discounted them.

But with the rise of live-streaming on social media and smartphone video, it’s now so much easier and accessible. You’ve got a council Twitter account. So just open a Periscope account and go – right?

But just because you can, does it mean you should?

Recently, my team has been asked to see if we can stream an important full council meeting.

If resources were no object, then I’d do it in a split-second. I believe as many people as possible should have access to the workings of local democracy. I believe in transparency and throwing open the shutters on the good, the bad and the ugly of local government.

So why am I hestitating?

A few questions arise when I think about live-streaming meetings:

Who cares?

OK, this is the cynic’s question, and I’m not known for my cynicism. But here’s the thing. Is there an audience? Public attendance at council meetings is generally poor.

But just because most people don’t physically go to council meetings, does that mean they don’t care about what’s been discussed and decided at them? And if they do, would they watch them online? But let’s be realistic – how many people will watch? Which leads on to my next question…

Do we have resource?

Someone in our team is always at cabinet and full council meetings. When I go, I write a lot of notes. It’s an old habit. I’ll draft a news release to send out pending the big decisions. Often, once it’s done the rounds for amends and approval, it won’t go out until the end of the day. Sometimes the next day. Nowadays, I take an iPad and try to live tweet the discussion and decisions, with a few pictures if I can. I haven’t yet achieved a huge amount of engagement.

Like most comms teams, ours has reduced in size. Can we afford to have a member of the team manning a live-stream? In the case of Periscope, unless they use a tripod, that might mean holding their phone, unable to tweet or take notes.

So, do we need two team members there: one to film, another to interact? It’s starting to sound very resource intensive. If the answer to the first question is ‘not many’, is it worth it?

What are the options?

I realise I sound like I’m looking for excuses not to live-stream. I’m not – I really want to do it and feel it’s important as many people as possibly have the opportunity to see this stuff and respond to it, live.

So, if we do go for it, how do we do it? There are numerous considerations here, many of them practical. How much time, money and ability do we have? The options as I see them are:

  • Get someone who knows what they’re doing. Ask a professional. This is very budget-dependent, so unlikely, but might achieve the best-looking results.
  • One or more fixed cameras and an online streaming service (Bambuser is one I’ve heard of). Though I’m not sure where to start.
  • A smartphone and Periscope. We’d need someone to point and shoot – probably me. But for the whole thing – maybe two hours or more – or selected snippets?

Other options? I’d really love to hear from people who’ve done it. What works ? And how do you use it to genuinely engage, rather than just ticking the box marked ‘Transparent, open democracy’.

I hope we do it. And I hope it’s worth it.

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3 thoughts on “Going live: streaming local democracy

      1. So you have your 2 people for camera and pen

        We’re using the bambuser method taught by @johnpopham – works very well for committees – not sure it would do the trick for full council meeting

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