With a series of key meetings due just as lockdown came into place, we moved quickly to prepare for virtual meetings without quite knowing what they would - or should - look like. As the council already uses the Google Suite of products for day-to-day working, we adopted Google Meet as our platform for virtual meetings, offered a Google Chromebook to all councillors and worked with Digital and IT colleagues to livestream our committee meetings via YouTube.
With guidance and bespoke support proactively provided by the Committee Services Team to councillors, officers and members of the public, we quickly held successful meetings of our Strategy and Resources Committee, Planning Committee, annual council meeting and other committee meetings with no significant IT/procedural issues. Public participation has been mostly unaffected, with a guide on council meetings shared with residents and training provided to those who are participating in meetings. Preparations for the next phase of meetings, which we expect will mean something of a hybrid between virtual and in-person meetings, are ongoing.
We have also adapted our Member Development Programme to offer virtual sessions, including a recent discussion on civility in public life, and saw higher-than-average participation in this session with 67 per cent of Members in attendance. This virtual approach to Member Development is further supporting councillors in their roles in the current circumstances.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The Committee Services team continues to offer guidance to Members, officers, and the public, and regularly review this guidance as our meetings continue and we recognise where further improvements can be made.
- Move quickly to think about and plan a best course of action and then look for input from a core group of colleagues before it is rolled out.
- Develop bespoke guidance for the officers supporting meetings, councillors and other participants. This not only helps those stakeholders but also gives space to think about how the meetings will run, how to best manage the process and to develop back-up plans
- Think about having another team member on hand to deal with technical issues for participants. It can be challenging to act as Clerk and address IT issues at the same time.
- Acknowledge that you are working through something unprecedented and so many things will be removed, added and changed as you move forward - be comfortable with these inevitable changes
- Know and build relationships with your Members - some aspects of meetings will be very important to them and will need retaining whereas others will not.
Matthew Stickley, Committee Services Team Leader