Is it time for Council meetings live online?

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Can streaming media negate screaming media at Council meetings? All we need is better broadband to find out

by Nathan Rudyk

They do it in Espanola Ontario, Prince Edward County, Gilbert, Arizona and Joondalup, Australia. We can too.

A constructive community response to the OPP’s unfortunate intervention in our Council chambers this week involves multiple calls for the introduction of streaming video. The feeling is that future shitstorms (the word appears in several dictionaries, Google it if in doubt as to its meaning) will be avoided if all parties interacting at public meetings understand their words and actions are being recorded AND archived for digital posterity. Streaming media could supplant screaming media.

According to at least one of our Councilors, introducing this democracy-building innovation requires better broadband access, which may come to our municipal offices as soon as August. While high-speed Internet at Council meetings would be peachy, the community-driven Broadband Working Group’s objective is to see our politicians using their newfound technological breakthrough ASAP to discuss the extension universal high-speed access through rural as well as urban areas – so that “no laneway is left behind”. We have high hopes and are working hard to overcome obstacles to universal access, but more on that in future posts.

For now, here are a few benefits and best practices for video streaming ratepayer-funded meetings. But first let’s understand if this is a true tech trend or a flash in the pan. A Brooklyn, New York company called Livestream that is used by 367 government organizations across 36 countries offers these eye-popping stats and observations:

  • 82% of people prefer live video to social posts
  • 80% of audiences would rather watch live video than read a blog (or maybe even a Millstone article, but doubt that)
  • 78% of people watch videos online every week
  • 100 million hours of Facebook videos are watched around the world every day (not just of pet cat tricks, apparently)
  • A municipal employee of the Town of Gilbert, Arizona says, “2.9 billion people are online. If you can’t use video to get to them, you’re irrelevant.”

Over in Australia, mate, municipal governments identified the following positive outcomes to offering streaming and archived video of public meetings:

  • The ability to view Council meetings via this medium increases accessibility
  • A broader and larger audience may observe Council meetings and those with mobility or access issues are able to watch Council meetings at home or at a place convenient to them
  • Reduce negative perceptions in the community as its members are able to access the content of the meetings and not rely on word of mouth or media coverage
  • Improve the perception of Council’s openness, transparency and accountability
  • Demonstrate concrete commitment to openness, transparency and accountability while increasing accessibility to meetings
  • Reaching a broader audience may assist in educating members of the public regarding the purpose, role and operation of Council meetings

Closer to home, while our own Lanark County doesn’t bother, Prince Edward County “live streams all meetings of Council for the benefit of those residents and interested individuals that are not able to attend in person. All recorded meetings are also posted to the archives so that residents can view past meetings at their leisure.”

And to help save our municipality a bunch of money on streaming media consultants ahead of implementing out Town’s streaming media implementation, here are some common-sense best practices based on the experiences of several Australian municipalities:

  • Training should be provided to Councilors on debating and seminars conducted for Councilors regarding legal implications of statements made at Council
  • Members of the public should be suitably informed that meetings are being recorded or broadcasted
  • The minimum notice provided should be via large notices in and around the Council Chambers, notices on the website, advice in the agenda and an announcement by the Presiding Member at the commencement of the meeting
  • Via the creation of a policy, the City should state its intention in regard to providing recordings. This should consider both requests from Councilors and members of the public

Streaming and archiving Council meetings is just the beginning in an innovation-driven municipality (not sure that we are one of those, but we could be/should be). New video platforms like Blab allow users to create their own meetings or “talk shows” and place several people “on air” at one time. Hosts have the option to record the whole session or just a portion and repost it for viewers to watch later.

Using an app like Blab would allow our many local committee and sub-committee meetings to take place despite snowstorms or the lack of mobility for some of our citizens. Imagine being able to easily include the wisdom of a disabled man when discussing access in new public spaces, or tapping into the wisdom of a local medical specialist even though she’s at a conference in Beijing.

Let’s git er dun.