So, how do you video a council meeting?

There’s been mixed reaction to the decision by Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, to tell all councils they should let journalists and hyperlocal sites tweet and record footage at council meetings.

Some councils have been quicker than others to get going on this, and hyperlocal sites and mainstream media alike have been quick to try and take advantage of the new ‘rules.’ Some journalists have been skeptical about what added value video provides at meetings. I suspect for some of these skeptics, it’s more about not knowing how to go about filming than anything else.

As I’ve said before, allowing the filming and live coverage of council meetings does nothing to improve access to the decision-making process, because the vast majority of discussion and debate relating to decisions still takes place behind closed doors.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t film meetings when offered – the question is how do we do it?

One option is filming on smartphones and flip cams at key moments, grabbing 20 or 30 seconds of footage when a key speech is being made or a vote being taken. Displaying video of people voting on a decision does hold them to account.

But filming a full council meeting remins very tricky, especially if you want to see every speaker, get every comment, and accurately reflect the ebb and flow of a meeting. The problem of accustics inside council chambers has been raised more than once too.

So I quite like the idea from Birmingham City Council to stream council meetings online. Nothing new here, you might say – some councils have been streaming for a very long time. Lancashire County Council is one such example.

But the decision to include an embed code so any site which wanted to could take the feed strikes me as worthy of particular mention.

Council meetings are rarely attended by the public, yet the reaction to political stories which appear in print remains high. So a system which allows a news website to embed a meeting into its website and promote its availability can only be good for democracy and public involvement in the process.

Ensuring those websites have a way of keeping the video stored if they wanted to would be the next step,  but Birmingham City Council, for now, appears to have come up with a solution which solves many problems.




5 thoughts on “So, how do you video a council meeting?

  1. As ever, I think it’s a mix of lack of technical understanding, lack of knowing who to ask to get around the lack of understanding, in some cases ICT blocking and not being helpful, lack of wireless or connectivity to transmit across the web through 3G/network/wi-fi as council chambers tend to be in old buildings and you’re lucky if plugs are in the right place…

    All of these things can be addressed. I do wish DCLG had issued a how to guide along with their guidance, they might have increased take up.

    For those who want to know – go play with U-stream and Qik. They’re good places to start as are Audioboo (voice only but good quality, 5 min limit).

    1. Thanks Louise – I don’t think the Victorians could have better designed their chambers if they had intentionally set out to keep 3G signals out 100 years later!

      I agree on the DCLG – it’s one thing to announce something should be done, but not saying how it should be done causes confusion.

  2. For more than a year now I have been trying to get Liverpool City Council to webstream its council meeting. This was a rec from the Liverpool Commission and there is some demand for it. However this feels like pushing a large rock up a steep hill. I understand the issues around money, but I am sure this is doable without large city council spend (for example in partnership with the post and echo or a local university)

    I feel sure some pressure on this may help.. so how about it?

  3. A key thing that needs to happen is council’s don’t end up paying through the nose for streaming/video services while another council nearby gets it for half the price. Surely that old Local Government Association should step in and offer some advice and use some bargaining power to get a good deal for council’s wanting to do live streaming?

    Cardiff council have been doing it for a while, but no embed code – that is an interesting development:

  4. For those councils who already webcast meetings on a regular basis, as we do at Kirklees, I know new technology is being rolled out which will allow for ‘grabbing’ the webcast and plonking it down in your own website – hyperlocal or otherwise.

    What the newer platforms can also offer though, is a more interactive experience of an integrated ‘tweet’ widget and discussion thread (no twitter sign up required). I expect also this will allow for more visible presentations, polls and surveys – all in real time.

    We already do a ‘watch and tweet democracy’ promotion, averaging about 500 viewers and approx 200 tweets per council meeting. However, these two features are not sitting directly next to each other, but run through separate windows. I do hope we get married soon, it would be such a lovely wedding.

    I wrote a piece on webcasting recently, clearly more from a council perspective than a journalistic one. I need to do a follow up, but here’s part one:

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