Virtual Council Meetings: Weeknote, w/c 18.05.2020

Don’t make a drama out of a crisis 

The worst happened this week. There was a broadband outage during one of our commission meetings. About half a dozen councillors lost their connection to the meeting and the live stream went down. Thankfully the outage was brief and councillors were able to rejoin the meeting. We were able to re-establish the live stream (albeit with a new link). We record all the meetings as a back up to ensure we fulfil our obligations under the new regulations. 

This is something we could not have prevented, but as a project team we had discussed what we would do in these circumstances. This prepared us to make decisions quickly.  

I was struck by how calmly the Chair and scrutiny officer managed the situation. The councillors who lost connection rejoined without drama – one pragmatically deciding to dial in. Behind the scenes, Mario worked quickly and resourcefully to get the live stream working again. 

One Crisis, no drama. 

The elephant in the room

We have delivered 10 statutory council meetings online since 14th April. We have recorded or live streamed nine of these. That’s a huge achievement. In June we scale up again and will be supporting 16 meetings. 

Here’s the rub. There’s one issue that keeps coming back to bite us. 

Meetings are looonnngggg

It boils down to this. Council meetings tend to be long, often running to three hours. Sustaining momentum and interest for an extended amount of time is hard enough with everyone in the same room, but what about online… 

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) moving a three-hour meeting online exacerbates the loss of concentration, productivity and focus. Added to this, facilitating complex discussions online takes extra time, interactions have to be managed, rather than organic, reading body language and emotions is much harder. 

Fun fact: the average attention span of an adult is between 10 and 20 minutes. 

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should*

To lift and shift something that isn’t ideal to a digital environment just because it is permissible by regulations isn’t smart nor is it desirable. We want to be resolving pain points not compounding them. Moving council meetings online is a good opportunity to experiment with new ways of doing things. 

The best way to eat an elephant or do something hard**

We need to revisit the length of meetings. Here’s some things we are going try in the next couple of weeks:

  • Limiting meetings to 2 hours
  • Less agenda items
  • More short breaks

We need to do this in collaboration with committee/commission chairs and the officers involved in meetings. We are breaking ways of working that have been in place for over 40 years. Small steps, open and honest conversations and iteration are going to be key to addressing pain points. 

If virtual council meetings are here to stay, we’ll also need to look at how information is provided and presented, But that’s another conversation for another weeknote. 

*My mum used to say this to me a lot when I was a kid

**Just to be clear I’m not advocating we eat Dumbo – or any other elephant

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