Open data and all that

Videoing council meetings redux: progress on two fronts

with 18 comments

Tonight, hyperlocal bloggers (and in fact any ordinary members of the public) got two great boosts in their access to council meetings, and their ability to report on them.

Windsor & Maidenhead this evening passed a motion to allow members of the public to video the council meetings. This follows on from my abortive attempt late last year to video one of W&M’s council meeting – see the full story here, video embedded below – following on from the simple suggestion I’d made a couple of months ago to let citizens video council meetings. I should stress that that attempt had been pre-arranged with a cabinet member, in part to see how it would be received – not well as it turned out. But having pushed those boundaries, and with I dare say a bit of lobbying from the transparency minded members, Windsor & Maidenhead have made the decision to fully open up their council meetings.

Separately, though perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the Department for Communities & Local Government tonight issued a press release which called on councils across the country to fully open up their meetings to the public in general and hyperlocal bloggers in particular.

Councils should open up their public meetings to local news ‘bloggers’ and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.

To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the ‘citizen journalist’ as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.

The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.

Importantly, the letter also tells councils that giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements, which was the reason I was given for W&M prohibiting me filming.

So, hyperlocal bloggers, tweet, photograph and video away. Do it quietly, do it well, and raise merry hell in your blogs and local press if you’re prohibited, and maybe we can start another scoreboard to measure the progress. To those councils who videocast, make sure that the videos are downloadable under the Open Government Licence, and we’ll avoid the ridiculousness of councillors being disciplined for increasing access to the democratic process.

And finally if we can collectively think of a way of tagging the videos on Youtube or Vimeo with the council and meeting details, we could even automatically show them on the relevant meeting page on OpenlyLocal.

Written by countculture

February 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm

18 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Mabbett, Philip John, Jason Kitcat, Rob, Andy Roberts and others. Andy Roberts said: RT @OpenlyLocal: #Hyperlocal bloggers get green light to video/tweet council meetings #transparency #localgov […]

  2. I’ve been looking at this field for a number of years, really delighted to read this discussion; your latest post and the news coming out of Department for Communities and Local Government tonight.

    It had seemed obvious to me when looking at what others counties are offering in terms of webcasting to realise that it really is a case of ‘When’ and not ‘If’ UK councils shall provide webcasts of council meetings. There is a number EU eParticipate studies and reports carried out over recent years that have evidence the benefits and impact of webcasting council/civic meetings within a EU and UK context and legal frameworks etc.

    I have come to understand, a problem is that simply capturing and webcasting the monolog of a given council meeting is not likely to be enough to fully re-engage the public with their local democratic processes. Or will it enable journalist and other such bodies to access the raw information in a way that is easy to access and manage, highly relevant and efficiently retrievable, especially when we realise that on average people are only watch 1minute 17sec of any given video from popular channels such as YouTube and Google Video etc.

    A more meaningful civic engagement platform is going to be one that goes beyond just offering live and archived webcasting to offer greater opportunities and means for genuine through integrated tools such has have been suggested, tagging. For the Civico this is means also providing a councils with a platform they can operate themselves with key features such as: agenda/minutes screen with contextualised information, jump to points, the ability for members of the public and journalists to create their own micro edits within the timeline which can be instantly post them out etc. more on this stuff another time….

    To keep possible disruptions to a minimum and to ensure relevant standards for transparency and a consistent delivery, I would expect the film recording, webcasting and archive retrieval of council meetings would most likely be sustain-ably delivered and maintained as a generic function of a councils democratic services, with practice standards applied and the relevant legalities addressed?

    Clearly council meetings have a certain cultural gravitas as important civic documents, and don’t comfortably lend themselves to the more popular third party platforms such as YouTube etc I have followed this argument as it has occasionally played out in the US which generally concludes: there would be an inherent and significant loss of control; visibility, unrelated content, rollover advertising, a shifting commercial agenda, degradation of context. Relying on such platforms alone would present councils with several additional problems as they try to reintegrate and manage the video into there democratic services CMS and other related data bases systems to be accessible and stored with other associated documents for a given meeting. Which is why one tends to see, at least in the first place, council webcasts being accessed via dedicated pages on a council’s websites with full open access, embed and link etc enabled for secondary distribution.

    As Eric Pickles comments clarify, I would have been very suppressed if the Department for Communities and Local Government, and every head of Democratic Service across UK councils for that matter, weren’t already aware of and given some significant consideration to the key opportunities and impact on transparency and democratic accountability for local government that would be inherent in the webcasting of council meetings.

    As this discussion forum makes clear, it really is only a matter of time before all UK councils do provide a webcast service as a norm, but as advocates I believe think there still need to be a much better understand of the reason why councils maybe resistant to webcasting, and to some degree a willingness to work with these resistances; be they structural at a national legislative or policy level, procedural or legal at local government level or financial and operational at the city council level.

    The governments DCLG current consultation on a code of recommended practice for local authorities on data transparency specifically focuses on the transparency as can be yielded through the publication of open and reusable data, and notably does not address particularly the obvious easy win area of webcasting of meetings as open data etc. It does however in my view provide a ground on which the argument for the webcasting of council meetings, as a further fundamental means to enable transparent and open local government, can be argued and developed. Again, Eric Pickles comments would seem to suggest that DCLG is very aware of this. Very much in keeping with the terms of the language of the consultation and the code its self, Civico’s aim is to enable councils to webcast their meetings themselves as the transparent provision of phenomenological data and to offer a platform through which people can access, give value and respond to that data.
    When I read and agreed with Adrian Short’s and Phil Johns approach to encouraging local councils to webcast, I was thinking ‘true but local authorities are going to need, and were perhaps looking for, a clear and much stronger steer from DCLG to encourage them to webcast their council meetings as a key element of the transparency agenda’, ‘looks like they just got it’.
    Important to say, though narrowly focused as it is on open data sets, and one further avenue through which to press the case, the consultation is open until the March and welcome comment for amendment.

    As the foundation for local democratic accountability the coalition government wants to increase local transparency and states it’s commitment to extending transparency to every area of public life. Eric Pickles and the DCLG signaling its clear support for the webcasting of councils meetings within the new Code of Recommended Practice for local authorities on the publication of transparent information would be a very meaningfully step towards further creating the necessary environment and will show a deeper commitment to extending transparency to this key area of local democratic process, as well as respond to the evolving expectation of the public.

    The proposed code sets out its offer as an ongoing process that looks to be informed by emerging technologies. It wants to further enable local people to play a greater role in society and be better placed to hold local government to account through the provision of new online tools that give greater access to open and reusable information, which is ideally presented in its most timely and raw format. Although webcasting is not new and many will supply it, new and emerging technologies and dedicated social web tools will enable councils to improve their democratic services and will actually reduce the cost for key areas of council operations.

    Evan in its current format the code strengthens local government and council’s capacity to webcast their meetings to offer the public a greater level of transparency in the local democratic process. The code as a principal advocates local authorities adopt a proactive approach to achieving greater transparency, take up of best practice as it develops and that councils determine for themselves their detailed implementation of the code.

    Congratulations Windsor & Maidenhead

    Daniel Cremin

    Daniel Cremin

    February 23, 2011 at 4:41 am

    • I’m fairly agnostic about webcasts, but think if councils do them it is essential that they be downloadable under an open licence and not restricted to the council or supplier’s website, technology or format.


      February 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  3. Here’s our first attempt:

    James Hatts

    February 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm

  4. […] Windsor & Maidenhead passed a motion to allow recording following Chris Taggart’s efforts. […]

  5. Why weren’t people allowed to do this before?


    February 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm

  6. Social tagging might be a good way of collecting the content in a sensible way – with a global tag e.g. ‘opencouncilmtg’ to be used on Delicious and a very basic taxonomy that allows stuff to be collected.
    Obviously that could work in conjuntion with people tagging their content.

    Andrew Brightwell

    February 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  7. […] is about more than just the video, however, and we also take Chris Taggart’s point that this content should be freely available to the public to use. We are talking to clients at the […]

  8. […] is positive and timely, and has definitely pleased the open data and hyperlocal communities. Online records and recordings of council meetings are important as they can help enshrine the core […]

  9. Absolutly agree with the view that when councils do webcast it would be essential that they were downloadable under an open licence and not restricted by council or a supplier.

    Daniel Cremin

    February 24, 2011 at 8:29 am

  10. We at The Centre for Housing and Support are fully in support of your actions. We note also Eric Pickles’ recent words on this subject. We have Tweeted a link to this article and will be publishing a link to this post in our email newsletter today which reaches 2,700 Sheltered and Supported Housing professionals across the UK.

  11. I’d be very happy to work with you and others on a (formal or informal) tagging schema.

    Based on what others (Flickr, Eventbrite, OpenPlaques, etc.) are already successfully doing, a quick fix might be for you to give each event you list a unique label (ideally a number), and then video (and other media/ blog posts) could be machine-tagged, say, openlylocal:event=1234567890

    In the longer run, a way of “subtagging”, for individual agenda items might be beneficial; that could involve multiple tags:

    openlylocal:event=1234567890 agenda:item=23

    Add keyword tags for the speaker and topic, and you’ve quickly got some rich, searchable metadata.

  12. I run a community web site called VisitScunthorpe.Com which covers news in the North Lincolnshire / Scunthorpe area.

    I originally used wordpress, but ended up developing my own blogging engine so that others could also author and publish content on my site.

    Last Wednesday was our local council’s 2011 Budget meeting, Over 100 people turned up, about 40 of which were protestors, and the meeting was packed.

    We’d decided to provide coverage using Cover It Live.

    This was the 2nd attempt we’d had at this, we had a trial run the previous week broadcasting an ant-cut’s planning meeting

    we linked the cover it live to a #tag on twitter and got 20 people watching the live feed. Not bad considering that each day I get between 120 and 200 visitors in total.

    Anyway, here’s a link to the archive, please let me know how you like it by dropping a comment on the article thread:

    Would be happy to discuss any aspect of the site or content.

    Kind regards
    Paul Rhoades (aka Thoades)


    February 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

  13. […] a dangerous situation, for despite the success this site and others have had lately (and moves to open up council meetings to the likes of me), our reach is still small compared to the council-backed juggernaut that thunders through the […]

  14. This is excellent! Will you be attempting to video the RBWM council meeting again in the future?

    Thames Tattler

    March 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

    • Realistically, prob not, as it was more of a test of the boundaries and intended to create a debate and hopefully action (which seems to have worked). But it would ne great if others would and I’m fact I’d had a look for hyperlocal blows before doing it. So do go ahead and have a go yourself, and also make sure you add your blog to the OpenlyLocal hyperlocal directory.


      March 4, 2011 at 8:48 am

  15. Love it. Our council in Bolton has made a number of questionable and unpopular decisions in recent years and I would have loved to be there with my camera when they were being made.

    Local government gets away with a lot that perhaps they wouldn’t if people were more excited by council meetings.


    January 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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