Since last year’s scrutiny conference we’ve been keeping tabs on what’s happening in the world of scrutiny. In December we’re running a seminar with the Centre for Public Scrutiny and Grant Thornton on good governance, so it’s been important that we keep up to date with what’s going on.
The #scrusm Twitter chats have given us the chance to hear from public service organisations about what they’re doing. One of the approaches that have interested me the most has been the National Assembly for Wales’ use of Google Hangouts.
With the advent of social media, public services have slowly but surely been using it to engage with their communities. Because the tools are free to use, there has been a bit of a fallacy that using them is much cheaper and easier than traditional approaches. But being online and sending the occasional encouraging message isn’t enough – we need to enable people to take part.
And that’s what I love about how the National Assembly for Wales have used Google Hangouts. I was a bit sceptical to begin with. I’ve found Google Plus to be very useful work wise (for instance the LocalGov Digital community is chock full of interesting digital approaches), but I can’t say that many friends who aren’t interested in either technology or public services are on there.
So this didn’t quite tick the box in terms of going where the people are. But here’s where the enabling people bit comes in. Instead of expecting people to come to them, they worked with people to help them to use the technology to take part.
In terms of the Higher Education Hangout, it meant that Welsh students in England or Scotland had the chance to have their say on funding. If they didn’t use hangouts or have a Google Plus account, staff worked with them to help them get started. This is in stark contrast with the way some organisations send out a few tweets or Facebook updates and expect people to come to them. Yes it’s a lot more work, but the information that the Assembly received from the hangout was that much richer because of it. You can hear Jocelyn Davies AM and Julie Morgan AM discuss what they learnt from the hangout in the above Audioboom.
It’s also well worth watching this video of Rhun Ap Iorweth AM and Julie James AM talk about how they used the method to engage around STEM skills, and how it led to participants being upfront and giving very direct feedback.
What’s become apparent here is that good online public participation takes just as much effort as its offline equivalent, but if we’re prepared to put in the effort to do it well, it can greatly improve the quality of our work.