Live Streaming Council Committee meetings – How we helped Birmingham City Council Billesley Ward Committee get online.

Posted on 28th March 2014 by

I’ve mentioned about how we’ve worked in South Birmingham in conjunction with the South Birmingham Community Safety Partnership when we wrote about what Austin Rodriguez , South Birmingham Safer Places officer had to say about the project.

What I haven’t said yet is that we’ve been working on a second phase of the surgeries with him.

Austin has been doing a great thing empowering the people he works with to use social media to talk to each other, to improve where they live and  to  build a stronger communities and with him we’ve continued to build on the momentum from phase one of the project.

In February we were holding a surgery in Bartley Green that  Alex Buchanan  – Ward Councillor of Billesley – attended. He came along with Austin with the idea that he’d like to trial live streaming his ward committee meeting .  Birmingham City Council have been live streaming their meetings from the council house and he wanted to see how he could make that work locally.

The Technology

Out in the community centres and church halls where community meetings are usually held there isn’t the infrastructure the council have  - there isn’t high speed Wi-Fi or  high definition webcams and high quality controlled audio. Nor is there a bespoke website to send the feed to,  so we had to look at what was available. 

Councillor Buchanan had invested in a laptop with a webcam and a decent microphone so we decided Google Hangouts would be the way to go, using the On Air function to stream to Youtube, which also meant it could be shared via other platforms and embedded into blogs – We spent about an hour looking at how this could work for them and then on the 20th February they put it into action.

Some observations – Be brave.

You can see in the video above that while the camera was positioned in such a way that the whole top table could be seen – the microphone struggled to pick everyone up. As the people farthest away from the set up took their turn to speak at times the audio wasn’t very clear at all but then they weren’t using a multi-directional mic that can pick everyone up like at the council house. What they had was a small mic plugged into a laptop  -  but  it could have been moved to pick up more voices.

This seems obvious watching it back but again it comes back to the fact this was a trial and a learning experience. What it needs next is just a bit of bravery, Bravery to do it again and to take what they’ve learned doing this and apply it. If during the meeting they were willing to pause proceedings by just a few seconds to re-position the mic before people took their turn to talk this would greatly improve the quality of the audio, make better use of the technology they have available and improve the experience for the community watching.

In saying that though it is fantastic that Councillors are looking at ways to open up the local democratic process to more people, and live streaming of meetings is definitely a good way to go. The fact that Councillor Buchanan was willing to even consider giving this a try is fantastic and who knows what could be next? What other public conversations could take place in – well – public?  

Futureshift: A fabulous programme to encourage civic innovation in Birmingham and the Black Country:

Posted on 14th March 2014 by


I’m proud to be on the advisory board of Futureshift, which has evolved in a tiny part from some of the story gathering we did with the Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham   It’s an “an invitation to design and build a new civic initiative” and  very potent and practical approach to support innovation on improving civic life Birmingham and the Black County.

We are seeing citizen-led ventures emerge and change the very systems of our economy: new ways of growing, distributing, sharing and learning about the food we eat; new ways of saving, producing, distributing, financing and owning the energy we use everyday; new ways of providing care, of sharing resources, new ways of running shops.

We call them ‘hybrid’ ventures because they frequently flourish by making unlikely combinations such as between care and fashion; energy and food; workspace and cinema.

These combinations work because they make sense locally, driven by the creativity, energy and drive of entrepreneurial citizens. These new ways of doing create collective and multiple value – economic as well as social; environmental as well as financial. They can create much-needed positive outcomes and better places across the region.

It is these kind of networks, shops, spaces and platforms we aim to originate, re-design, develop and support – both locally and at city and infrastructure level, to create tools which enable hybrid ventures to flourish.

Events if you want to get involved are listed here.   To understand how it will work start with the FAQ.  there will be 15 or more initiatives support with effort and money.

Smart City Birmingham – an action plan.

Posted on 4th March 2014 by


I sat on the Birmingham Smart City commission – my main two pennorth  was to try and providing thinking about community level activity and how plans and changes might relate to that.  I was also trying to encourage planning for simpler ways of achieving civic good.

Yesterday the commission made it’s roadmap/action plan public.  This isn’t a consultation document – it’s a list of things that the commission wants to get on with making happen.  They will either happen through existing initiatives or funding will be sought to get things going.

You can read read the full document that gives context.  pdf

It’s all been put together with a lot of effort from Digital Birmingham.

I have mixed feelings about Smart City as an idea, even a phrase. It feels too corporate and too much about large global businesses getting their teeth into how we run our cities.  It can though be much more than that – and I do believe that the growing flow of data about what we do in cities will shift power and change relationships between civic and commercial organisations.  So to help make that as human as we all want getting involved makes more sense than tutting from teh sidelines.