Social Media Surgery

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?  

Links to some interesting things from this week.

Posted on 14th March 2014 by



Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World wide web needs bill of rights

Join the fight for the web to be open for us all – see the BBC report.

Our laws not theirs:

Finland is crowdsourcing ideas for new laws and working with the security minded money world to verify the process…

“a non-profit group of Helsinki entrepreneurs started a website called Open Ministry to allow people of voting age to propose initiatives online. The website uses APIs from banks and mobile operators to confirm identities. Recently, the Finnish Parliament approved the platform after verifying that the electronic identification process is secure.”

Of course building a whole new one of these wouldn’t be so smart – borrowing from the one already built would probably be better

Futureshift:  civic innovation in Birmingham and the black Country:

I’ve mentioned Futureshift  elsewhere – but if you have ideas for civic innovation in Birmingham or the Black Country this is the time and place to share them.

Elliot review of food safety comes to Birmingham – and we’re working on it alongside New Optimists.

The Elliot Review comes to Birmingham for some practical help in finding ways to reduce food crime.

Dave Harte enjoying himself:


A new network for people in Local Government who make digital stuff.


My 10 Things about NHS Citizen – some reflections o a programme being pulled together by some of the best in the digital civic works – including our friends/collaborators  Demsoc and Public-i.   With encouragement from Tim Kelsey.

Digital Government Review

Labour launches a review of the relationship between digital and government.  Involved is sharp cookie Will Perrin.



Teaming up with BBC volunteers for the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgeries

Posted on 18th September 2013 by
Karen Slater of the BBC helps  Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe of Home from Hospital Care.

Karen Slater of the BBC helps Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe of Home from Hospital Care. Image: Francis Clarke – click on the picture for his website.

We’ve been running the Social Media Surgery in Central Birmingham for the best part of 5 years.  Last night we took a leaf out of Manchester’s book and teamed up with the BBC.  Steven Flower and the BBC Outreach team having been working together in Salford to bring both volunteer bloggers and volunteers from the BBC together to help at the surgeries.  We did the same last night with BBC Birmingham.  19 people turned up – although we can always do with more people looking for help.

Karen Slater from the BBC worked with Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe from Home from Hospital Care – a charity which helps pave the way for people to get home from hospital – cutting down on bed-blocking. Prinith said

“Karen taught me about audioboo and how we can record interviews with our clients. We also talked about how we could use blogging on our webpage.”

but the video gives a much better idea of what they got out of it:

Zualfqar Hussain of the Small Heath Community Forum received help to set up this facebook page

Small Heath Community Forum on facebook.

Small Heath Community Forum on facebook.


But this video shows exactly how he gets the point of the social media surgeries

What next?  I’ll talk to Paul Corcoran and others at the BBC about us maybe doing more of these together and get back with dates.

I think it’s good news for the surgeries because extra volunteers will help plus the pull of an organsiation like the BBC, good news for the BBC because it connects their staff with more of the brilliant people who help Birmignham tick and good news for the charities and community groups we want to support – because it helps them with social media support and new connections into the BBC.