I’ve just spent the larger part of my day reading about the scrutiny processes of local councils. Of course, this is the sort of thing I do for fun, but there was a serious purpose at hand. As part of my MA in online journalism, but also as part of my work at Podnosh I’ll be looking at how the web can be used to improve scrutiny processes in local government.
How are you going to start?
There’s a lot to do, but I’ve started by trying to answer a simple question for myself: What is scrutiny? That’s what all the reading is about. As someone who worked as the local government correspondent for a pretty decent local newspaper, I should have a fairly strong knowledge of this, but if I’m being honest I don’t. And if I don’t know then I imagine I’m not alone.
Shut up and tell me what scrutiny is
Scrutiny – means ‘to search’ and apparently originally meant to ‘sort rubbish’ (hmm… interesting!). In its local government context scrutiny is the business of examining and holding to account the decision-making process. The Local Government Act of 2000, required all councils to make decisions through an executive group of councillors, or cabinet. It also set up an overview and scrutiny process so councillors outside the executive could overview the council’s decisions to ensure they met the requirements of the budget and the council’s policy framework. I learned all that from Wikipedia and the Centre for Public Scrutiny’s Introduction To Scrutiny. Whoppee!
I’m going to be writing about this a lot, so I won’t dawdle, but I already have a few thoughts:
1. Scrutiny’s bloody important, because it goes to the heart of the democratic process. It’s how decision making (what government does) is overseen and checked and everyone should be interested in it, because it’s the crucial bit of democracy: we elect people, they do stuff. We need to know about it.
2. Scrutiny is difficult to understand and it isn’t, well, sexy. Which is weird, given point one.
3. I’ve singularly failed to answer how it can be made better. But it strikes me it might be a bit early for that!
These are my links for February 14th through February 15th:
One of the heated debates which took place at the Talk About Local un-conference ’09 – a day designed to bring together hyper-local bloggers from across the country to discuss common issues, problems, share ideas and talk about the future – was how council press officers treat local bloggers.
For example, in Sarah Hartley’s recent article for the Guardian, Stoke Council’s head of PR and communications, Dan Barton, said bloggers were excluded from press breifings and the press table in the council chamber. He said:
Opinion should be encouraged but we do draw a distinction between what is news otherwise we are in danger of de-valuing the role of journalists.
These are my links for September 4th through September 6th:
- Google Wave as the future of citizen consultation by Michele Ide-Smith – "At the moment consultation processes in local government are generally still fairly archaic and ‘having your say’ might mean filling out a survey or attending a public meeting, exhibition or focus group."
- Why town and parish councils are important #nalcconf09 #localgovweb – Paul Geraghty sticks his neck out – Great piece from Paul: Town and parish council websites should be the aggregators of all local information "Town and parish councils are neither cash-rich nor tech-savvy, so the only way they are they going to be able to swim in these streams is if they can develop and adopt a shared code base, using the SAAS (Software as a service) model to make a tool which – thanks to "place" (location) – unlocks data feeds from around the web."
- Are you taking the mick? « Talk About Local – Humour in community activity: "next time you’re met with local plans, politics or problems that would be funny if they weren’t so angering, perhaps just try highlighting the funny. Point out the silly and match it."
- Promising Practices in Online Engagement | Public Agenda – "For those who believe that citizens deserve the best possible opportunities to become partners in problem-solving, the public cannot be viewed just as an audience to politics or merely as customers of government. Instead, the public should be treated as a vital resource for effective problem-solving and community-building." via @simonwakeman
- What really needs to change? « Co-creating an open declaration on public services 2.0 – Co creating an European e-government manifesto: "the aim of the above is to pull together a clear focused group of ideas that on the one hand, people can identify with (i.e. be able to say: “yes, I support that!”) and on the other, give a clear message to governments and a clear standard against which their response (and actions) can be judged."