Last night I watched Prince George’s first-ever e-Town Hall meeting. Instead of having to show up in person to take part, people were able to stream the meeting online and submit their questions via an electronic form on the website.
Assuming you’re into making city hall accessible, this was a big step forward. Speaking for myself, I’m interested in these meetings, but I can’t always commit to heading down to city hall for a couple of hours. Being able to watch at home while taking care of other tasks is a huge plus. I can only imagine how much more useful it would be for people with kids, lack of transport options, etc.
So I’m a fan, but there’s always room for improvement. Here are my top five suggestions.
1. A more direct link.
There was a link to the e-town hall stream from the front page of princegeorge.ca, but if you weren’t sure it was a bit tough to find. I’d suggest either putting the stream itself on the front page for the duration, or having an easy url like princegeorge.ca/etownhall. That would also make it more shareable on Twitter and Facebook.
2. Bring the conversation to social media.
It’s great that people were able to submit questions via an online form, but why not let them take part in the conversation the way they naturally occur- on sites like Facebook and Twitter? Twitter, especially, would allow the conversation to go viral as more people are drawn into the discussion by seeing the questions go by on their timeline.
3. Display all the questions asked, whether or not they are answered.
Midway through the meeting, the moderator explained that if a question had been asked and answered, they would not re-address it. Fair enough, but it would have been useful for people coming in partway through to take a check to see if their question had been asked and answered already, or if they were just being ignored.
I submitted a couple of questions just to see how it worked, but there was no way of confirming they had been received. One question was answered, but was lumped in with a question other people had asked, and a second wasn’t addressed at all. So I’m not sure if they made their way down the line.
A voting mechanism would also be awesome, so popular questions could get more prominence.
4. Some sort of pre-show reading.
It’s common practice for politicians to be given briefing notes on various files so they can get a quick understanding of issues. It would have been awesome to have something posted on princegeorge.ca that gave people who were interested in the discussion a bit of context about how the budget process works, how their questions are used, etc, just so everyone could be somewhat up-to-speed on the issues.
5. A more general discussion.
Plenty of the questions could be defined less as “pre-budget” and more as “how does city hall work, exactly?” Based on what I saw, there would be an appetite for forums where city staff just get together and answer questions about their jobs, bylaws, that sort of thing. It wouldn’t even have to be in this format- maybe a podcast series or YouTube videos where people submit questions and the city communications staff finds the answers. This would become a living resource that people with future questions could look through to find answers.
Like I said, I’m a fan, and kudos to city hall for giving it a shot. Hopefully there’s more of these in the future- with a few possible improvements.
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