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Bristol harnesses e-power to bring residents on board

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Bristol City Council has used e-democracy mechanisms such as web-casting of council meetings for a number of years, but scrutiny has taken it a step further, making its work more interactive and ensuring councillors’ deliberations and decisions are informed by the widest possible range of evidence.

For example, Bristol’s Climate Change Select Committee investigated the council’s own role in reducing carbon emissions.

The Council’s AskBristol forum (1,500 members online) asked people what they thought the council’s priorities should be in reducing carbon emissions. Staff were asked similar questions via an online staff survey (1,281 responses). Every meeting was webcast (4,032 views), with feedback from an online forum being fed into each meeting as it happened.

The evidence from these forums as well as expert witnesses from the council and external agencies directly influenced the production of a Climate Change Strategy and Energy Security Framework adopted in 2010.

While some may be sceptical about the public’s appetite to get involved in participative democracy, public feedback from Bristol indicates that, on some issues at least, many people want to find out about the Council’s decisions and get involved in the whole process, for example:

  • “enjoyed the webcast a lot, a very nice bit of open democracy”
  •  “It’s fabulous - makes it easy for busy working people to get a voice in local government - very much appreciated.”

Scrutiny also investigated bus services in Bristol in 2010 focusing on the concerns of disadvantaged groups. As well as inviting witnesses from key groups, councillors used a number of e-democracy techniques (webcasting, live blogging, Twitter and YouTube) to publicise the review and enable people to contribute directly to the scrutiny process.

‘Cover it live’ is a live blogging service set up to increase participation in decision-making. For the first time in Bristol’s history, people were able to watch the webcast and interact directly via scrutiny officers and the Chair who fed comments into the debate in the meeting itself (53 readers and 48 comments).

Bristol also directly addressed the conundrum that young people are turned off by traditional politics but want to engage on issues of interest to them.  A Vox Pop video was made with young people in the city centre and shown at the meeting as well as being posted on YouTube with well over 200 views to date.

This example and others are in the CfPS publication, Successful Scrutiny 2011, at cfps.org.uk.

  • Bristol City Council – taking e-democracy a step further was runner up – CfPS Raising the Profile Good Scrutiny Award 2011
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