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Yesterday I presented a webinar on 'Elected representatives and community engagement' as part of the Creative Councils programme. You can view it here. Warning - it lasts for 90 minutes, but just looking at the slides alone won't give you a proper idea of the content.
The audience largely consisted of council officers so I wanted to explore, from my perspective as a former councillor, some of the differences in motivation and outlook between councillors and officers. Councillors, after all, represent the residents to the Council and they want to get re-elected. Their reasons for supporting good community engagement may differ from the reasons that officers have.
I spend quite a time looking at how things are done in Kingston, with lots of examples from South of the Borough, starting with an explanation about how Neighbourhood (aka Area) Committees work. Then I give examples of task groups, street meetings and community panels, which are forms of deliberative community decision-making.
I always find it quite difficult to know how to pitch these discussions. Public engagement has been so much part of the culture in Kingston Council for over 20 years that it is not easy to imagine what it must be like to work in a council that does not encourage it. I am sometimes surprised to realise that a practice that seems quite commonplace to me is taken as new and innovative by someone else.
Asked for a final comment about inflexible council chambers I said, "There's nothing to stop you holding your Council meetings in a school hall. We get very wedded to buildings when we need to be wedded to people in local government"