At first, Democratic Services, working with the IT team, tested a number of potential software providers and decided upon Zoom US due to the consistent quality, ease of use and favourable functionality. It also helped that many of our Members were already familiar with this platform in their private lives.
We did, however, continue to develop guidance and carry out training through one to one set ups, and group sessions for the more tech savvy. We are also offering the same for any residents joining a meeting as a speaker which also gives the opportunity to test their connections before the Committee.
In addition to the ability to host meetings virtually, we looked at the options to enable the public to be present. Reflecting on the Government guidance and replicating the approach used in our physical meetings, we have decided to live-stream our meetings to our YouTube channel thereby ensuring transparency.
Our first scheduled virtual meeting was Planning Committee, so we conducted a full test meeting including officers, using an old application. This allowed us to refine the procedure and give all involved an opportunity to be fully familiar with the meeting functions including raised hands. We also had separate sessions with the Chairman to ensure he was happy with how the meeting would run.
We’re incredibly pleased at the success of our first online meeting, which saw record numbers join us either through our own channel or through other sites and hope to continue this as we return to our normal committee cycle. We have had significant positive comments from other councils and our public and have responded to ongoing feedback to further refine our solution to be the best it can and meet the needs of our officers, members and residents.
The dry runs and the importance of understanding the workings of the platform cannot be overstated. It is to Members' credit that on the night they all coped with the workings of Zoom very well, and there's no doubt that the preliminary sessions which were held made this possible. Working with me as Chairman was very useful and enabled me to make all my mistakes before I was exposed to the public's gaze! It was comforting for me to know that the Members were au fait with the various procedures.”
Planning Committee Chairman
- Get Democratic Services and IT working together and working well together. You need Democratic Services to be happy from a governance point of view and IT from a security and tech point of view. And you need that relationship to get the happy medium.
- Do dry runs and test, test, test. Try and know which Members will need extra support and plan for that, but don’t assume you are more tech-savvy. Members may not have used a virtual meeting platform in such a way as required for Committees.
- Strength is in your Chairmen so take time to go through the procedure with them. Make sure there is a way to communicate with them as they won’t have an officer sitting next to them to guide.
- Make the meeting procedure as simple as possible. If you can, have two officers there with one hosting and covering the technical aspects, such as muting people if they forget, and the clerk carrying out normal duties.
- Finally – just don’t panic and don’t try and plan for everything as you will be too scripted and look predetermined, just make sure you have the type of people there who can react and work the problem calmly. Let's be honest, Committees in the same room don’t always go to plan so why should virtual ones be any different!
Christine Lewis, Overview & Scrutiny Officer