Remote council meetings: Warwick District Council

Warwick District Council first broadcast a live Committee meeting on 7 May 2020. Having tested various products, we decided to use Microsoft Teams with live broadcast via YouTube.

Efficiency and income generation

Warwick District Council first broadcast a live Committee meeting on 7 May 2020. Having tested various products, we decided to use Microsoft Teams with live broadcast via YouTube. We had previously not used Microsoft Teams, nor were we broadcasting our Town Hall Committee meetings, so both officers and councillors had to learn a new way of conducting meetings in a short space of time. Some of the things we worked through included meeting etiquette, dress code, protocol for indicating request to speak, voting and the practicalities around “leaving the room” in the case of a pecuniary interest. Committee Services officers supported by colleagues in IT offered one to one training sessions to our Members. We had several test meetings which provided a great place for identifying weaknesses in the system and coming up with improvements. Whilst our priority was to resume our council and Committee meetings, holding these remotely has brought some unforeseen benefits for the Council and the community.

The decision of using YouTube for the broadcast was taken as the Council had a channel already, and a good social media presence. YouTube being a widely used and free platform were added benefits. This therefore presented an opportunity to increase engagement not only on Council meetings, but also the other videos published by the Council.

To date, the council has broadcast live 21 formal meetings (council, Executive or Committees) over 24 different live feeds on YouTube. The recordings of the live meetings will continue to be available on YouTube for a year after the meeting took place.

Viewing figures for live broadcasts vary from 4 or 5 to 50 or 60. The maximum the public gallery can hold at the Town Hall is 35 to 60, depending on room layout.

In addition to people watching live, to date, there has been a total of over 2,900 views of the council meetings (averaging 134 per video). The most watched video to date is Planning Committee (Part 1) on 17 June with 311 views, followed by Council on 20 May, which was a combined stream for both an ordinary council meeting followed by Annual Council, with 308 views. This flexibility allows people to engage with broadcasts live or retrospectively at their convenience.

While these numbers are very positive, officers are also receiving positive feedback from the public about their experiences of both speaking at meetings and watching them online. Some of the comments included: 

“Excellent support from Committee Services to public speakers to ensure they can join and participate in meetings”

“Public speaking at the remote meetings much better than at the Town Hall; at the Town Hall, one can barely see who is speaking at any time, both from the public gallery and whilst sitting in the public speakers’ area in the Chamber. This is much clearer online”

“The sound is much better with remote meetings, both when part of the meeting and when watching it on YouTube”

“Voting is so much more transparent this way by calling out each individual, and this is important for the public because they want to know which way their Ward Councillor voted.”

Overall, there has been an increase in residents engaging positively in our remote meetings, indicated through viewing analytics on YouTube, as well as the amount of subscribers to the channel which has increased from 26 (7 May 2020) to 177 (21 July 2020) with minimal promotion.

Reflection and the next stage

When initially exploring the benefits and flaws of different systems, the team were simultaneously learning how to operate and learn all aspects of functionality. We received support from colleagues in IT, who arranged demos and provided training, as well as seeking solutions to issues as they arose. A lot of documents with guidance for councillors, officers and members of the public had to be written, as well as considerations around privacy and data protection. At the same time, we had to reconsider our calendar of meetings and make amendments to accommodate the implications of remote meetings and the additional demand on officers.

We were keen to facilitate public involvement in our Committee meetings, and we were able to welcome members of the public to join from the very first Planning Committee meeting, which was a success.

During this time of change, forums such as ADSO and the LGA have been extremely helpful, and we have learnt a lot from experiences shared by other councils, which we are very grateful for. Having held 121 remote Committee meetings, we are now in a place where we are confident with the system we have in place. Our colleagues in IT are keeping an eye on developments / updates from Microsoft Teams and any impact these might have on our remote Committee meetings.