Small Local Government – Helping your community communicate better

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This topic contains 27 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 7 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #93360

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    I occasionally participate in activities of my local government and talk to my mother often about her efforts with her nearby local government…and the issue I’m seeing with both is a lack of organization and communication leading to unnecessary expenditure and effort on odd little things. For example, my mother has been following a code enforcement issue in her small urban town for a few years now and even joined the working group to address it. She spends a lot of time attempting to get meeting minutes, video, and/or records of documents discussed at these meetings in order to refute things attributed to her personally or to positions she and others have taken. These are hard to locate, don’t exist, or are flat out wrong. She and I have both also experienced the result of citizens being tasked to produce guidance, advertisement, and/or correspondence related to these types of things. Would you expect some local citizen, as part of a committee, to be writing the notice going out to your community (of which a good number don’t speak English well) about being fined for putting recycling in trash cans? Whether or not the fine is appropriate, getting people the information to avoid it is important… do most small local governments leave this up to their working groups?

    As a communication professional, I wonder if there isn’t a network of people or organizations that small local governments can use (like GovLoop??!!) to share best practices and hire actual writers and communication folks to help them when they really need it? Am I asking for too much?! My thought is that if several small governments shared resources (people, contractors, and/or tools) and practiced a little more organization like a company does, maybe you could find things on the website, request copies of documents (and actually get them in the same month) and all these things would end up costing less. I’ve poked around and haven’t seen much in the way of this kind of inter-government collaboration or resource sharing in my area, does it go on in other areas around the country? (I live in the DC metro area near the beltway and would think with all these Gov folks nearby our local governments would have some of the best folks around involved)

  • #93414

    Hi Faye – I keep saying that our moms (and dads) are precisely the people we should be engaging to learn about their experience with “open government.” I use the term “hyper-local” to describe where I think this movement needs to go. We need to be raising the issues you cite above: so how do we get this information to people more effectively so that they can participate more actively?

    AND I love the idea of resource-sharing, which seems to be a prevalent theme this week…as evidenced by these two forum questions:

    Tools, Wikis for City to City Sharing of Sustainability Policy?

    and

    Resource Sharing Among Departments

  • #93412

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    It seems that if more people are involved in local government, then more people would know about the issue. The problem is that people don’t have (or want to take) the time to attend a meeting. They might think that local government discussions aren’t relevant to them.

    As Faye alluded to, meeting minutes are biased representations of what happened at a meeting. Government officials can hide information that is supposed to be public.

    One solution is to record public meetings on video and put the video online. You can archive the videos, allowing anyone to research what actually happened when a specific topic was addressed previously.

    There’s a borough in New Jersey that does this with our solution: http://bit.ly/PomptonLakes

    Hopefully this is some help!

  • #93410

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    Justin;

    What do you think about local governments working with YouTube to post these long (2 or 3 hour) public meeting videos? The get play on local cable TV and gov channels, but as a storehouse, it would be interesting. Since my big Fed agency started using YouTube, I’m interested in how a local government would do the same… but I didn’t have to play with any of the legal agreement stuff involved in becoming a Fed Gov Channel on YouTube which allows for no advertising and video longer than 10 minutes. I have to imagine it is expensive for corporations to do the same? (and hence, small local governments?).

  • #93408

    Brian Robertson
    Participant

    Faye, we are a local gov in Middle Tennessee. We applied for and almost immediately received a YouTube government account. It is not uncommon for us to get hundreds of views of single meetings. This nicely complements our local television access channel. Bottom line, this was much more easily accomplished than I assumed it would be, and I would highly recommend giving this further consideration. Keep in mind that there is no cost! http://www.youtube.com/user/RutherfordGovernment

  • #93406

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    That’s good to know, I’ll pass on to my Mom and my local gov connections.

  • #93404

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    We actually have an ad-based model that would allow governments (that are smaller than counties) to get the system for essentially nothing… We would go out and get local businesses to buy ad space next to the video. This would allow the local gov’t to get the solution for basically no cost because local businesses would pretty much be subsidizing it. Plus, our system is easy enough to use that the person who is currently taking minute notes can use it.

  • #93402

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    And how much easier that will be when the new Google/YouTube tool goes out (video to caption – creating its own transcript file)… that will be Da Bomb! I can see this tool not only creating a more accessible government (accessibility/508) but also a quicker responding government by giving your workers more time to review and correct transcripts rather than just creating them!

  • #93400

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    Here’s the problem: If, as a citizen, you know of a certain agenda item that you want to watch, but don’t have the time (or interest) in watching the whole meeting, you have to fast forward (and maybe rewind) the video until you find when the conversation about the topic you are searching for was discussed.

    The solution: With our bookmarked agenda items, you can just watch the items that matter to you, while saving time and hassle.

    If we want people to be involved in government, you can’t just put information out there in bulk and not make it easily accessible. People could get frustrated with having to manually search through the video to find what they’re looking for and as a result, stop paying attention.

    YouTube also doesn’t provide the hardware (the video camera(s), microphones, etc.). Our solution includes that with the ad-based model.

  • #93398

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    Keep in mind that you still have to provide the hardware (video, audio, etc.) to capture the meeting and you’ll need someone who knows how to put the video online. You’ll also need someone to man the camera during the meeting (unless you have one camera that shows all of the officials and public commenters at the same time).

    Solution: Our system includes the hardware and the software automatically switches to the camera that is facing the person(s) who are talking. And it’s included in the ad-based model, which makes it essentially free for local governments (who are smaller than counties) to capture and stream their meeting videos.

  • #93396

    Rachel R. Hawley
    Participant

    Tell me more! How would one delve into investigating this process! You are very right about bookmarking, the people who come to public meetings leave after their issue has been addresses, why would they want to watch something in its entirety if they didn’t have the time to make it to the meeting?

  • #93394

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    True, I’m thinking of small govs which already do full video and share on public television (or local cable). It can be months before a transcript is available and by then it is hard to obtain a copy of the video (still on VHS in some cases). YouTube would solve both of these issues — ONCE someone is trained to put a copy online (format and size issues, but surmountable). Your model is interesting certainly, I think there is room for multiple solutions based on equipment on hand, need, training, etc.

  • #93392

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    Okay, cool. If they have a cable channel, we could still (as long as the gov’t has permission) host and archive the video (and the ad-model idea would still apply).

  • #93390

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    Well, you could start out by checking out our capture solution (basically the hardware) and our hosting/archiving solution. You can see clients who actually use our system (or various parts of it).

    You can contact me at jmosebach [at] cdsgroup.com if you’d like to know more. (And VideoMinutes is on Twitter). Feel free to message me on GovLoop as well.

  • #93388

    Jaimey Walking Bear
    Participant

    FWIW, City of Petaluma uses Granicus for live streaming and archiving of our Council, Commission, etc. meetings. The archived streams are also bookmarked and linked to meeting minutes that our Clerk’s office post to the city web site post-meeting.

    Really easy to click on specific items in the minutes and go right to the corresponding place in the video archive.

  • #93386

    Ari Herzog
    Member

    You keep writing “our solution,” without explaining who you are and what you are offering.

  • #93384

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    A general overview of our solution for local governments to be more transparent is that we have a capture product (that has cameras, microphones, etc) and a hosting and archiving one that is available for local governments to get their public meetings video recorded and online.

    See examples of local governments that we have solutions for: Borough of Pompton Lakes, NJ and Lancaster County, PA

    Does this help?

  • #93382

    Pam Broviak
    Participant

    I have tried many times to analyze this disconnect because it is the root of so much frustration on both sides and impedes our ability as local govt employees to deliver services in a cost effective and efficient manner. Almost every day I ask how can we better inform citizens.

    Therefore, it is very interesting to me to see most of the discussion about this topic focused on video taping public meetings since, from my perspective, the meeting is usually only a very small representation of the entire issue and actions surrounding the matter. More importantly, there are significant and underlying reasons and regulations that determine how govt makes decisions and how we function. And this information cannot easily be conveyed in one meeting or in one brochure.

    Over the years, I have found many resources where a city govt can get ideas and samples for brochures and handouts. There are even now good examples of You Tube videos out there that are non-meeting related. But even if we use these communication tools, people still find themselves frustrated. I believe this is because the whole problem with communication between govt and citizens goes much deeper than trying to reach out on one issue.

    From years of experiencing this problem, my opinion is that we will only stop this cycle of distrust and perception of misinformation when we increase civic education in our schools. And an added benefit of a knowledgeable citizenry is that it increases the ability of elected officials to govern and communicate. I also believe we could make progress if we launched some civic education units online, and this is something I have been working on developing as an experiment. The bottom line is getting online video access to meetings is very important but that is the easy part. The huge hole we have in our education system regarding civic education is the harder problem to solve and few seem willing to even talk about it.

  • #93380

    Eric King
    Participant

    Likewise, our city also uses Granicus for archived, searchable video:

    Scottsdale, AZ Archived Video

  • #93378

    Ken Barlow
    Participant

    Brian – your government YouTube channel looks very comprehensive. I’m working with a client in Texas (I’m with eGov Strategies) to setup a channel so we can make videos accessible through the city’s iPhone app.

    Can you save me some time — where do you go to request getting a YouTube Government channel? Thanks for any insight.

  • #93376

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    Pam;

    I certainly understand your frustration, but I’m looking at the activities of the citizen participation groups and how they are not being supported – and being tasked with drafting guidance that should really be done from a centralized voice (the small gov itself; who should know the stakeholders and their needs even better than the few citizens participating). In the case of my mother, they have lucked out with someone who is a librarian and taugh english… but one of the other folks speaks English as a second language, no Spanish at all, and doesn’t do well at writing tasks.

    I think the issues of highly knowledgable citezenry who do participate but are not supported by the small government (no copies of documents to be discussed, no online repository of said documents, no transcripts or meeting minutes for months following larger meetings, etc.) are pretty ugly.

    Civic education hapens when civic participation is supported. I’ve seen too many people give up because it is “too hard” to work with the slip-shod and ad-hoc processes and procedures in many small governments.

  • #93374

    Pam Broviak
    Participant

    I still believe the root of the problem is a lack of civic education, but realize that this does not help solve the more immediate question which is how to help out the local govt in your mother’s area. It is difficult to give much guidance without knowing the specific issue. But here are some general ideas:

    If participation is encouraged and her community has a strong mayor who is supportive I would start there by visiting with him. Your mother would probably have a good idea if the city is failing to do these things because they are understaffed or just don’t realize they need to be done. Depending on the situation, she can convey to the mayor that city services could be greatly enhanced and her group would be so much more effective if a) he hired more qualified people or b) sent his staff for training. Most supportive mayors go way out of their way to help facilitate these types of things. And there are a lot of resources to help too.

    If the problem is that participation is not encouraged and elected officials are not supportive even after meeting with the group, it will be difficult. These officials either sustain or create the staff who are tasked with these matters, and if the officials don’t care or won’t address it, there is little that can be done. But at this point it would be due to the elected officials, and what I have learned is that the elected officials are who the majority of people have decided will completely control that community. If someone outside of this majority thinks the officials are not doing their job, there is little choice but to move or put up with the perceived inadequacy.

    It’s interesting to also note that while the issues you bring up are usually required to be supplied by law (meeting minutes, etc) I have watched communities where the elected officials regularly do not follow laws and nothing is ever done and these actions are supported by the majority of the citizens. It’s tough to be in the minority! And that is why so many give up.

  • #93372

    Joe Greeley
    Participant

    Interesting post, there are several good topics here. Among other things, I’m an elected/volunteer town official here in eastern Mass., we have approx 28,000 citizens. Mass.,like most states, has an open meeting law, along with a Public Records Law. If either of these are violated or ‘skirted’. the route for us is to appeal to the specific committee, then the town clerk, then the governing Board of Selectmen. If that doesn’t work, the next course would be to appeal to the state’s Secretary of State. Someone could also add a warrant article to be reviewed & voted on by a quarterly town meeting, this article could propose an amendment to the town’s bylaws, thus forcing the formality that you may need.As for the method of recording the meeting, however it’s done, the record must be made available to the public in some form, in a ‘reasonable period of time’. The smaller committees, or ad-hoc committees, are made up of mostly volunteers, and could include folks that are less aware of public meeting laws or Roberts’ Rules. If you have an appeal that’s falling on deaf ears at every level, your ultimate recourse might be to run for office yourself, or to submit a notice of interest to volunteer. One of the replies indicates that their community is acting in a ‘fast and loose’ manner. If citizens don’t complain, or better yet act, then the situation will only get worse. As for Faye’s question on inter-agency communications, although budgets are tight across the country, this could be a niche market for the right organization. I’d be interested to hear where this goes, & I’ll follow the thread. Thanks for raising the issue. Joe

  • #93370

    Brian Robertson
    Participant

    Ken, it seems that the process is somewhat informal, or was at the time (3 or 4 months ago). We simply made our request via e-mail to [email protected]

  • #93368

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    Okay, I figured out that there is a workaround w/ YouTube for the linked agenda items, but it would require someone to search through each video and figure out when the time for each agenda item was.

  • #93366

    Brian Robertson
    Participant

    Yes, we used to painstakingly bookmark each and every agenda item. Moving to YouTube we sacrificed that functionality, but provide detailed agenda and minutes on our regular site. For us, the tradeoffs between fully referenced/bookmarked video and YouTube were that we lost the table of contents, cut the cost of maintenance (or outsourcing) to a fraction of previous, and went from almost no viewers to hundreds, with no network infrastructure cost to serve the video or store it. Increased public exposure, nearly elliminated cost. So far so good.

  • #93364

    Faye Newsham
    Participant

    Are you using the beta testing video to captioning tools by any chance? I’ve not had an opportunity yet, but I’m excited at the prospect of getting a quick way to start a transcript as well as captioning for the hearing impaired. From what I hear, once the transcript file is created, the other tools available allow you to update and verify the file is correct (and download it for use in other venues!) and that the timing to the video is perfected. Maybe that is a place where some additional linking or bookmarking can be added (maybe suggest to Google/YouTube as a next step?).

  • #93362

    Justin Mosebach
    Participant

    VideoMinutes actually does the bookmarking during the meeting as the secretary (or whoever is running it) just clicks a button when the next agenda item is discussed. So once the meeting is over, there’s no post-production needed. The video is all ready to go and is online in a matter of hours.

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