Posted tagged ‘consultation’

An engaging conversation

June 21, 2012

Our week of local government introspection continues with part four today, and as yesterdays post seemed at first to be similar to one earlier in the week, so today’s touches on yet remains separate to another post, namely that around digital engagement and innovation.  Before exploring this link let’s start at the basics.

Starter for ten: What is engagement and why bother with it?  A pair of very simple questions perhaps but worth asking.  Engagement in relation to local government centres around how we involve local people in the planning, running and evaluation of our services, and comes in a number of forms and methods.  Popular engagement techniques include surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, workshops and interviews, but can also be as creative as World Cafes, PinPoint, Open Space facilitation or Planning for Real.

As for why, well if you have to ask this then perhaps you’ve not been around local government for too long.  The business case is fairly simple: firstly we are told we have to, secondly it helps us builds a two-way relationship with residents and thirdly good engagement actually opens up a huge world of knowledge which we otherwise may not find out about.

We’ve often remarked that you should never throw away your drainpipe trousers as sooner or later they will come back into fashion, and so it seems to be the case with approaches to community engagement.  There is no one single way of doing this, and so successive governments have tried various ways to encourage or force local authorities and residents to engage with each other.   (more…)

Double Yellow Lies?

January 10, 2012

Double yellow row is driving me up the wall

Over the Christmas break I spent some time visiting the in-laws in London, and in doing so learnt three things. Always lock the door when you have a shower; try not to freak out when you find your clothes put away for you from your suitcase – including your underwear; and apparently there’s a bit of a row going on in Westminster about parking.

Westminster Council are sparking a bit of a media storm with their decision to replace some of their single yellow lines with their doubled-up counterparts, meaning it will be harder for some to find off-peak parking spaces. The council say that this will mostly be where drop-kerbs are located, and so will make the area much easier to access and use for wheelchair and buggy users.

Of course, this view isn’t supported by local opposition to the scheme, which is claiming that 1191 off-peak spaces will disappear and further complaining that this news was only released on 24 December, when many were packing up for Christmas and not able to respond to this in the news.

Not taking into account the fact that the internet doesn’t close for Christmas (so they were more than able to respond if they felt that strongly), and not taking into account the fact that the two interpretations of the positives and negatives are so far apart that neither is probably truly objective any more, there is something fundamental to this story which is to put it frankly angering me: the supposition that the council is not doing this for the right reasons.

Regardless of ones stand on this particular scheme, the accusations being thrown at Westminster Council are staggering, and occasionally verging on libelous. There are those who truly seem to believe that the council is trying to actively destroy their own area of the capital in any way possible, and is determined to put every small business out of business. (more…)

I just stepped in something squidgy

December 15, 2011

Enough to ruin a girl's day (or indeed to mount an unhealthy obsession)

We love a good guest post and today’s is both amusing and thoughtful at the same time. We love it and we hope you do too. Now, watch your step!

Walking to work a few weeks ago; slight skip in my step, beautiful radiant sunshine and frost on my breath, over priced coffee in my hand, thinking about the “to do” list that never ends and my lunch date with a friend from work… I skip along the well trodden roads near my home in London , hair bouncing and smiles exchanged from passers-by. Everything was going so well…

Now I work in consultation and engagement for Local Authorities. I actively try to support community empowerment and provide the bridge between the community and over worded reports and increasing amounts of jargon that only the author understands (or sometimes doesn’t).

I have facilitated community meetings where Joe and Joanne Blogs complain about what in the Council’s eyes are minor – non priority things.

For example, some things I have sat and listened to after 9pm on a week day: neighbours who put their rubbish out a day early or who see a group of young people (aka two young people), and think the riots are going to start again or the Police taking a leak in the side of the road. Diligently minuting them, smiling and promising to speak to the relevant personnel. Quietly rolling my eyes and thinking – OMG!

Back to my morning, hair bouncing and smiling… Aha! Commiseration and understanding hits me as my shoe sinks into large, smelly, squidgy dog poo. I live near a park, and of course, there are some lovely dogs running through it, escaping their two bedroom flats on their daily walks, wind rushing between their ears, tongue hanging out, saliva pouring from their mouth… there are some others that enjoy a good waddle and sniff in people’s crotches and a quiet grunt at the fish and chips packet holder.

The owners that I run past in the morning are diligent with their scented poo bags and quietly do the deed, holding their breath and praying that none slips over the top of the bag while they do it up and put it into the poo bin. The owners, (that must only come out at night like vampires, ghosts and ghoulies) to let their dogs sh*t on the sides of the roads and public pavements are the ones that I am being petty over. To be fair, there is a significant amount of dog poo all over the pavements where I live; making what is a great and vibrant community- a bit of a dirty one at times.

Furious after my skipping and enjoying the sun on my face, I look down and my shoe heal is covered – all two inches of it – covered in dog fouling vomit smelling mess.

(more…)

What’s the point of place?

October 26, 2011

A place by any other name...

Last week, whilst waiting for a meeting in a local council building, I noticed a map of my local and surrounding area hanging on the wall.  I enjoy perusing a good map, so I found myself wandering over and scrutinising the lines and blobs which set out the places I knew so well.

I then noticed that the intention of this particular map was not simply to show where places currently are, but to show where they will be in future.  I found that the redrawing of political boundary lines currently going through the motions has moved where I live from one area to another, joining my local area with one which, growing up and to this day, is seen by every local person as an entirely separate and distinct place.

Apparently it goes further, also bringing an area from a neighbouring borough, which geographically is on the other side of an A-road and a sizable lake and has an equally distinct and historic identity.

Whilst I understand the rationale behind these plans politically, the results are frankly quite worrying for me as both a resident and an local authority officer, and here’s why. (more…)

Between a rock and an asphalt hard place

September 20, 2011

Going and getting nowhere very fast

For those of you who have missed the news recently, Basildon BC are facing a bit of a tough time from just about every angle as they start the process of physically evicting around 400 travellers from their current site this week.  Originally they had planned to send the bailiffs in first thing on Monday morning, although a late court injunction was granted to put this back until at least Friday, and then possibly longer after that.

This is the beginning of the end to a process which began a decade ago, when the Council began trying to move a then-smaller group of travellers on from the site but were unsuccessful.  It is difficult to pick some of the facts from the story without coming across as biased towards one viewpoint or another, and not being immersed in the situation we don’t want to say whether one is in fact right or wrong, but it’s worth for a second reflecting on the challenges the Council faces here.

In the first place, they are being pressurised by local people to move this group on.  According to their consultation findings, they claim an overwhelming majority of local people want them to take the action that they are now trying to push through, with few arguing for the opposite.  If they stood aside and allowed the traveller community to stay on their site then they would be going against the wishes of the pre-existing local community.  This of course assumes that good practice principles were followed when undertaking this consultation, but we have to believe that if they hadn’t been then they would have not got as far as they have to date.

They also have many years of planning law and regulations to consider.  Over the years, countless buildings and developments will have been proposed to the planning department for a huge variety of structures and potential communities.  Some will have been successful, others will have fallen foul and not been allowed.  By the looks of things, the travellers have developed the site they are on without going through these processes and/or abiding by the findings of the planning department, carrying on with their own plans regardless. (more…)

Listen to what’s inside

September 13, 2011

Can local officers help with translation?

Last week we took a look at how Council’s respond (or not) to social media.  Our argument was that generally we don’t, and the comments received pretty much back that up.  This got us thinking about other simple ways in which local authorities could make better use of their organisational ears in order to take the local pulse.

Usually when officers want to find out what local people are saying they will run some form of engagement or consultation exercise.  The quality and usefulness of these activities is a topic for another day, but in essence they involve officers going out into the community in some way to find groups of residents and other stakeholders to ask them what they think about something.  This often takes some time to do and can cost a significant amount to organise, although arguably this money is very well spent and can save that same authority ten times as much by ensuring the services delivered better meet local needs.

However, this still involves reaching out to local people and hoping or expecting them to get in touch; how about turning this around and reaching inwards for a change?

Those readers who currently work in local government (and at a guess, most of our readers do) will be able to conduct their own quick field test by looking around their office and seeing just how many of their colleagues live outside of the borough in which they work.  A solid mixture is normal, but generally speaking a decent percentage of any workforce lives locally.  In fact, in many places schemes are set up to promote precisely this, with positive discrimination offering opportunities for positions and additional training for locals.  If schools are included in the mix, it would not be unusual to see anything up to 40% of council employees having less than a thirty minute commute, which adds up to a significant number of opinions to gather. (more…)

Missing the point

May 9, 2011

Only asking those who will give you a good answer

Even casual observers of this blog will know that we were big election day supporters of the local government staff who worked such long hours to ensure that last week’s elections went off without incident.

However, my general feeling of good will to my fellow local government workers was slightly punctured when I popped into my local polling station late on Thursday evening.

There was nothing wrong with the service I received. The process was efficient, the staff were friendly and the polling station was well signposted. I received my polling card and like a good (and slightly anal) citizen had it with me when I popped off to vote.

The slight souring of my mood happened as I went to leave the polling station. The very friendly senior returning officer (he had a badge: another tick) stopped me and asked if I would be willing to fill in a feedback survey and send it back in the kindly provided freepost envelope. Being a strong believer in collecting feedback and acting on residents’ opinions I took my form and headed home.

Once home I realised the futility of the evaluation; one which has lessons for many other local government consultations.

(more…)

Talking about talking

March 15, 2011

 

Be careful or the public might tell you what they actually want

Here at We Love Local Government we love a good guest post, and here indeed is a guest post worth loving.  If you’ve got something to do with local government you’d like to write about from any angle (even if you think we’d disagree with you) then e-mail it to us at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com.  Until you do though, read this and enjoy.

Reading the recent WLLG post on the way in which councils talk to local people brought back some unpleasant memories for me. I used to be a scrutiny officer. Without knowing much (ok, anything) about the art or science of “community engagement” I and my colleagues, with backbench Members, periodically organised public meetings to inform scrutiny committees’ views on various topics of local interest.
One particularly good one was on the subject of a high-profile local community event. The council and a number of other “local partners” – including the police – wanted to make some significant changes to the way it was run. Predictably, local people – including the organisers of the event – didn’t. Predictably, there was a massive bunfight, generating far more heat than light. We found it difficult – practically impossible, in fact – to get through the agenda, because attendees kept butting in and heckling. It was all the chairman could do to keep order. In the end we got through it but it was a hairy experience and I, as a relatively junior officer, wiped my brow and silently vowed to myself that I’d never do it again. (more…)

Invisible You

March 3, 2011

Surely we know what we're talking about?

For Valentines Day my other half gave me a very unexpected and welcome surprise by writing a piece for us on how involved she felt she was and wanted to be with her local Council.  She shared that she had very little to do with the council, instead trusting them to do what was needed as well as they could.  Whilst some people felt that this was an old fashioned view which doesn’t exist any more, I can assure you that it is alive and kicking at home!

It got me thinking about how much time and effort we put into engagement with the public and whether or not it is effort well spent.  I speak with a small degree of knowledge having worked I the public engagement arena for almost 16 years in one form or another, both in the public and voluntary sectors.

In my current workplace we are constantly developing things which affect our residents: action plans, strategies, policies, procedures, and headaches amongst others.  As is the way with any hierarchical organisation the real work is done by operational staff who generally know their onions, and base their thoughts and ideas on extensive theoretical and practical knowledge mixed with a healthy dose of experience.  They rarely suggest anything outrageous, and generally strive to do what is best.

These plans and projects then begin their slow crawl through the bureaucratic process to get signed off and implemented: this often involves a variation on taking it to their team, their line manager, their service head (and their team), their director (and their team) and potentially on to the chief exec and then on in turn to elected members and/or mayors and their advisors.  None of this is quick, and with each new person or group comes a perceived requirement to change a bit here or ask a pointless question there.

And of course at the final hurdle comes the usual phrase: have you done any consultation with the public?  No?  Well, go away and do it and then come back when you have. (more…)

On the seventh day of Christmas our bloggers gave to me

December 29, 2010

A cartoon depicting Local Government from Australia; seems familiar though right!

Is it this complicated the world over?


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