Seven scrutiny power-ups for making the council more transparent

Transparency is one of the seven scrutiny superpowers. By asking questions and publishing the answers, by asking for reports and putting them in the public domain, scrutiny has the special ability to make local government more open and transparent.

Think about scrutiny as the window that lets the public see what the council is doing.

Sure you are doing great things already but maybe you want to flex your scrutiny super-muscles and take things to the next level.

So, here are seven power-ups. Things that others have found useful – that you might find worth thinking about.

Maybe you are doing all of these already – but, hey, at least that tells you how much of a scrutiny super hero you already are. 💪


1. Webcasting

Council meetings are often webcast but what about scrutiny meetings? Webcasting not only gives the public the opportunity to see what’s happening from the comfort of their armchairs but it also opens up the possibility of recording and sharing the good bits. There are many ways to webcast these days so find the way that suits you best.

2. Live tweeting

Live tweeting scrutiny meetings is a great way of making council business more visible, transparent and accessible. And it helps local democracy by reaching out and making connections that might not otherwise have been made. I’ve written up some live tweeting top tips and you can find them here.

3. Better webpages

If scrutiny is a window into the council is doing then the scrutiny webpages are a window for the public to see what scrutiny is doing. Have these pages been designed in a way that’s helpful for people? It’s always worth talking to people about what they are trying to do when they visit your pages and how easy it is for them to do it. You can then makes some changes that make things easier.

4. Snippets

Webpages have snippets. It’s the line or two under the page title that appears when you perform a search. Scrutiny papers could have them too. It might be a simple idea but a short, friendly summary at the top of every agenda and report is a great way to help people navigate through the council paperwork. And when I say short I mean one or two sentences written in the way you would explain to someone in the street. This was an idea I picked up from Diane Simms at a notwestminster event (more about that in this post about making council reports more digestible – plus John Popham promoting the use of video – see 6).

5. Press releases

People still get news through local media so you can boost the visibility of your work by proactively producing press releases. Of course these need to be written in the right way and you’d better talk to your friendly council comms people first.

6. Videos

One of the many great things they are doing in Kirklees is producing and sharing a short video summary before each council meeting. Why not do something similar for scrutiny? It could be great (here is the link to the Kirklees Democracy Commission youtube page if you don’t believe me).

7. Findings reports

OK, you spent months on that big scrutiny review and collected all that evidence. Yes, you’ve summarised it beautifully in your final report but why not publish all the raw data in a format that others can use?  In a spreadsheet maybe? As an added bonus it shows that you are transparent about your own work and don’t mind if people check what you based your excellent recommendations on.

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