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How to make virtual committee meetings more viewer friendly?


Now that local councils are getting the hang of virtual meetings, it’s time think more about viewer experience to take advantage of the increased numbers tuning in. As councils are already demonstrating, there has never been a better time to experiment.

During lockdown local councils have been conducting their meetings virtually and, while this has been unknown territory for most, local government has been quietly getting on with it. Understandably the focus has been on the mechanics of the meetings themselves but, now that is settling down, there is an opportunity to think about how public friendly the meetings are.

One of the things that some councils have noticed since lockdown is an increase in viewers for online committee meetings. While these numbers are not huge, they might prompt us to ask, ‘how can we make these meetings as accessible as possible for people who are new to these types of meeting?’. Of course now is a great time to try things out and experiment so I thought it would be worth jotting down a few thoughts that will hopefully be useful and might spark off some others.

In this post I’m thinking specifically about zoom meetings being streamed live to YouTube but there will hacks and tricks that can be applied to all platforms – I’m sure there’s lot’s that can be shared. 

User research

The first thing to say, of course, is the best way to understand viewer experience is to talk to people. Even if you don’t do any formal user research, ask a friend, or your auntie or your neighbour to watch the last meeting and tell you what they think. As Atticus Finch from the the film ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ put it: You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view. In other words, find out what it’s like to watch a virtual committee meeting for the first time – what might stop it being the last?

OK, here are some specific things to think about:

Introductions

Are you ‘diving straight in’ or thinking about a new viewer and letting them know:

  • The purpose of the meeting
  • Who’s taking part and their roles
  • The main agenda items
  • How the viewer can get involved

‘Name plates’

Names on the screen can be tricky – long versions get shortened particularly in gallery view.

Have a look at this West Berkshire planning meeting as a nice example (thanks @PhilRumens)

Couple of things to notice here:

  • The name format is short – Cllr [name] and this allows the important info to fit in the relatively small space left when grid view is used
  • Streaming via ‘host view’ allows switching to ‘speaker view’ during the meeting and, as well as revealing the full name, this breaks it up a bit for the viewer, allowing them to focus on who is speaking. Watch the news when there are multiple virtual interviewees – we don’t watch those items as a grid

Screen sharing

Another way to make the experience more interesting is to make use of screen sharing. Use slides or videos or simply share the current report as they do in the West Berks example above. Think of how news programmes are made more engaging through graphics, images and video reports.

Hosting

Finally, I like the idea of having a host or guide for viewers. Maybe someone not involved in the meeting providing a welcome and introduction.

Check out this example from @kirkdemocracy of a general explainer about council meetings to give an idea of what hosting might look like – maybe as a short segment before the start of the meeting:

So, there’s never been a better time to think about how council meetings are presented to the public and I know many are. It’s also a chance to think about the content and hopefully be inspired to make changes that will last well after the crisis is over.