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How to live tweet a council meeting

If you are thinking of tweeting a council meeting, or maybe you are already tweeting meetings but thinking about how you might improve, here are some ideas that you might find helpful.

Tweeting council meetings is a great way of making council business more visible, transparent and accessible.  Whether it’s full council, cabinet, scrutiny, live tweeting helps local democracy by reaching out and making connections that might not otherwise have been made.  People who do this, whether as part of their jobs, or as citizen volunteers, deserve a lot of credit in my opinion – I think it’s a much undervalued public service and something that requires a fair degree of skill.

I’ve written this because there doesn’t seem to be a guide out there and because I think there should be.

I’m particularly grateful to Diane (@72prufrocks who tweets meetings from @kirkdemocracy) and James (@javerilljourno who covers Northamptonshire) for their ideas and, if you want to see what good looks like, definitely start by checking out what they do.

OK, so here are the suggestions. First the general strategy followed by some specific tactics but remember – this is just what others have found helpful – you decide what’s best for you.

Strategy

Think of your audience

The first question you should ask yourself is ‘who am I tweeting for?’  It may be one audience or many, either way you should have them in your mind when you are tweeting – this will help you get the tone right.  If it helps, think about some actual people when tweeting and tweet for them (without using their names obviously…).

Use the right language

Council meetings tend to use a very particular language and it can be easy for those involved to forget that people ‘outside’ might find it unfamiliar or even off putting.  Things like apologies, motions, points of order and minutes might make sense to you but they could mean something very different to your intended audience – you really don’t need to use them.  Just talk as you would to someone in a cafe or bar.  Remember also that tweets can only ever be a summary and that’s fine – they do not need to be a verbatim account.

Pick the interesting bits

James makes a great point when he says: “I actually think it’s a case of working out what ‘not’ to tweet. I generally have the rule of thumb that if I find it dull, then the readers definitely will and I won’t tweet it.”

Report rather than comment

Again, James makes another great point when he says: “Effectively all I do is cherry pick the most interesting quotes, provide them with a little bit of context, and allow people to come to their own conclusions.” This will be particularly true for council officers who need to be ‘politically neutral’.

Use pictures and videos if you can

OK, so pictures of meetings may not be so exciting but seeing the people involved can bring things alive for those following on twitter.  Oh, and pictures make things that much more shareable. By the way, @kirkdemocracy produce short video explainers of each council meeting – a lovely way to start a live tweet.

Set yourself up right

This might just be personal preference, but I find it easier to get on top of some high quality tweeting if I’m using a laptop and sat at a table.  It’s just easier to tap away and to grab links links.  You can also use a twitter app like Tweetdeck to manage things across a number of columns.

Prepare

Nothing interrupts the flow like having to find that online report or that twitter handle.  Spending a little time beforehand digging out the things you know you are going to need and getting familiar with the agenda will help to ensure a more relaxing experience.

Listen, listen, listen

Great advice from Diane and perhaps one of the harder parts of this – properly paying attention to what’s going on while writing summary tweets at the same time.

Make sense of it

Another great point from Diane – explain what’s happening and keep doing it, don’t assume that everyone is a local democracy expert

 Share their story

Yet another great point from Diane – councillors and citizens are people and what’s personal is relatable.

Notice what works

There is no perfect way of doing this – it’s all about what works best.  So, notice what works well for you and do more of that.  Accept that there will be some trial and error. Things take time to build sometimes so don’t worry if you don’t get much response at first.

 

Tactics

As well as these general points, there are some specific things you can do when tweeting that might be helpful.

Threading

Threading means replying to your last tweet so that, when people read those tweets, they follow nicely, one below the next in order.  Doing a separate thread for each agenda item creates a nice mini story for each.  It also means that, when someone retweets something they are sharing a link to an entire item.

Tagging

Tagging means including someone’s twitter handle in a tweet.  It’s a really helpful way of letting people know that they are being mentioned and gives them the chance to share and respond.  If an organisation gets mentioned in a report you can tag them to let them know it’s being discussed.  Many councillors now have twitter accounts so you can tag them as well.

Hashtagging

Hashtags (written with a # at the start), are short labels that allow people to search for tweets that are of interest to them.  Using the same hashtag for council meeting tweets (e.g. #anycounciltweets or #anytowndemocracy) will allow people to create searches to follow the action with.  Others can also join in knowing that everyone will see what they have tweeted. When tweeting also think about the hashtags that might attract the attention of people who might not otherwise have been aware of the meeting.  So, for example, you might add the local area hashtag to the start of the thread for each item.  By the way, people tweeting council meetings often use #ldreporter so check it out to see what others are up to.

Linking

By providing links to the agenda, online reports, and webcasts, stories or anything else that’s relevant, you can help make these things much more accessible to those outside and those inside the meeting.

Replying

If someone does reply to one of your tweets it’s always good to respond – even if it’s just to acknowledge them.

 

Oh, and of course, you should always be respectful and remember that what you are doing is publishing – the law still applies –  even to twitter.

One final point from Diane, which I’m guessing is from bitter experience.  She says simply: “Charger.”

Photo credit: @kirkdemocracy

How to move the conversation from problems to solutions

Here are three questions you can use to turn your conversations from a negative problem focus to a constructive solution focus.  These are particularly handy for the chairs of committee and board meetings to have up their sleeve but can be used in any context really.

One of the things I love about solution focussed approaches is the assumption that you don’t need to understand the problem to make progress.

In fact, ‘problem talk’ can actually make it harder to find solutions.  Placing attention on the things that are wrong distracts from what’s working well and what we want our positive future to look like.

Sometimes of course people need to talk about what’s wrong, to download and to get things off their chest.  Sometimes people have to talk about their problems before they can move on to talking about their solutions.  But other than ‘clearing the decks’, talking about problems is not necessarily helpful from a solution focussed perspective.

However, given that people will want to, and may need to, discuss problems, it’s useful to have a few simple techniques for moving people to ‘solution talk’ when the time is right.

Below are three questions that do just that.  I’ve picked them up from the world of solution focus but actually they are useful for any situation to move things from negative to positive.

1.  What would you like to see instead?

This is one of my favourite questions.  People are very good at describing what they don’t like or don’t want but this question encourages people to construct something positive and a direction to travel in.  So, if someone says ‘I wish we could have less arguing in the team’, asking ‘what would you like instead’, might get a suggestion like ‘people agreeing together what do do next’ or ‘a friendly atmosphere in the office’.  It’s much easier to work out how to make progress when you have positive goals to work towards.  Particularly if you can get people to describe in detail what ‘reaching a consensus’ or ‘a friendly atmosphere’ might look like in practice.

2.  Can you think of an instance when this didn’t happen?

For every problem or bad behaviour there is almost always a time when that problem wasn’t present or that behaviour was absent.  Ask people to think about exceptions and you can then move to discussing the circumstances that led to that positive instance.  That time the team worked really well on a particular project might get mentioned.  What was it about that project?  What helped the team to work well together that time?  Attention is then switched to how the positive circumstances can be captured and reproduced.

3.  What are they like at their best?

Often problem talk revolves around an individual or group who are seen as challenging or difficult.  By asking what the people in question are like at their best you are encouraging a conversation about their positive behaviours and qualities.  You can them follow up with questions about what might have led them to be at their best and how they might be supported to be so in future.  Maybe John made a really big contribution to the team when they took on a particular project.  What qualities does he bring to the team when he is at his best? What helps him to be at his best?

 

Of course these questions might not work every time and you might need to persevere – particularly where problems talk is the default.  However I’ve certainly found these three simple questions useful for nudging conversations from something negative to something more positive and productive.

 

Photo credithttps://flic.kr/p/8DzMig

Good public governance needs good conversations

As a councillor, school governor or member of a public body, you want to feel confident that you are doing the right things in the right way.  While professional advice and good practice guides are important to have, it’s your conversations that will help you most.  But what is a conversation, why do they matter and what makes them so powerful?  

What’s a conversation?

By conversation I mean something more than a friendly chat.

It’s a term to describe the interactions you have with people outside of your council or governing body.  It might involve meeting in person, phone calls, video calls, exchanges of emails or communication through social media.  A conversation might be a combination of all of these things.

Your most important conversations will be with central or local government, your regulators, your managers, your partners and crucially, the public.

A conversation is always a two way process.  It’s good to explain what you are doing and share things of course.  It’s even better to give account of your work.  But the real value of a conversation is what you bring back in, what you learn and what you change as a result.  Sometimes conversations can even create something new, something neither side expected, some new idea or inspiration.  That’s why effective listening is so important.

Conversations can be formal or informal.  The word conversation suggests something more informal, but of course that might not always work.

It’s good to have councillors, governors, members present when any part of a conversation is taking place – and all of them if you can.  Of course this isn’t always possible but everyone should be kept in the loop even if they can’t be there in person.  And a conversation should be captured in some way so it can be shared as openly as possible.

And your conversations don’t all have to take place in the town hall, board room or school hall.  Particularly when talking to the public it can be better to get out of your usual, comfortable meeting place.  You are likely to have a better conversation if you do.

Why have conversations?

Some of the reasons to have conversations include:

  1. Confidence:  Talking to the right people can reassure you that you are doing the right things in the right way.  You can also check that you haven’t missed anything important or some major change heading your way.
  2. Inspiration:  Some conversations can remind you why you do what you do.  Positive stories give you the energy to carry on and the emotional support you sometimes need for your work.
  3. Noticing: What you are already doing well – sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you to do this.
  4. Tailoring: Making sure you can adapt good practice to fit your own unique circumstances.
  5. Solutions:  Sharing challenges with others outside of your normal meetings can help to suggest new things you might want to try.  Sometimes it’s the conversation itself that generates the new thinking.
  6. Influence:  Sharing your hopes and ideas with others can also lead to changes outside of your public body.  Conversations have the potential to bring about change on both sides.
  7. Values:  Understanding what’s important to others, sharing what matters to you.
  8. Describing: What good looks like – co-creating the future you want to see for your governing body with people who have a stake in that future.
  9. Relationships:  Can be sources of mutual help and support.  Conversations help to build these ties and can lead to new relationships.
  10. Creative tension: Sometimes different conversations might tell you different things, but  these tensions can be a source of creativity and innovation, of challenge and development.

By paying attention to why you are having a conversation and what you want to get out of it, you can more easily decide what questions you want ask.  You can give structure and purpose to your annual meeting with your regulator, your quarterly update from your operations manager or your visit to the community association.

The power of conversations

Conversations are much more than simply an exchange of information.

As many psychologists and social scientists will tell you, our social reality and our knowledge about the world is constructed by our interactions with others.  This means that the way councillors, school governors and members of public bodies go about their business is also constructed by their interactions.

In other words, how you think and act as a member of a public body has a lot to do with the conversations that you have.

It should also be liberating to know that you can create your own version of good governance through your conversations – a version that fits your needs and circumstances.  A version that is easier to understand and achieve because you made it.

Getting your governance arrangements off the shelf maybe easier in the short term but will be less satisfying later on.

So, whether you are thinking about one aspect of your governance arrangements, or reviewing all of them, it really is worth making sure that your conversations are the right ones and that they are good ones.

 

 

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