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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 25/05/2004
Webcasting



Summary & Purpose
This report reviews the webcasting pilot that has been undertaken. It recommends that the Executive considers adopting an extended trial until the end of the current financial year and that the future of the trial be reviewed as part of the budget setting process for 2005/06.

Quality of Life Implications
Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
Local Economy
Natural
Resource Use
Pollution
Prevention and Control
Biodiversity
and Nature
Local
Environment
Social
Inclusion
Safe, Healthy
and Active
Communities
Local
Economy
Positive
Positive
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive or Negative


APPENDIX G

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE - 25TH MAY 2004



Title:
WEBCASTING
[Wards Affected: All]


Note pursuant to Section 100B(5) of the Local Government Act 1972

An annexe to this report contains exempt information by virtue of which the public is likely to be excluded during the item to which the report relates, as specified in those paragraphs of Part I of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, indicated:-

The amount of any expenditure proposed to be incurred by the authority under any particular contract for the acquisition of property or the supply of goods or services (paragraph 8).



Summary and Purpose

This report reviews the webcasting pilot that has been undertaken. It recommends that the Executive considers adopting an extended trial until the end of the current financial year and that the future of the trial be reviewed as part of the budget setting process for 2005/06.



Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

Natural Resource Use
Pollution Prevention and Control
Biodiversity and Nature
Local Environment
Social Inclusion
Safe, Healthy and Active Communities
Local Economy
Positive
Positive
N/A
Positive
Positive
Positive
Positive


E-Government implications:

This has positive e-government implications. The webcasting concept and pilot is included in Waverley’s latest Implementing Electronic Government (IEG) statement. Webcasting allows members of the public to see democracy in action and have access to meetings they might not otherwise attend. In terms of the ODPM’s (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s) e-government priorities, it would support the Democratic Renewal outcomes. In terms of achieving a "good outcome" from 1st April 2006, Councils should have established multi-media resources on local policy priorities accessible via public website e.g. video and audio files. Webcasting meets these requirements.

Resource and legal implications:

The costs of the initial pilot were largely met from the Market Town Healthchecks and Beacon Council budgets. If an extended pilot is undertaken, it is proposed that the costs be met from within existing budgets relating to services being webcast or from external contributions. A breakdown of the costs of the pilot and the costs for an extended trial are set out at (Exempt) Annexe 4.



Introduction and background

1. The concept of carrying out a webcasting pilot in Waverley emerged during the Market Town Healthchecks in Cranleigh and Haslemere. The purpose was to engage more effectively with young people using technology they are comfortable with rather than expecting them to attend a traditional meeting. The first of two events have been held and the second has been arranged. Young people from schools and youth groups in Haslemere and Cranleigh were invited to take part in two separate discussions about their communities. They were asked to consider the findings of the healthchecks to see if the issues that have emerged reflected their own views and interests and whether there were any additional issues or actions that should be taken forward. The discussions were recorded and made available over the internet so that other young people in the area could also respond to an online survey. They also have the ability to e-mail comments on specific questions/issues. This was the first time such technology had been used to elicit views as part of the Market Towns Healthchecks.

What is webcasting?

2. Annexe 1 contains a short overview of webcasting and how the system operates based on information from UKCouncil, the leading webcast provider for local government in the UK. Also attached at Annexe 3 is a set of Guidance Notes/protocols for councillors and other people being webcast to help make best use of the system. 3. The system provides anyone with access to the internet, a soundcard and the free realplayer software, the ability to view meetings, or specific agenda items that may be of interest, from their home, work, libraries or other public access internet points. Meetings can be broadcast live and are archived for six months, enabling people to watch discussions of interest to them if they were not able to attend the meeting in person. The technology is configured to dial-up modem speeds which means that it is widely available but that the quality of the image is dependant on the telephone download quality. In future, the quality will improve as broadband becomes more available.

4. Waverley can broadcast and archive up to twenty-five hours of content each month. Each meeting is also recorded on video tape, and this means any meeting that has been recorded can also be viewed (upon request) at broadcast quality using the video.

5. The meetings are held on a server owned by UKCouncil, but the content page of the website is in the style of Waverley’s website. When someone has viewed and logged out of a broadcast, they are automatically redirected to Waverley’s website.

The benefits and disbenefits of webcasting

6. Webcasting enables accountability and transparency to the wider community allowing direct live visual access to the decision making process of local authorities at a time convenient to the user i.e. if someone cannot make a meeting on an issue of concern they can follow the debate from the archived record at any time. The system also :-

allows access for those unable to attend either because of disability or other restrictions; can provide contextual information (through pop up slides, biographies etc.) which are not usually available to the visitor to a meeting; is a potential vehicle for the Council to promote its activities as many local authorities have demonstrated by imaginative and creative use of the webcast (examples include Youth Councils, involving schools in live polling, and promotional information on boroughs/authorities); is useful in clarifying minutes or any misunderstanding arising during a meeting that is webcast; and provides the future potential for surveys, on-line polling, simultaneous transcription and translation.

7. In terms of disbenefits, the webcasting technology does not meet all the requirements of Level "A" of the government’s Web Access Initiative Guidelines and therefore people with visual impairments may not be able to get as much from the webcasts as other members of the community.

The Waverley System

8. The Waverley webcasting equipment is fixed in the Council Chamber using three cameras leased from UKCouncil and the Waverley microphone system. An operator manages the cameras using a prepared room layout. The cameras, which are pre-selected to use the camera that will give the best view of the speaker, will automatically focus on each speaker when their seat position is selected by the operator. In future, this could also be directly linked in to the Council’s microphone system. The speaker’s name is shown during a webcast when the camera changes to a new speaker. This also helps create an index of the meeting so that viewers watching after the event can go directly to a particular topic or speaker.


9. Powerpoint presentations can be added to run consecutively with a webcast, and hyperlinks can be added to take viewers to relevant web sites (e.g. the agendas on Waverley’s website, Councillor profiles and other relevant information such as reports on issues being discussed).

10. The system is paused by the operator if a meeting is suspended (or goes into exempt matters during a meeting) and is closed down if a meeting goes into an exempt session at the end of a meeting.

11. The meetings/events to date have been operated by a combination of "volunteers", staff already attending meetings, or by a student from Godalming College. It is anticipated that this would need to be formalized for a longer period either by paying staff who are prepared to volunteer to stay for meetings (or giving time off in lieu) or providing further opportunities for local students (e.g. media or politics) to operate the system.

12. There is also the possibility of having a mobile system which can be used in other rooms in the Council Offices or externally.

13. When a meeting is to be broadcast, signs are placed at the entrance to the meeting room and also at the entrance to the public gallery. Information is also made available to members of the public on how the system works (similar to Annexe 1), and the website (www.waverley.ukcouncil.net),. contains information about how to use the system and downloads any relevant free software.

14. The system began being tested in December 2003 and was formally presented to Members in February this year There has been limited publicity on the new system during the pilot and some difficulties have been experienced by Councillors and members of the public as there has not been a direct link from the Waverley website to the webcast pages. However despite this, there have been some very good viewing figures for meetings. A list of figures to date are attached at Annexe 2.

Events webcast to date

15. During the pilot period the following events have been webcast:-

Training on the Planning system for parish councillors. This enabled parish councillors who did not attend to see the presentation; The David Lloyd/Farnham Rugby Club presentations to Planning and Development and to full Council. (As these events were webcast, the meeting was also shown on a plasma screen in an overflow room to over thirty members of the public who could not be accommodated in the public gallery); The briefing meeting for sports clubs on changes to business rate relief and opportunities for funding; Member training on the Local Development Framework; Internal training events (on an internal page); Young people events relating to the healthcheck – Haslemere and Cranleigh;
16. The events are archived for six months and are available on the public website at www.waverley.ukcouncil.net. Annexe 3 sets out details of the meetings and associated documents viewed so far. It can be seen that the highest viewed events so far were the Farnham Rugby Club Planning application, the Haslemere Healthcheck Young People’s event, and the special meeting for parish councils on the planning system. Considering there has been no link on the website to the webcasts, and considering the amount of publicity about the pilot webcast period has been very limited, these figures show there is a lot of potential from the system.

An Extended trial

17. It is proposed that an extended trial of the system now takes place. UKCouncil will be working with Waverley’s Corporate Communications team to help promote the availability of the site. Their experience is that the best take-up happens when there has been a pilot period to overcome any teething problems and when there has been effective promotion. This also includes good links from the front page of the Council’s own website. It is proposed that if the trial is to continue this will be done via a "jump page" explaining how to access the webcasts and that whilst the audio quality is excellent, the webcast has limitations for people with visual impairments.

18. The initial period of the pilot has now concluded and the current arrangement comes to an end at the end of May. It is proposed that an extended trial now takes place to further develop the opportunities for members of the public to access council meetings without having to travel to the Council Offices in Godalming to enable councillors to view discussions of meetings they have been unable to attend; and to experiment with other types of events to engage more with members of the public. Waverley has also been invited to participate in a European funding bid in association with UKCouncil, to further evaluate the advantages of the technology alongside authorities in different member states. If agreement to have an extended trial is agreed and if the application were successful, there would be some funding towards the cost of Waverley’s system.

19. It is proposed that the following meetings could be webcast during an extended trial:-

Executive Meetings Full Council Meetings Meetings with Town and Parish Councils Internal training events/briefings (e.g. Fire safety training, Fraud awareness seminar) External meetings (e.g. Surrey Economic Forum presentations) The Healthcheck Young People events Other adhoc meetings where there is expected to be great public interest (such as the A3 Tunnel, contentious planning applications, housing options etc.) 20. The facility can be made available to other organisations or people who may wish to hire the Council Chamber. This could include Planning Inquiries and also include recording weddings on a cost-recovery basis.

21. Members are asked to consider if other Waverley meetings should be webcast if a trial period is agreed. It is proposed that the costs for the extended trial be met from the budgets of the services using the facility. A breakdown of the costs involved is set out at (Exempt) Annexe 4.

Issues to be resolved during an extended trial

22. There are a number of operational issues that have already been identified that will need to be resolved during a longer trial. These include:-

The management of the system (during the pilot this has been by the Business Support Section but this is not sustainable long term) The staffing and operation of the system during meetings (for evening meetings, a student or staff attending meetings have been used) How cost for the system may be re-charged if the trial becomes a permanent feature (in other councils this is often seen as a cost of democracy, or part of improving the communications aspects of a local authority) What meetings should be webcast if the trial became a permanent feature (some councils webcast every meeting, others those which are of greatest interest to the public. Should Overview and Scrutiny meetings, for example, be webcast?) Whether webcasting is useful in making council meetings and particular topics more accessible for people (the experience during the pilot period is that this has been the case) Whether the concept of webcasting meetings and making them available on the Council’s website conflicts with the Government's Usability and Accessibility requirements for websites (i.e. can they conform with Level "A" of the Web Access Initiative Guidelines).

Conclusion

23. The pilot webcasting project has shown that the system has great potential for increasing the accessibility of council meetings and other events to members of the public who would not normally be able to attend. The pilot webcast for young people in Haslemere has stimulated great interest in further involvement by young people in matters affecting them. The archive facility has also been useful for Councillors to follow specific issues at meetings they have not been able to attend. It is suggested that Members consider an extended trial of the system until the end of the current financial year and that consideration is given to the future of the project beyond this during the preparation of the Council’s 2005/06 budget.


Recommendation

It is recommended that:-



Background Papers (CEx)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D (5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.



CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Iain Lynch Telephone: 01483 523203
email: ilynch@waverley.gov.uk

comms/executive/2004-2005/029
37439