Survey says council using right tools to engage the public
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
The results of the Citizen Engagement in London Ontario (CELO) study are in and they point to a council that is making strides towards involving the general public in the political process.
Mind you, that isn’t to suggest there aren’t things that councillors could be doing better.
The study’s report shows that council is using the right tools to engage the community, and while there are opportunities for improvement, the results are seen as encouraging by those behind the survey.
“We are really pleased the participation rate was so good. And we were pleased to see they are using the tools that are available to them,” said Eamon O’Flynn, one of the individuals behind the CELO study. “They could maybe use them better, but it is nice to know who is using what.”
Susan Toth, another member of CELO, said she didn’t know what to expect from the survey results, but added council has “done a great job at identifying the tools available to them.”
To read the full report, and to find out how each individual councillor answered the survey, visit www.celoreport.ca.
Among the results found among the survey results, more than 85 per cent of councillors use mailing lists to distribute information, half write articles for local media, and many hold town hall meetings and ward events. The majority also uses social media to interact with constituents. The only tool that less than 50 per cent of councillors use is online surveys.
“The major finding is that councillors are using the tools,” says Toth. “But, there are signs that the tools aren’t being used as effectively or efficiently as they could be.”
O’Flynn said the survey results “were a little surprising, but not totally.” He pointed to the fact not everyone on council is using Twitter, nor is everyone using mailing lists.
“There is a lot of engagement that is underway, but there are improvements that could be made,” O’Flynn said. “Perhaps they could better integrate all the methods of communication that are available for integrating the public.”
The study has driven the CELO group to consider a number of other questions. First, is there a way to get more citizens on council mailing lists? Are there ways to boost attendance at town hall meetings or make them more cost-effective? Could councillors more effectively gather opinions about municipal policy by using online surveys? What about social media, could it be used more effectively to collect and distribute information?
“The first step is realizing who is doing what, collecting all the information.
We are looking at where the weaknesses are, how things can be done better. There is a lot of expertise in London and it is encouraging to see the city is using it,” O’Flynn said. “If we can find a way to make the tools that are available even more useful, then perhaps we can approach councillors and see what ways we might be able to help them.”
O’Flynn said CELO received “a little backlash” around what it was trying to do with the survey, but added he disagreed with the premise that the public shouldn’t be involved in the day-to-day political process.
“Even after an election, there is clearly still a need for people to be engaged with their councillors,” O’Flynn said. “One of the problems with politics is when someone genuinely wants to help, there are lots of people asking why would you want to? We don’t care what someone’s politics might be. A basic function of democracy is to make sure people are involved.”
Toth said the survey not only asked questions, but delivered answers as well. She added the possible improvements uncovered in the survey results “do not necessarily mean more work for councillors.”
Although the survey is complete, O’Flynn said that doesn’t mean CELO’s work is over with.
“Our plan is to do this yearly. It will evolve over time, but I think we laid the groundwork with this survey,” O’Flynn said. “If we can find ways to build on this, then I think there is real value in continuing. We have the template now, there is so much more that is possible.”
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