Engaging with the community is always a key aim for any council or anyone looking to become politically active.
How do you know how your ideas or plans will go down with the people if you do not get out there and ask the question?
Recent consultations by the council have resulted in response rates of less than 20 per cent.
Local elections have had a turnout of between 20 and 50 per cent, dependent on the wards.
With this kind of result, there is a worst case scenario where a proposal could get the go ahead without 80 per cent of the people of Grantham agreeing that it is a good idea – that can’t be good for anyone.
So how do we get more people involved? How do we help people see that local political activity and local government activity is actually relevant to their lives?
The keys to engagement are convenience and relevance. If it is easy for someone to say something, then they will do. If they could use Facebook or Twitter they would. If they had a questionnaire with a convenient drop box, then they would fill it out.
All too often consultations are conducted online, with an occasional drop-in session when the majority of people are at work.
When proposals are put forward, the council should adopt an approach where they can gather comments from a wide variety of sources such as the local press and social media in an informal manner, as well as formal responses.
However, this will not work if the residents of Grantham fail to see the relevance to their own lives. It is important to see what the council can do, and what it can’t do. It is also important to take a look at what a council should be doing, or what they do not need to do. This will help people see how their council spends its money, and ensure that Grantham residents can hold their council to account, therefore becoming relevant to them.
There will be important consultations coming up this year, and it is up to the local politicians and the council as a whole to ensure their communities are fully engaged.
by David Burling