Bristol’s e-democracy programme

Bristol City Council’s Consultation, Research and Intelligence Team has long been involved in using new technology in innovative ways to consult and engage local people in their local democracy.  At the end of the 90s, we began using interactive voting handsets in public meetings to more accurately capture the views of attendees.  In 2000, we launched Consultation Finder – a simple but helpful tool that lists all the council’s consultation in one place on the internet – it’s still going today.    In 2004, Bristol’s e-democracy programme took a big step forward with the award of a number of grants from the UK government to pilot new e-participation tools in local government and learn lessons from their practical application.  An important new strand was added to the programme to facilitate citizens and stakeholders to raise their own issues with tools such as e-petitions, rather than respond to a traditional public consultation framed by the council.  Bristol has also been involved with a number of EU e-democracy programmes which helped the council introduce webcasting and explore the use of multi-media discussion forums.

The e-democracy programme, now brought together under the ASK Bristol name, comprises the following core elements:

For more information on e-democracy, a number of reports produced by Bristol City Council in recent years are available below, including an evaluation of the Local eDemocracy National Project in 2005.

Better integration and use of social media tools

Key areas we are continually trying to improve include: better integration of the tools and techniques we use, increased partnership working – particularly with other public services within Bristol, and to embed support and training into the community.  A recent example of integrating e-democracy tools was our work on the EU project Legese, which used webcasting, online discussions and online surveys.  We’ll be developing this integration further, as well as looking at how we can promote and use social media networks like Twitter and  Facebook for public involvement in decision making.

Live blogging on council meetings

Another area of interest for us is the use of live blogging and discussion forums alongside webcast meetings.  We have used this a number of times and have greatly increased the numbers of people watching council meetings and debates.  We have done some work with our scrutiny meetings where the live online debate has been brought into the meeting and councillors have directly addressed some of the points from the online audience.  This makes watching a webcast a more engaging experience and is something we will develop in the future.

Adventures in crowd sourcing

In 2010, we continued our exploration of crowd sourcing as way of engaging with citizens – we believe this holds great promise for the early engagement of citizens and the joint development of solutions.  4 pilot projects were completed in 2010: , 2 map based applications in partnership with the www.bristolstreets.co.uk website where residents identified issues with the central area of the city and quite places; and crowd sourcing around an urban development plan (www.ideasforbristol.co.uk) and Bristol’s budget at a time of public spending reductions – Bristol’s Budget Conversation.  We expect crowd sourcing and public conversations with early engagement of citizens to become regular features of our e-democracy programme.

Although aimed specifically at Bristol citizens, you may like to follow us on Twitter, where we’ll be promoting new initiatives and new ways of getting involved.  You can also join our Facebook page.

Involvement in projects

We played a big role in the ODPN’s National Local e-democracy project and four European Union projects (Eparticipate, Citizenscape, Legese, Europetitions) and have a strong track record in delivery.   We welcome approaches from other institutions looking to partner Bristol City Council in European / UK government programmes.  Please email consultation@bristol.gov.uk

Downloadable resources