Hybrid systems for meetings: a cause for concern?

Posted on 29/05/2020 by Ed Hammond.

Remote meetings are now up and running everywhere; scrutiny meetings are beginning again in many places and council AGMs are taking place too. It’s something like normality, although we are all still getting used to meeting by video.

We know that this is going to be the way that we will all have to meet for some time. But at some point – perhaps later this year – more people will start to return to work, and more councillors will be able to meet physically. At the same time, some people may not be able to do this – some may still have additional caring responsibilities, and/or may have to shield themselves for their own protection.

This raises the prospect of “hybrid” meetings – those where a small number of councillors may be present in a committee room (potentially alongside officers) which a few also joining remotely. It also raises the prospect of these hybrid meetings being the norm until well into 2021.

While we have focused and for the most part overcome the challenge of fully remote meetings, hybrid meetings are arguably more difficult. When everyone is joining online, everyone participates on the same basis. When some meet in person and others join remotely, challenges emerge.

If you have participated in a meeting involving a few people sitting in a room but a couple joining by phone you will recognise this – it takes real effort from the chair to keep those joining “down the line” properly involved. Discussion often ends up being between those physically in the same room, with others excluded.

As things stand, the Regulations explicitly provide for such “hybrid” meetings, and it is likely that councils will need to begin thinking about how they will be transacted. As more councillors are able to physically attend, the dynamic – in the room and outside it – will shift.

We, along with colleagues in organisations like the LGA, ADSO and LLG, are thinking about the kind of support that councils are likely to need as this becomes more of a pressing issue. If you have been thinking about this issue and are currently in the process of developing systems to account for some of the possibilities, please let us know.

 

About the Author: Ed Hammond

Ed leads CfPS's work on devolution, transformation and on support to councils and other public bodies on governance and accountability.