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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2020
Hoping to involve the “armchair quarterbacks” of local politics in the real game of governing, the town of Concord has been using technology to bring public meetings to people’s phones and tablets.
For some meetings, the town has been using Facebook Live and making its local cable access broadcasts more interactive, to encourage real-time questions from viewers watching the proceedings on their televisions and mobile devices. As a result, the town has seen a measurable increase in public meeting participation.
Concord has been working for years to promote engagement by residents. In 2015, the town hired its first public information officer, and then set up several social media accounts to encourage people to follow town updates, according to Deputy Town Manager Kate Hodges. Then it sought to leverage its larger social media presence.
“We have this captive audience, so let’s bring the work of government into their homes,” Hodges said.
The interactive approach to Concord meetings has increasingly taken hold over the past year. The town started off by using Facebook Live to broadcast a meeting about a park rehabilitation project, and has since shown several meetings on the park project and the town budget.
This year, Concord hopes to show all five pre-Town Meeting budget sessions in this manner.
For interactive meetings, the town either shows them on Facebook Live and allows residents to weigh in using the app’s comment feature, or shows them on local cable and provides an email address for real-time questions.
As questions come in remotely, town employees verify residents’ names and addresses. When possible, the questions are read and answered during the meeting. The town then keeps its email address for questions active for some period after the live event.
For its budget sessions, the town received 209 emailed questions, and 109 afterward – a significant jump over previous years, when the number of questions never exceeded 30, according to town data. The budget hearing presentation videos had 683 live viewers and more than 3,700 hits afterward. In the past, physical attendance at these meetings never exceeded 40 or 50 people.
“It’s great that we can use technology to further our mission,” Hodges said.
For more information, contact Deputy Town Manager Kate Hodges at firstname.lastname@example.org.