With greater access to information than ever before, increasingly the problem we face is not a lack of information but finding the ‘right’ information and avoiding misinformation. In daily life this is a big enough problem, with phrases like ‘fake news’ becoming common parlance, but in a crisis the information gap costs lives.
As the pandemic hit it became clear that for all the briefings, the gap between government guidelines and what they meant on the ground was vast, and that for the lockdown to be effective locally residents needed a simple way to get answers to any questions they might have.
Our solution: give people a single place to get their questions answered in real-time, with a weekly Q&A hour on Facebook Live with myself as council leader
To be honest, I had my doubts anyone would bother to tune in, after all we live in cynical times, but the combined live and catch-up viewings have received between 3,000 and 8,000 unique views, reaching around 15% of the borough’s population. While I’ve only committed to running Q&A sessions for the duration of the lockdown, the response has been uniformly positive and various residents have asked we consider running them, on a less frequent basis, once the outbreak ends.
Several things help explain this surprise success. At a basic level, residents clearly have more time on their hands and are more likely to have questions they need to raise. Yet, beyond that, by giving the public the chance to ask questions directly of a leader, by answering every question–even if it’s insulting or tongue-in-cheek, and by ensuring that answers are honest, unspun and as human as possible, we can re-empower citizens to hold local decision-makers to account and in the process help rebuild the trust which has been lost over the years.