There's a new reality show coming your way about people on an island doing what they do in the public eye.
It's called council meeting.
The Internet can swamp us with a flood of useless information, but Vancouver Island municipalities are proving it can also be a useful tool in keeping the public informed about public business.
The District of Sooke will begin broadcasting its council meetings on the Internet in September, with Victoria, Esquimalt and Saanich expecting to follow suit in a few months. North Saanich began webcasting its meetings more than a year ago, and Nanaimo has been live-streaming its meetings since 2009. Comox and Campbell River are among other Island communities that make council meetings available on the web.
Never mind the choreographed and orchestrated faux reality of survivors in a tropical forest, or some Trumpedup drama about competing for a made-up job - this is the real stuff. What it lacks in action, it makes up for in relevance - it's about your sidewalks, your parks, your services, your tax dollars.
An informed population makes for a stronger community. Municipal councillors and civic officials are often the targets of criticism because an issue is not clearly understood. Sometimes members of the public are not comfortable with a decision because they don't know what led to the decision. Observing a council in action can give a better understanding of the issues and the actions taken.
Council meetings, of course, have always been open to the public, but many find it impractical or inconvenient to attend in person. Broadcasting those meetings adds another level of transparency and openness that can only enhance the democratic process.
The technology does more than simply broadcast the meetings - it makes video archives available so you can watch the proceedings are your convenience. It's also not necessary to view the entire meeting - the system allows the user to click on an agenda item and see the appropriate video portion. That's also a useful tool for department heads and other municipal employees.
North Saanich doesn't broadcast its meetings live, but the videos are available on the district's website by noon the day after a meeting. Mayor Alice Finall, who had felt there was not good communication between the council and the community, says the feedback has been good since the system was implemented.
The larger the municipality, the more media coverage it gets, but some of the smaller communities don't get as much attention. Webcasts can help close that gap.
There are more ramifications to better use of communications technology - councillors who are out of town can still participate in meetings through various means.
Twitter and other media can keep the public updated on development. And the same technology that allows a government to keep its citizens informed can help citizens keep the government informed about their wishes and perspectives.
There's no cure, digital or otherwise, for apathy, but with more councils putting meetings on line and expanding their use of communications technology, there are fewer excuses for not being informed.
And if a council meeting seems a little dull, be patient - a personality clash or conflict can erupt at any time.
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