Future Local Government: Adopt a Councillor

As someone who considers themselves an innovative community engagement practitioner I’m always on the lookout for new ways to engage the community in the decision making process as well as educate them to help them participate. A tool or technique that is maybe old but can be modernised or technique that is new and yet to be utilised. Of course the ultimate goal, to develop something so good myself that it makes me famous…

The concept of ‘Adopt a Councillor’ is one of those tools that I believe is ripe for bigger things. It isn’t old and yet it isn’t new. In fact I first came across the idea only a few years ago where it was being trialled in New Zealand. Hamilton City Council introduced the concept back in November 2011 when Councillor Angela O’Leary, who initiated the idea, was adopted by Hamilton’s Whitiora School. Now it maybe that the concept itself isn’t new but this use was. However since 2011 I haven’t seen any further reports on how it went. I have seen no feedback on how it was planned, how many councillors actually signed up or what happened after the initial trial which is a shame as it sounded like a great scheme to engage members of the community in the role of local government.

The ‘Adopt a Councillor’ project was born from the need to increase community interest in the role of Council and local government, especially amongst children, and resulted from continuous things like an empty public gallery during Council meetings and a lack of engagement by citizens in regular consultations held by council within the community. The idea of this scheme is, by gaining interest at a young age in local government people will become more interested and knowledgeable about the role and process of Council and the councillors they elect and in turn become more willing to support coproduction opportunities with them in the community.

Ultimately the objective of ‘Adopt a Councillor’ is to provide an educational relationship between either local schools, colleges or University students and their local government to increase community engagement, participation and coproduction in the decision making of Council.

Below I list a few ideas of how this could work and the activities you could include. Initially a good relationship between a local school, college or University and the local Council is needed.

How it could work

  • A local school class, college class or a number of University students would be invited to ‘Adopt a Councillor’ for a year (this could possibly be linked to their educational curriculum). This could be done with a number of Councillors from your local council.

How a student visit to Council could work

Possible activities:

  • A guided tour of Council departments with ‘show and tell’ hands on type opportunities — not death by PowerPoint.

How to start a possible trial

  • An initial trial with a low number of Councillors is probably the best way to start with maybe multiple classes from one school taking part. This enables Council staff to ‘work’ on the proposal without the logistics of organising multiple Councillors and schools, colleges and the University visits.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Is this something that you’re Council or school could run? Let me know if its idea you trail/run with, I’d love to know if it works?

Originally published at www.commsgodigital.com.au on May 11, 2015.

Innovative Community Engagement. @engage2act Director and Board member, #engage2act advocate, #gatehashing instigator.

Innovative Community Engagement. @engage2act Director and Board member, #engage2act advocate, #gatehashing instigator.