With greater access to information than ever before, the problem we face increasingly is not a lack of information, but finding the ‘right’ information and avoiding misinformation.
This is a big enough problem in daily life, with phrases such as ‘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. 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 question-and-answer hour on Facebook Live with myself, as council leader.
“For the lockdown to be effective locally, residents needed a simple way to get answers”
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 per cent 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 would 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. In the process, we can help rebuild the trust that has been lost over the years.