Council plans £4k technology upgrade to improve online meetings

DERRY City and Strabane District Council is to spend £4,000 on upgrading its technology in the council chamber to allow meetings to continue virtually.

The upgrade will mean that viewers tuning into the meetings will be able to see members in the council chamber when they are speaking.

Committee and full council meetings of the local authority are currently being held in a hybrid format which allows for some officers and councillors to physically sit in the chamber while others can join them remotely via video conference.

The system is designed to ensure that council business is open to the public, while allowing councillors to tune in from any location.

At a meeting of council's Governance and Strategic Planning committee yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), councillors were told that the switch to remote meetings has resulted in an increase in the number of viewers.

A report stated: "Prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, council meetings were available to watch via a webcast facility which not only made available the audio and visual feeds from the Guildhall chamber but also linked to the papers under consideration.

"Members of the public were also able to attend council and committee meetings in person.

"During the course of the COVID-19 restrictions, council and committee meetings were conducted remotely using specialist software (webex) and broadcast to the council’s YouTube channel to promote public accessibility.

"This approach was supported by a protocol and technology that has allowed both elected members and officers to participate from any location."

As a result of the relaxation of the COVID regulations, physical committee meetings resumed with safety measures in the Guildhall chamber from September.

According to YouTube figures, the number of views on committee meetings ranges from circa 100 to 250, and (full) council meetings from circa 300 to 800 based on the three month period June to September 2021.

"This compares with pre-COVID viewing figures using the webcasting system in the region of 450 views per council meeting and limited public attendance in the chamber at council and committee meetings," the report continued.

"It is noted that with the technology approach ie webex/Youtube, it is not currently possible to link the chamber cameras into the live feed.

"Consequently, during the September meetings, visitors to the council YouTube channel would have only been able to see the elected members/officers who were connected from a remote location.

"In order to address this issue, additional hardware is being procured and it is anticipated that the system upgrade (allowing access to the cameras in the chamber and consequently the ability to see members in the chamber), will be in place for the November round of committee meetings. If possible, these timelines will be expedited.

Councillors were told that indicative costs of the system upgrade are approximately £4,000 which can be funded via existing budgets.

"This investment is seen as a means of facilitating public access to committee meetings and providing service resilience, flexibility and improvement," the report concluded.

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