Nanaimo e-Hall meeting wins top innovation award

NANAIMO – Coun. George Anderson says latest award for innovation shows value of having younger perspective on council.

Nanaimo’s debut e-Town Hall meeting has landed its second innovation award this year.

The City of Nanaimo captured the Spirit of Innovation Award for best technology at the Municipal Information Systems Association of B.C. conference last week.

It is an honour, according to Guillermo Ferrero, the city’s manager of business applications, who said members of the association judged top applications from across B.C. and felt Nanaimo was most successful in pushing the boundaries of technology.

The City of Nanaimo held its first e-Hall meeting – the second of its kind in B.C. – last March. Residents’ questions were streamed to a live city council meeting via social media, phone and webform which politicians and city staff responded to in real-time.

“We were one of the first municipalities in Canada to have done something like this … in a live meeting, in front of a live audience. That’s what the [award is about] – someone that goes and pushes the limits on innovation and does a good job,” Ferrero said.

The City of Nanaimo also received a bronze in innovation management from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

While the e-Hall meeting has made its own case for public engagement value, it wasn’t always such an easy sell, according to Ferrero. There were fears among senior management and city council that the new application would interfere with public meetings and that there would be too many questions or not enough. For some politicians social media was brand new territory, Ferrero said, adding his department helped by taking council through dry runs of the e-Hall technology before the live meeting.

Coun. George Anderson is glad his peers embraced the idea, which he pitched last year. The municipality had been challenged to engage the silent majority in civic issues and needed to try something innovative, he said.

The process was considered a success, with council and staff members responding to 24 questions in 90 minutes and attracting more variety of comments. Anderson said he hopes the ongoing success helps make the case for youth on council.

“There has been constant criticism of young people [in politics], especially myself,” he said. “And this goes to show in some cases when you have young people they are bringing forward new ideas and perspectives. Had I not proposed [an e-Hall meeting], I don’t think council would have gone forward to do it.”