Ways To Successful Residents’ Engagement

I remember when I was first elected as a Councillor in 2014, I used to attend our monthly Councillor Surgeries. Although most of the time, they were not well attended, I often found it useful as it gave me an opportunity to talk to my fellow Councillors and discuss many issues, which needed to be addressed.

So much has changed since 2014. It almost feels like we are living in a very different world. We had (and still have!) Brexit, the health pandemic with often no social interaction, and more recently the war in Ukraine. More importantly in this context, the whole digital world has progressed at an incredibly fast pace.

Although many Councillors decided to “ditch” their Surgeries, when I was elected in May 2022, I was really keen to ensure that the dialogue with residents continuously grows. It was clear to me that we can’t only rely on virtual reality. My role as a Councillor, first and foremost, is to be accessible and visible to my community. Equally, I wondered what would be the best and most effective way to ensure effective communication with residents. The “old days” of waiting for people to turn up to a Surgery are long gone. We all have busy lives and therefore elected representatives need to be a lot wiser regarding residents’ engagement. Yes, it is so easy today to pick up a phone, email, or even get in touch via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, however nothing, in my view, will ever replace real human interaction.

Our (there is another newly elected Lib Dem Councillor in my ward) first Surgery was absolutely fantastic! We got in touch very early with the Manager of the local Shopping Centre and we managed to book a table on the first floor, next to the train ticket office. As always, you never know whether people will turn up and whether the footfall of residents attending the Surgery will be high. We did a lot to promote it; we posted information about it on our social media platforms, but we also got in touch with our local newspaper, which was happy to print the information about the Surgery in the letter section. Overall, 10 people attended. Each conversation was useful and relevant; we had 5 people coming along to talk about the most recent planning application, one local business owner, one resident, who was signposted to Councillors from another ward. We also had a lady in her 80’s, who attended only because she saw an advert in the local paper. She was keen to talk about the Home for Ukrainians Scheme. Our Councillor Surgery achieved a number of outcomes:

  • Building a platform for better democratic engagement with the local community
  • Ensuring that the elected representatives don’t only sit behind their laptops but actively reach out to residents
  • Informing members of the public about Councils internal processes and procedures
  • Empowering residents to take the ownership of some the raised issues by e.g. organising a petition

Moreover, it proved to me that we must use different methods to engage the local community; the social fabric of our community means that it is important to consider a number of ways, in which our dialogue with residents should grow and successfully develop further. It is, of course, so important to identify a prime location with captive audience.

Due to a large number of commitments and high workload, there are days when you might question reasons for standing in any elections, local or national. For me personally, our most recent Surgery demonstrated why being an elected representative is a true privilege; acting and representing the local community gives me a great joy and a sense of pride. Having said that, it does need daily nourishment!

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Simon Banks 27th Jun '22 - 8:25am

    Very interesting. In my days as a councillor, surgeries were never well-attended (though when someone attended, it was usually important). They were an excellent opportunity to get through a lot of that huge envelope of council papers!

    I like the idea of preserving face-to-face, but making maximum use of social media to promote it.

  • Great idea. Wish we had done it when I was a Councillor. Can’t wrote much more, got banned yesterday for writing about 3 times on people’s ideas and was told it was too much! Very democratic.

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