The vibrant and cosmopolitan borough of Haringey in North London is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the capital. The area has a long and proud tradition of welcoming new residents from every corner of the globe, and today over 200 different languages are spoken in the borough. While this diversity defines the very character of the borough, it also brings a number of practical challenges for Haringey Council – particularly in encouraging the notion of ‘active citizenship’ and engaging as many residents as possible in the governance process. “Communication is an essential ingredient of active citizenship, and it’s important that we have lots of different ways of communication and involving our residents,” says Janette Gedge, Consultation Manager at Haringey Council.
With a background in marketing communications and consultation, Janette had experience of using audience voting systems, and recognized that this technology would be a very useful way to engage the Haringey public. She evaluated a number of products before settling on Turning Technologies’ TurningPoint system. “What really sold TurningPoint to us was its simplicity,” she says. “It’s a real ‘plug and play’ system that required minimal training. Because it’s so easy to use and the software is freely available to download, council officers have been keen to learn it.”
Public meetings are one of the ways that Haringey involves residents in the decision-making process. The borough is divided into seven areas, and each has its own public assemblies four times a year. The TurningPoint system has proved very useful in enabling attendees to actively participate in these meetings via their handheld keypads. “Instead of the standard format of council officers giving presentations followed by a Q&A session, we wanted something more interactive and engaging,” says Janette. “We cover issues that are of very high interest to residents and have to capture very different viewpoints. Some of the meetings can get quite heated and TurningPoint means that everyone can have their say without being embarrassed about speaking in public.”
Haringey Council have found a myriad of uses for the system. “As well as making meeting more interactive and interesting, TurningPoint is really helpful in structuring and pacing them,” says Janette. “We use it for everything from consulting with large groups on budget priorities to getting feedback from residents at area meetings on which points we need to discuss and which we can cover with instant votes. We recently did something with a meeting on planning policy and we managed to get through 17 questions and a sensible report at the end. It’s also used for drawing discussion to a close, and we’ve even used it to calm arguments down by giving out the handsets for people to vote.”
The use of TurningPoint handsets is popular with young and old alike, and helps overcome language barriers in this multicultural borough. “We use TurningPoint with the Older People’s Forum and the Youth Council, and everyone likes it,” says Janette. “Sometimes we use it as an ice-breaker by running quizzes, and other times as an evaluation tool. We recently used it in a research focus group to evaluate a new magazine design, and as it’s integrated with PowerPoint we can include pictures and video in the questions to help non-English speakers.” TurningPoint is proving a powerful tool in involving residents in the decision making process for Haringey Council.