The Council needs to make it easier for people to understand the challenges we, like all councils, are facing in terms of rapidly increasing demand and decreasing resources. Just as importantly, we need to get better at listening and understanding what really matters to local people in the places they live.
By raising awareness and stimulating debate, communities will be more informed and we will also learn more about people so better decisions can be made. It’s called the Big Conversation because we are starting a dialogue, which will continue for many months, indeed years to come.
We are not starting from scratch. Elected members already have extensive local insight, understanding and networks. They have conversations with the people they serve on a daily basis and central to the Big Conversation is further supporting members to do this.
Why it is happening
The impact of an ageing population, increasing demand and reduced funding means things will have to be done differently. Improving awareness of what the council does, how much it costs and the bigger picture will help people to understand why this is happening.
There will be tough choices as well as new opportunities to work differently, and a conversation with people will make it easier for them to get involved in those choices and influence decisions. People may also be inspired to do things differently, helping both themselves and hopefully others too.
Ultimately the ambition is for conversations to lead to positive opportunities, choices and action in our communities. Better communication will help us to develop stronger relationships with people, so we can work together and support each other more effectively today and in future.
How it will take place
The Big Conversation will take many forms, so we reach as many people as possible. For example, information will be available online, at meetings and in printed material. An infographic has been created to illustrate our challenges and also explain things like where our money comes from and where people’s Council Tax is spent. It is hoped this will spark lots of conversations, large and small, with families, friends, neighbours and colleagues. We really want to know what people think and how they feel, so getting feedback is crucial. This will be achieved by inviting participation and comments in various ways, ranging from conversations in person to online forums. You can find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/swindonbigconversation. Please ‘like’ it and share with your friends, and also talk about it on Twitter using the hashtag #Bigconversation.
Who can get involved
The ambition is to reach and connect with as many local people as possible over the next five years and we all have a role to play. As we have already said, supporting our elected members to build on their existing relationships and conversations will be a key element. Everyone needs to get involved to share information, build understanding and listen to people. Ultimately we want the Big Conversation to reach and resonate with everyone and the more people get on board, the bigger and better the conversation will be.
When it will start
It has already begun and is gaining momentum. At the One Swindon partnership conference, held on July 20, we introduced the Big Conversation to more than 250 people and trialled some exercises to bring the information to life. Feedback from this event has been used to help make sure the information is compelling and easy to understand. In November we published an online presentation, which is generating lots of discussion. For more information or if you’re interested in becoming a Big Conversation ambassador, which is a voluntary role about helping to spread the word, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.