City councils are all about efficient debate and good decision-making. Today more than ever, a qualitative audiovisual set-up of the city council room is essential to facilitating both. So, how do you make sure that every city council member can properly hear and be heard? Based on a survey we conducted among city councils over the last two years, we highlight the most common audiovisual challenges in city council rooms. And of course we introduce our insights on how to adequately tackle these challenges.
Contents of this whitepaper:
During research we conducted amongst city councils over the last two years, the number one challenge put forward was bad audio. More specifically, most respondents indicated hearing council members from one end of the dais to the other is the biggest problem, followed closely by being heard by the public during city council meetings.
The issue is clear: when 3 out 4 city council members indicate not being able to hear each other clearly, it is time to dive deeper into what causes these issues.
We found that in most cases it has to do with the type of audio solution put in place and the way the infrastructure is setup in the council chamber. In the following segments, we will discuss some of the major aspects that impact the audio quality in city council rooms.
Discussion of the items on the agenda is the most important activity during council meetings. That is why the most important task of an audio system is to make sure everyone hears and can be heard. In a lot of council chambers the audio system consists of several microphones, ideally one for each council member to capture their voice. In order to amplify the conversation, speakers are often installed in the ceiling of the council chamber.
The architecture of the room and building structure of the ceiling are very often a decisive factor for the positioning of the speakers. In a lot of cases this is not at the ideal position to create clear, intelligible sound toward the council members. Oftentimes choices are made to make sure the public can hear what is being discussed. This explains why a lot of interviewed council members and staff of city councils stated: “I can’t hear my fellow council members,” or “Can you repeat your question?”.
As a natural reaction the audio level is being cranked up resulting in audible artifacts such as distorted audio or feedback as the loudspeakers are blasting into the microphones. Both effects are disastrous for the intelligibility and create a very unpleasant listening environment. Another common reaction people have when they feel unheard is raising their voice. By doing so the conversation can appear to be loud and even aggressive.
Modern conferencing solutions have a different approach when it comes to lifting the voice of the person speaking. The sound amplification on conferencing systems is done in the microphone stations, as they contain a local loudspeaker. You can compare it to giving a musician a personal monitor mix of the band. Applied to city council meetings, this almost provides a direct feed into the council members’ ears, providing clear and intelligible audio.
As the distance from the built-in speaker towards the council members is limited, audio levels don’t need to be as high. The amplification is only there to support intelligibility, and not to project the sound to everyone in the room. This helps to provide a pleasant listening environment where all participants can get their message across in a calm manner. The end result : a more engaging discussion and increased overall meeting efficiency.
As city councils and similar types of meetings need to report about the decisions made, a recording of the meeting is often used to create the minutes of the meeting. Depending on the legislation, an audio-visual recording might even be an official record of the meeting without the need for written minutes.
A clean recording with intelligible audio is a must. A conferencing system helps to achieve this by making sure only the audio is captured of the persons speaking without any annoying background noise.
Advanced built-in functions such as push-to-talk and request-to-speak (all available with the simple push of a button) help eliminate background noises in recordings. If a council member isn’t talking, their microphone is turned off. So, no more coughing, sneezing, paper shuffling, sidebar conversations…etc are heard in the council meeting's recording.
In addition, the council member’s stations can even enable document viewing (e.g., the meeting agenda) and electronic voting solutions. Speech-to-text integration facilitates the process of taking meeting minutes, enriched with automated metadata such as time stamps, speaker names, etc.
There is a worldwide drive for government transparency and an open communication towards constituents on what happens with their tax money. In some countries an open government even needs to be assured for the meetings to be legal.
Whereas council minutes were already published and/or made available online to citizens, today city councils are going further. Audio and/or video recordings of council meetings are made available, or in a lot of cases the meetings can even be followed live or on-demand through various streaming and webcasting services.
The drive to stream public hearings and council meetings has only grown since the outbreak of COVID-19. Complete or partial lockdowns and social distancing rules made it difficult for citizens to follow council meetings in person. This is another reason why more and more city councils have started to provide live or on-demand web streaming of their meetings.
To do so and provide a view of the proceedings, intelligible audio and qualitative video is paramount. In a lot of cases this means providing audio and video to the streaming service. Conference systems have all the tools and interfaces to automatically point cameras to the council members who are speaking. This takes away one worry for city clerk's so they can focus on the tasks at hand, conducting and moderating the meeting.
Professional conferencing platforms with built-in multimedia recording features have become a must-have in the up-to-date council room set-up. Audio from the council room is captured and enriched with information on agenda topic, speaker, political party, and so on. At the same time well-positioned cameras automatically frame the councilor who is speaking at any given time, thus creating an easy-to-follow video feed of the meeting, that can be used for in-room and remote live streaming, web casting or recording.
In meetings with multiple participants such as a city council, it is often hard to follow who is talking. Especially for remote participants or live stream viewers. Therefore no modern council room conferencing system can do without a compatible camera tracking solution.
A camera tracking system uses a set-up with multiple shots and angles (wide shots, shots per seat or speaker, …) to let everyone see and understand each other in real time. Easily installed and configured, our system also offers additional options, such as creating talking heads.
With crystal-clear video, easy and automatic camera control, camera tracking enables a better involvement for meetings participants and viewers alike, resulting in a near face-to-face meeting experience.
Due to various reasons (remote and hybrid meetings to comply with health and safety regulations, best practices with regards to transparent government and freedom of information just to name a few), setting up an efficient city council room is no longer just about audio. And while legacy systems date back to the time when audio was all that mattered, the newer conferencing solutions are multimedia-oriented and are built to really futureproof a city council room.
It goes without saying that the goal for a city council meeting is to take the right decisions. In the case of remote or hybrid council meetings, this implies overcoming challenges when it comes to moderating and voting. Hurdles that can luckily be overcome quite easily with the use of conferencing solutions that have been developed with these specific challenges in mind.
Televic Conference’s solutions for moderated council meetings include smart features such as a request to speak function, a maximum number of active simultaneous microphones, speaker lists, and speech timers by individual or group.
Voting is facilitated by the clear display of the order of business and a digital voting dashboard that allows the chairperson to start a vote, share the results with the participants and even view, save, or print reports.
Multimedia-based conferencing solutions also offer real advantages for the technical staff responsible for the set-up and management of the council room as a meeting environment. As opposed to working with legacy set-ups, there are no more sliders or knobs to handle on an analog control panel. In terms of meeting management, everything is very easy and clean in a user-friendly graphical user interface.
With conferencing systems – as with most other things – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. That is why we don’t want to withhold you this brief demo of a city council meeting being recorded with and without an advanced discussion microphone system. In this demo, the microphone system is combined with a YouTube closed captioning feature. Both can be used without external sound systems, or easily integrated with any existing audio system.
As mentioned above, today’s advanced conferencing units offer built-in functionalities such as recording and camera tracking to support video conferencing and live or on-demand streaming and webcasting.
The council member’s stations even enable document viewing (e.g. the meeting agenda), participant registration and electronic voting solutions. Text-to-speech integration facilitates the process of taking meeting minutes.
As far as integration with remote platforms is concerned, streaming audio and video out of the meeting system to any platform becomes a piece of cake. And you can easily bring platforms like Zoom or Teams into the audio/video system’s interface, or even forget those platforms altogether and opt to use the dedicated, built-for-municipalities conferencing software that comes with the best solutions for municipalities.
It should be clear to you by now that today’s advanced conferencing solutions for city council rooms are about much more than microphones and loudspeakers. The set-up can be as basic or complex as your specific city council room requires.
What these solutions do have in common, is they are all very flexible. They can be customized to meet highly specific requirements. And they can always be easily scaled up or down, upgraded with additional features and/or components.
If your situation requires so, your city council room’s audiovisual set-up can even be 100% wireless, easily dismountable and even transportable.
For more information, please visit televic-conference.com