It may not be obvious to the outside observer, but there are actually two parallel conversations about government at the local level, and yet only one of them gets any form of reliable media coverage. These two systems are 1) the policies and issues discussed and decided upon by council, and 2) the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating those decisions.
Traditional media has evolved around the first system; reporting on and critiquing the decisions made around the council table. When council decides to build a new piece of infrastructure, such as the Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria, traditional news will give you the highlights, what was decided, how much it will cost, etc. If council decides to increase affordable housing infrastructure, traditional media will tell you how much money is being allocated, how much housing will be provided, etc.
In each of these scenarios, a newspaper article will be light on details, confining the news that’s “fit to print” to just the highlights, or what will fit into a narrow article on part of a newspaper page. A TV news article will do much the same, showing a couple of fancy graphics, a shot or two of video of a relevant location and perhaps a clip of council or the mayor talking about the item, all tied together by the voiceover narrative of a reporter.
What traditional media won’t generally tell you about is what the process of constructing a bridge is, who’s responsible if there are cost overruns, or how the specific bridge building process compares against similar projects in other jurisdictions. They won’t generally tell you what the need for affordable housing is in the city, whether this response from the city is appropriate and proportional to the problem, or whether the money being spent is going to get good value-for-dollar.
These last few items I mention are not covered by traditional media, because these items are not generally handled by politicians. Municipal staff are the ones tasked with listening to the wishes of council and executing those wishes. Staff are also responsible for looking outside the jurisdiction for inspiration to follow, and to create reports that illuminate council on the impact of desired actions or on the results of actions taken previously.
This is where Victorian Analysis comes in. My partner Jaclyn has been working on her website, Victorian Analysis, since the start of this year. She spends her days attending council meetings around the region, with a focus on the City of Victoria. Her off days she spends reading agenda packages and reports, or else she is busy writing in-depth previews and reviews of those same council meetings for her site.
It is a monumental effort that has brought her to the attention of the political elite in this city, and the respect and admiration of a number of key informed citizens in the region who value and use her work to help inform themselves in a way that was not possible before she started upon this venture.
Her approach is not to cherry-pick the attention-getting headlines, like the Times-Colonist or CHEK News do. She does her best to cover all of the news, and in a level of depth that informs the interested reader on not just what was decided, but how it was, and whether what was decided made sense. Jaclyn is very qualified for this task, as she has a Masters of Public Administration (the degree you go to school for if you want to run a city). She has also worked for several municipalities in BC, and so she has seen how the sausage is made from the inside. She uses this knowledge and skill to deliver the real news at the local level, and she provides all of the links that you’d need to really, properly inform yourself about the issues in your city.
The Real News
One of the most astounding things that I discovered when I started engaging in local politics a few years ago was just how hard it is to get engaged. There are no central resources for learning how your city government works. If you are lucky, your city’s website will tell you where to pay your bills or when your garbage will be picked up. What it won’t tell you, in any straightforward manner, is how council works, what a “Development Variance Permit” is, or what is meant by a “consent agenda” (both terms you will hear frequently at the City of Victoria council meetings). If you come into a conversation of an issue part-way through, it is up to you to catch yourself up. The conversation continues on at a rocket pace and neither council nor staff spend much time to review and explain what is happening.
That’s where Victorian Analysis is so valuable. Jaclyn can follow what is going on at the council table, and she knows how to explain it to the average citizen. Plus, given her knowledge and experience, she knows when a decision is well-thought out and when it is half-baked or missing key information. Follow her on Twitter (@AnalyseVic) and she’ll give you the blow by blow as it happens.
The fact that she does all of this for free is a blessing and a gift to all Victorians. But the reality is, she is only able to do it for free because she has had some available funds to pay the rent and bills while she pursues what she believes in and feels is needed. And I believe in her. I believe that she is creating something that could be extraordinary.
If she could recruit some other like-minded and intelligent folks who can cover other municipalities in the region in a shared space, her idea could be transformative. If she can increase that to a provincial or national scale, it could be revolutionary.
Call For Help
This is where you can help. Jaclyn would love to make this her full-time job. She really loves what she is doing, and she throws herself at it with a passion. But in order for her to continue long-term, she needs to find a source of income. To me, the obvious first solution is crowd-sourcing. Taking a page from the old newspaper model, if she could get enough people (a few hundred to a couple of thousand) to pay a monthly “subscription” (Check out her Patreon account), she wouldn’t have to worry about paying rent or buying food. She’s not trying to get rich, just trying to get by.
If you can’t afford to give money, she also needs help. As I said earlier, if there were others studying other municipalities, they could get together to share notes, compare processes, and identify strengths and weaknesses in each city and council. Personally, I’d like to see such conversations filmed and made available online, or held in a public setting with an audience to ask questions. Such things could be interesting and entertaining to the general public, two things that city council meetings themselves rarely are.
So if you do care about Victorian Analysis, please give some assistance. Because without it, this innovative flame of an idea could blow out before it really catches fire.