Citizen participation is an essential characteristic of self-government in the U.S., ensuring that all constituents have a voice in political decisions that affect their lives. While voting is the most obvious expression of participatory government, town hall, city council and regulatory board meetings also provide opportunities for civic involvement.
When the pandemic forced the suspension of such in-person events, government agencies had to figure out how to conduct essential business in remote, virtual meetings. That hasn’t been an easy process, often requiring the passage of new laws to remain in compliance with open meetings regulations.
What’s more, online meetings using a variety of standard videoconferencing services often go sideways due to technical glitches, connectivity issues and other complications. Worse yet are the widespread incidents in which council meetings are “Zoom bombed” with offensive content and comments.
The recent introduction of Cisco’s Legislate for Webex virtual meeting solution promises significant improvements to the process. Purpose-built for the needs of government entities, this one-of-a-kind collaboration platform allows legislators to safely vote and conduct hearings virtually with specialized security and privacy measures that ensure meetings are protected from intruders.
Given the sensitive nature of government functions, Cisco focused on security during the development process. Legislate for Webex was designed to meet FedRAMP federal requirements for secure cloud services. End‑to‑end encryption keeps messages, documents and whiteboard content encrypted from one device to another, and the solution can be integrated with data loss prevention applications to keep sensitive information private.
One of Legislate’s unique security features is a video lobby in which everyone attempting to join a meeting is visually verified by a live attendant, which limits the ability of intruders and trolls to interrupt key meetings and votes. The integration of Cisco Duo two-factor authentication enables further identify verification and prevents unauthorized access to applications, systems and services.
Legislate for Webex also offers complete voting functionality, with features that make it easy to securely administer and moderate votes. Voting agendas can be created ahead of a session, and dashboard buttons make it easy to see results of the vote, including breakdowns of votes by specific parties or groups.
Legislators can meet one-on-one or in groups on a virtual “floor,” and they can huddle with others in sidebar rooms designed to mimic a caucus meeting.
An intuitive screen makes it easy for nontechnical legislators and constituents to participate in remote meetings. A “raise hand” button provides a logical way to recognize constituents who wish to speak, and it allows moderators to keep track of who raised their hand and in what order. Built-in live interpretation and closed captioning features break down communication barriers and make broad participation possible.
A Long-Term Solution
Government entities have increased their use of video conferencing and collaboration solutions during the pandemic largely out of necessity. However, advanced solutions such as Legislate might encourage a more permanent use of virtual meetings — particularly if it can boost public access and participation.
A recent Boston University study suggests that large swaths of most communities don’t have the time to regularly participate in local government. Researchers found that hours-long evening meetings are particularly inconvenient for working people with children. As a result, attendees at planning and zoning hearings tend to be disproportionately older, wealthier homeowners who have the time and incentive to be more politically active.
Because it was designed specifically to meet the needs of government entities, Legislate for Webex helps federal, state and local agencies maintain essential functions while also making proceedings more accessible for the citizens they represent. As a Cisco Gold Certified Partner, Cerium Networks is uniquely qualified to deliver and maintain the company’s conferencing and collaboration solutions. Contact us to learn more about using Webex Legislate to facilitate your agency’s essential operations.