North of Tyne Combined Authority: building a mayoral platform for public engagement

The North of Tyne Combined Authority detail how they helped create opportunities for Mayor Jamie Driscoll to directly engage with his constituents. This case study forms part of our devolution communications toolkit.

Communications support

Challenge

The North of Tyne Combined Authority is a partnership of three local authorities, Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland that was established in November 2018 to drive an inclusive economy through investment and job creation in a key region of the Northern Powerhouse.

In May 2019, Jamie Driscoll was elected as the Mayor for the North of Tyne Combined Authority, working across a very diverse set of areas and constituents. A key function of the Combined Authorities’ small Communications Team has been to raise the profile of the Mayor, and to support him in being visible and accountable to the electorate, across each of the different councils.

Approach

Building on an approach that had been seen to work for other combined authorities (notably Greater Manchester), the North of Tyne Combined Authority hosted their first ‘Mayor’s Question Time’ in February 2020 in Hexham (Northumberland), with plans to run a further three over the course of the year. The event was seen as providing the opportunity for members of the public to have a conversation with Mayor Driscoll in a warm and relaxing environment.

Without a sophisticated CRM database in place, the Communications Team started from a low base and raised awareness through multiple channels including local newspapers, the Combined Authority’s own social media channels, a contact database of 800 people who had attended past events, and the Mayor’s own WhatsApp groups. A total of 150 people registered for the event with 70 attending on the day, despite the inhospitable weather caused by the cyclone Storm Ciara.

The format of the event itself involved a Q&A format chaired by a local comedian who already knew the Mayor. This helped to build a connection with the attendees and promote an informal and conversational discussion which people found engaging. The event was carefully managed so that questions were submitted in advance and aligned with devolution-related themes (such as the economy, climate change, housing, community, adult education) helping to ensure the Mayor could talk about relevant regional projects and priorities. It also allowed some time for questions from the floor. The event was covered by local newspapers, as well as being filmed and posted on various Facebook channels to reach a wider public audience.

The event was evaluated via an online survey distributed to over 100 people that had registered within 48 hours of the event. 22 people responded providing a good response rate as compared to previous attempts to collect event feedback. The majority of people rated the event positively, particularly in reference to the host and format.

Outcomes and lessons learned

Event attendance surpassed expectations and was seen to provide an effective platform for one of the first Mayoral meet and greet opportunities in Northumberland. The use of a ‘host’ to manage the event worked well and the format is something that will be replicated again in other areas.

Another key learning for the Combined Authority has been the use of online surveys as a means of capturing feedback – this resulted in a 5x increase in the proportion of feedback forms as compared to the previously used method of paper surveys issued on the day of the event. It also enabled them to capture feedback from people that were unable to attend on the day.

One consideration for future events is to make use of a tool such as SLIDO, that allows attendees to vote on the most popular and relevant questions for the Mayor to answer.