Reflections from We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for everyone

notwestminster
Remember this date : Saturday 7th February 2015, because on Saturday in Huddersfield a special event We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for Everyone took place that created the space, time, inspiration and curation to bring together an amazing group of people to discuss and suggest small and big changes to how local democracy works.

Thanks to all the people involved from sponsors, organisers, participants and most importantly the attendees who gave up a Saturday to talk about local democracy – YES they really did…

The format of the day was well structured and professional – the hard work and planning by those behind the scenes really paid off on the day. The discussions and planning around the sessions beforehand allowed them all to have a clear active and action based focus, so all participants were engaged in trying to work through problems and suggest solutions…this approach I think worked perfectly for an event which has a specific focus and required more curation and facilitation than say an event like localgovcamp.
The mix of the day with sessions and lightning talks helped maintain the broader context and purpose around why we’re all there…
So in what appears to be a standard way of reflection on these types of events here are my  reflections and highlights.
  • People will travel to things they care about. Huddersfield for the majority of people is not on any mainline so did take some time travelling to, in my example it was a 6 hour train journey with 3 changes so it was a real commitment to make that journey and many people made the journey to the event which is why it was and is a success. My hat goes off to everyone who made the effort to attend, participate and give their views, ideas and energy.
  • Sharing values and visions doesn’t always mean you’ll share the same opinions and this is a very healthy place to be and we should ensure that we bring in as many different voices into these discussions as possible.
  • Curating events in the manner that was applied to this event is perfect when you want to have a specific focus on a topic and want to deliver value and outputs as it focuses the energies on that which is perfect.
  • It takes more than just money from sponsors to make an event fly, but without them you only have an idea and energy. No one should under estimate the huge amount of effort required to get these things off the ground and huge respect to the team at Kirklees Council in making it happen.
  • A highlight for me was when a couple of councillors from Kirklees in Tim Davies session on 20 ways to work with open data said they would like to see how Open Data could help them deal with a local issue around people feeding pigeons…they found some options and ideas from the group work and I really hope they share their learning and outputs as it will be with small stories like this that things like open data can really start to show some value to the non believers.
  • Another highlight was the clear diversity of people in the rooms – councillors, academics, people off the street, council employees and those passionate around democracy. The quality of discussions I witnessed really showed through because of this.

There are some great insights on the hashtag #notwestminster which i highly recommend checking out – John Popham created a storify if you want to check that out

The Future of Local Government Part 2 – Social Enterprise Council

I want to continue on the theme of my last post on the Future of Local Government and look at how this is shaping up and what we can do in government to enable it to happen more dynamically and effectively for the benefit of everyone.

So to recap briefly in my last post I attempted to outline the drivers and impacts of a number of significant pressures facing the public sector as a whole and came to the conclusion albeit not a radical one that Local Government will only be a conceptual layer of government that will only have a key role in decision-making and accountability – the service provision layer will be a mix of joined up public services, private sector, voluntary providers and some of it hosted in the cloud as part of the wider technology infrastructure.

So what I think I am actually saying is that we will be moving to a “Social Enterprise Council” model – this is not really new or even radical as you will learn as you continue reading this post. For the context of this post social enterprise means – those businesses that create products and services that help people in a variety of ways while staying true to certain moral and social principles.

It is important to remember that when I refer to a conceptual layer – what I really mean is that it will become harder to identify a single organisation responsible for delivering public services in a given area. As long as there are clear accountable links to decision makers and funding (where appropriate) local government will in all essence disappear and will just become part of the community and its capability to provide or support services.

I guess the most practical example for illustrative purposes is Lambeth Council in London who in February this year announced that they would become a “John Lewis Council”.  The article in the Guardian outlines the approach and benefits the council believes will be realised – in particular in states:

…Under the plans, being promoted by Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, Lambeth could borrow ideas from the way John Lewis is structured as it becomes a “co-operative council”.  While users of services run by the “co-operative” council would not become shareholders, the people of Lambeth will be asked to get involved in the running of all their services along the lines of John Lewis and other “mutuals”, with the possibility of financial recompense further down the line.

…Greenwich Leisure, an employee-owned company, is already running Lambeth’s leisure centres. Two Brixton housing estates are about to join a national grouping of tenant-run estates. Lambeth already has more tenant-run estates than any other London borough.

The Local Government Information Unit’s (LGIU) Blog made some comments on this approach in comparison to the Barnet “Easy” Council model.

I also have some reservations about the John Lewis model. Citizen involvement in prioritising services is absolutely essential and it is clear that user involvement is a key element of this model, but I am yet to be convinced that citizens would want to be involved in the actual delivery of services.

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public wold be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

I think back to a recent post of mine about the World of GovCraft where I comment on a video of  Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds….

….So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local. 

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

AS i said earlier the idea of a Social Enterprise Council is not new or radical – The challenge is how we empower people to actually care enough to take direct action, we need to go further and inspire through the 4 areas listed above and dig deeper into peoples motivations.

More importantly we need people to come forward and start asking about managing services –  only then will we really understand what is involved and what the unique local circumstances of each community/social enterprise offers.

Is Voting really a measure of success

I watched the People’s Politician over the weekend via the BBC iPlayer and started to think about whether “Voting” was a real measure of success of whether people feel engaged or not?

In the episode we saw Ann Widdecombe Conservative MP for Maidstone get given a camera to do her first podcast and the question she asked was “Do you vote, if not why not?”. I think this is actually the wrong question to ask. I’ll come onto what question i think we should be asking and answering a little late in the post

In a later part of the episode you saw Richard Caborn Labour MP for Sheffield Central talking to a group of young lads about why they didn’t vote and Mr Caborn talks about the fact that we only get to vote once every 4-5 years. In between these times we might not understand or know what actually happens and what decisions are actually benefiting you or me or the wider community we belong to.

It was referred to at the start of the more and more people are engaging online and participating in online voting so why are we not engaged in politics. I for one believe that the BIG difference between the two is that if i were to participate or vote in a TV show (e.g. Big Brother, X-Factor, Strictly Come Dancing etc) i get to see the outcome of that vote within days. However it also requires me to continue my involvement over a longer period of time and also requires me to vote more than once if i want to influence the end result. Plus and this is a major difference here i can vote as many times as i want to try and influence the outcome in my favour provided i am prepared to accept the conditions (additional cost, time to vote etc). In an Election or on a policy decision we only get One Vote.

So i guess only getting to vote once for one person every 4-5 years and for someone who i may not actually have met, or know very little about, or even only agree with a small percentage of what they say and someone who doesn’t actually know what my local issues are or my communities, does seem a BIG if not MASSIVE ask and if i dare say unrealistic. It is any wonder anyone votes at all given the above?

A major difference in this process to the TV shows is that they have excellent coverage of the contestants, websites with huge amounts of information about how they are and what they do, newspaper coverage of the TV show in general and a constant reminders to vote and stay engaged. if i want to find out information about who is on the show and what they are doing i can without any trouble. If i want to find out about my local candidates then that is a little bit more difficult.

I am not aware of this level of awareness or promotion around our future candidates for elections, i started to ask myself if this is SO important, why don’t we actually give it the time it deserves. Why is this the case? i think i know really one is about entertainment and generates cash and perhaps affects a large group of people who listen to music or who watch TV and the other is about social good and effects every single citizen.

Something also occurred to me – Why is the BBC Questiontime programme (which i happen to enjoy watching when i can) on so late in the evening and not on at prime time, when all the other TV shows that require participation and involvement are on when most people will watch and engage on. X-factor – Prime time, Big Brother – Prime time, Strictly – Prime time.  I think some people would say that Questiontime it is just boring, but you get someone down the pub to talk about local issues that affect them – it won’t seem boring then, in fact you are likely to see passion and conviction. We somehow need to connect that with the real process of democracy!

I think we need to really ask ourselves do we really want to open up democracy and give people a say in how services are run and how services are developed, if so this requires a much larger commitment from the public, the media and from Government then a single vote once every 4-5 years.

So a question i think we should try and answer this:  What do people want to have their say on?  and How do people want to say it? – A voting mechanism might be one option but other options might be more appropriate depending on the topic.

These questions should be considered in such a way so that we explore the gaming opportunity raised in my previous post about World of GovCraft.

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

If people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems?

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We may have to completely rethink what we actually want to do and whether our current processes are actually delivering what we want to see.