Blog moved!

It seems that a re-direct I set up ages ago has lapsed and some of you that have been using the old https://localdemocracy.wordpress.com link are seeing the old design again?

Well we’ve moved! (About six months ago!). We’re here now: http://blog.localdemocracy.org.uk

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds accordingly?

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Reputaton management

e-bay: a peer-to-peer reputation management system

e-bay: a peer-to-peer reputation management system

Conall McDevitt has an interesting post up about CEO reputations:

“Communicating frequently with their employees. Certainly with their customers too, but not to forget their employees. At a time of uncertainty employees are hungry for information. CEOs need to take responsibility. Apologize if they are wrong. If they don’t know the answer, say they don’t know. We are just starting to see CEOs really being the face of the company.”

The CEOs of the Big 3 Auto Companies get a mention: Continue reading

The politics of interactivity

reboot_logoI’m currently convening a number of sessions at a Nesta conference on the 6th July called ‘Reboot Britain’, running a strand called ‘PICamp’ – Political Innovation Camp.

I’m looking for local government communications staff that have had any experience or thoughts about the changing relationships with the local media – and particularly issues around the politics of this.

I don’t mean the left/right/Lib/Lab/Con politics, I mean questions like….

  • the politics of neutrality and incumbency – if local government communications staff aren’t going through the filter of professional journalists, will this cause problems from a democratic point of view?
  • are local on-line communities – often very effective ways of communicating – suitable mediums to use to interact with people? Are such groups an effective substitute for traditional communications through the local press? Are they, perhaps, simply havens for unrepresentative sub-groups of local society?
  • is there a way for councils to use social media to improve the quality of local democracy – or is it a minefield that is best avoided? And would an unwillingness to engage create a vacuum of any kind?
  • how far are the local government rules on political communications being applied in an inflexible way? Does the uncertainly around this result in local government – particularly councillors – being unusually inactive in this space? And how can local authorities provide a leadership role in on-line communications without becoming de facto political press-officers?
  • the politics of decentralisation: The changing relationship between local government and the mass media may provide scope for councils to change the way they communicate and reassert the primacy of local government in addressing local problems. Is there a political opportunity to promote the ‘decentralisation’ that all of the political parties claim to want?
  • getting the obstacles out of the way. How can we remove the barriers that stop institutions from interacting?

These sessions have already attracted some great participants – the interest has gone well beyond my expectations with some real innovators putting their hands up to participate as well as a smattering of interest from prominent local and national politicians as well as mainstream-media journalists.

The schedule is still being finalised at the moment, but I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone with practical experience, or with considered views on any of these subjects – particularly from councillors or people working in local government communications / democratic services / electoral services?

If you have any ideas for sessions at this strand of Reboot Britain, please visit the PICamp site, register and let’s hear them?

Twitter and conversational politics

twitter-logoHere’s Jonathan Fryer, a Lib-Dem blogger on the way that Twitter can change conversational dynamics and add something new to politics:

I’ve been finding it hugely useful in recent weeks and have noted how one can enter into dialogue with politicians of other parties as well as with journalists and bloggers of all persuasions, who are quite happy to ‘follow’ one on Twitter, but who might not wish to ask or accept to be one’s Facebook ‘friend’, in case that were seen to be some kind of endorsement. And the same is true in the other direction! Moreover, the 140-character limit, while being constraining, is actually a very useful discipline…

Elections double councils website traffic

According to SOCITM….. (the Society of IT Managers).

Getting the politics right for reform

Matthew Taylor, former No 10 policy wonk, has an interesting article on his blog about public service reform. He rightly says that finances over the next few years are both a huge challenge to public services, but also an opportunity to make real change happen. That won’t come about, he says, without a change in the national political culture, starting from the top:

There are far too many ministers, all of whom think it is their job to generate initiatives; ideas are allowed to be developed and launched without any reference to those at the front line; change management and the time it takes is not treated seriously; there is complete lack of realism about how far the centre’s intended messages actually reach; civil servants fail to see or warn (or be allowed to warn) their masters that every new target or piece of guidance had an adverse impact on all these existing targets and instructions (not to mention local morale).

No disrespect to Matthew, but this is a very technocratic argument. The idea that there should be fewer ministers is perhaps not a bad one – though it needs to happen alongside a more powerful and independent Commons and a reformed Lords. No matter how many Ministers there are, however, they will still be put on a spot on the Today programme and asked to make a commitment that “[bad thing] will never be allowed to happen again.”

There are certainly real opportunities for reform in the fiscal squeeze that’s ahead. The barrier to transformation, though, is not hyperactive Ministers who don’t let technocrats manage, it’s an immature political dialogue in which the media and the public create and feed off outrage and disgust, while politicians sit on top of the bureaucracy and try to placate the beast.

This is a local government problem as much as a national government one. Anyone who has seen parents protesting about school places or attended a controversial meeting of the planning committee will understand that.

If the spending cuts to come are not to create more disaffection and anger, they can’t be done behind closed doors. They need to be discussed openly, in public, and real choices have to be set out clearly, not decided and then ‘consulted upon’.

People should have the chance to see the books, and have intermediaries more trusted than journalists to explain to them what the choices are. They then need to be able to express an opinion more nuanced than ‘I want everything for free’.

Creating the circumstances in which this can happen is part of a widening and deepening of active citizenship that is essential if the political world is to catch up with what today’s citizens expect.

I’m not so naive as to think that this level of openness will appear in the twelve months before a general election, although it would be nice to think that it could. Afterwards, though, if Labour or the Conservatives are really serious about localism and democratic reform, a big conversation, not a Big Conversation, needs to be created.

The disenfranchisement of the willingly unwired

Ofcom logoReading this post – as good a round-up of the progress and the opportunities I’ve seen made me think about the OfCOM research, published earlier this week that indicated that 43% of ‘unwired adults’ are happy to stay that way.

There’s a parallel, I believe, with the push to create new participatory spaces. Like broadband, the assumption that we all want it, will all invest in working out how to use it, to game it, to let it become another one of the weapons in the armoury that we use to take on the world – is an unexamined assumption.

And then think where that leaves those people? Many of the ‘wired adults’ are using online tools without ever taking an interest in politics, democracy, or the participative options that exist to tackle the issues around them.

Shopping, chatting, watching missed TV programmes, gambling and other activities all trump ‘engagement’. Others (such as Kevin, for instance) can quantify just how little most people want to be oppressed by demands to engage, to participate, and to have your say, but the one conclusion that can safely be reached is this: Those who lionise the notion of active citizenship, and promote a more participatory politics massively over-estimate the appetite for it.

Have those ‘unwired’ adults ever told you that they’re happy to let the wired-up interfering busy-body do-gooders have a disproportionatly strong voice in the big decisions that effect their lives? I ask because I’ve never seen any evidence that such consent has been given.

And if it hasn’t, why is so much energy being put into encouraging people to participate in decision-making processes that effect us all?