I’m a councillor – get me out of here!

Here’s a video clip about the ‘I’m a councillor – get me out of here’ project – and here’s a bit of background to the film.

It’s a really brilliant project – where local authorities have any interest in being creative about the way councillors engage with young people (a learning experience – and not just a one-way one as well!), I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. 

I first became aware of it around 2003 (I think) and each year, dozens of councils have tried it, finding the obstacles and tweaking the offering.

Find out more here.


Reinventing democracy

At the start of May, there’s a forum on the future of democracy taking place in Grenoble. Sounds like a fascinating event, although on the academic rather than practical end of the conference spectrum.

Pierre Rosanvallon, Professor at the College de France, has written an explanatory article for (of course) Le Monde, which is well worth reading. He sets out the themes and issues of the conference – here’s the money quote:

Un nouveau cycle doit de la sorte s’ouvrir dans la vie des démocraties, aussi décisif qu’avaient été ceux de la conquête du suffrage universel au XIXe siècle, puis de la mise en place des Etats-providence au XXe siècle. Il faut maintenant donner à nos démocraties une assise élargie, il s’agit de les comprendre autrement et d’enrichir leur signification. Elles sont à réinventer.

Trois dimensions apparaissent à cet égard essentielles : l’extension des procédures et des institutions au-delà du système électoral majoritaire ; l’appréhension de la démocratie comme une forme sociale ; le développement d’une théorie de la démocratie-monde.

Or, in quick summary:

After the triumph of universal suffrage in the 19th century, and the creation of the Welfare States in the 20th, a new cycle of democracy needs to begin. We need to give our democracies a bigger space for action, to think about them in different ways, to enrich their image and reinvent them.

There are three essential parts: extending institutions and procedures beyond the majoritarian electoral system; appreciating that democracy is a social form; and developing a new theoretical basis for transnational democracy.

We know what you don’t want. Now what DO you want?

Ming: The unacceptable face of British politics?

Ming: The unacceptable face of British politics? (pic: Click for Flickr attribution).

The Guardian’s Catherine Bennett is right to be worried about the impact that a climate of hypercommentary on personal tics will have on politics:

“With the internet demanding ever-improving performance skills from its principal actors, Westminster can only become less hospitable to people who look more like Menzies Campbell than Ant and Dec. Unless, that is, they can produce an official ugliness pardon from Simon Cowell and his authentic, travelling freakshow.”

But, if this is the case, what kind of elected representitives are we going to be prepared to tolerate in the future?

Over on the Personal Democracy Forum (which proudly declares that ‘technology is changing politics’), we see Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill explaining how Twitter helps her to keep it real:

“That’s really why I do it. I think it keeps me in the discipline of not being afraid to say things that may not be perfect, that may actually offend, that may actually truly reflect what I’m thinking and why.”

Senator McCaskill’s example strikes me as being very close to being a priestly ambition – someone who is constantly begging the civil variation on the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ Continue reading

Left front = a table?

Any clues welcome about that table.... (pic: Flickr - click for attribution).

Any clues welcome about that table.... (pic: Flickr - click for attribution).

One of the nice things about the dynamic way that the internet arranges things is that you sometimes stumble upon artifacts that you don’t understand, but that look fascinating.

This Icelandic blog, for instance, is a complete mystery to me. I found it years ago and visit it once every few months. I’ve no idea what the blogger is saying, but the slightly freaky love of photoshopping is always a laugh.

Call me a democracy-geek, but I find the whole process of balloting is fascinating, and different ballot forms from different countries repay hours of study. On the right hand side of this blog,  I aggregate democracy-related images, where this image (left) came from.

Look closely. The ‘Left Front’ have a party symbol that looks like a fairly ornate 18th Century table. What’s that all about? Wikipedia is silent on the matter at the moment.

Are there any Sri Lankan experts out there that know why this is?

Pro-social councils

Here’s the RSA’s Matthew Taylor making the case for a pro-social framework for local government

This bit may seem like a triumph of hope over expectations, but it’s interesting to ask ourselves why that would be:

“Engage local councillors in a redefinition of politics and social change, moving from a government-centric to a citizen-centric model. Support and incentivise councillors to be capacity builders (if this sounds crazy, there are places it is happening).”

Prior to this, he argues that….

To create the future most of us aspire to we need citizens who are… more actively engaged in collective decision making at every level.

Matthew is to be congratulated for this term ‘pro-social’ I’ve started to hear it being dropped into conversations all over the place, but I’m fairly certain that Matthew first mentioned it on his blog about a year ago. (I await correction on this if I’m wrong). So, I’d like to get an idea going in my own puny way. I’m sure that it won’t go a fraction as far as his but here goes:

Don’t aspire to involve people in collective decision making. You will be lying if you tell them that you are going to do it, and no-one will like the outcome. Instead, involve people in describing the problem and drafting proposed solutions.

I’ve outlined the thinking behind this on my own blog over here. What do you think?

Digital Britain – unconferences

For anyone interested in social inclusion and online participation, this is an exciting initiative. Go and have a look!

Let me take this opportunity to tell my friends in Northern Ireland that I didn’t design the site though….

Populist policing and speedy decisions

Apologies for the light posting this week. I’ve been in Northern Ireland where I met someone who was studying criminology. Her key concern was the question of local control of policing and populism: Would devolved policing result in a deterioration into populism.

Northern Ireland is an interesting case in point, given the historic divides. Unionists, with some spectacular exceptions, have often been close to the model of the deferential working class found elsewhere in the UK. Republicans, on the other hand, have a … er … history … of scepticism about the authority of state justice.<<< understatement of the year!

How far would Northern Ireland provide a good model for looking at the general question of devolved policing?

All of this is a prelude to a link to this post on the LGIU blog: Localise criminal justice now. And this brilliant one about waste and decentralisation

The latter link has some interesting implications: How far is the current centralised model of policing (lots of form filling, procedures and risk aversion) predicated on the need to keep highly paid managers apprised of the information that they need to make the right decisions, and to ensure that when the wrong ones are made, that the same managers aren’t blamed?.

The other post I’ve seen that is worth a look is this one about the speed of decision-making. It raises three questions:

  1. Has the active internet forced the speed of decisions up?
  2. Are those decisions better as a result?
  3. Is there a role that public bodies could be playing to deal with this issue?