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?


Elections double councils website traffic

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

Apps for democracy

Via FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell, here’s Apps for Democracy (complete with American mis-spellings) 😉

Last Sunday was “Social Citizen Sunday” where neighbors were encouraged to talk to one another about the problems and ideas they have that could be address through better technology.

You can view some of the micro-proposals that it has thrown up here.

Eating the Elephant

An Elephant yesterday. Best eaten a bit at a time. (Image: Wikimedia Commons - click for credit)

An Elephant yesterday. Best eaten a bit at a time. (Image: Wikimedia Commons - click for credit)

Shorter version: Often, the minor technical obstacles mask a wider small-p political obstructionism to the promotion of a more interactive form of government.

Having written this post about the small obstacles to open e-gov a few weeks ago, Tim Davies got such a comprehensive response in his comments thread that he’s rolled them out into a wiki.

The idea that there are ’50 small hurdles’ is a very powerful one – it enables those who want to move small mountains to understand that it can be done in the same way that an Elephant can be eaten: A bit at a time.

I think that Tim has missed an important one out, but I’m reluctant to break the symmetry and tidiness of the ’50’ number. It’s an important one though, and probably a bit less straightforward than the obstacles that Tim has identified, so the omission is understandable:

Promoting interactivity between local government and citizens is a thorny one. It presents a huge amount of potential for disruption. Nominally, under our political settlement, elected councillors are the ones that formally do policy. Continue reading

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.

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?