So, it’s my last day at Public-i and I thought I would set out what I am taking away from working in a technology company at the cutting edge of digital democracy.
First, the webcasting of public meetings is becoming a norm. It is my personal opinion that those who aren’t doing it on a cost basis have missed the point. Who do those council meetings belong to? Do they belong to the councillors? Not in my opinion and certainly not to the officers. They belong to the electorate and they must be able to access them.
Formal democracy at a local level can, I admit, sometimes look dull. And, I think we can do a lot to improve it and make the language and processes less mysterious and for us, the current and future generations, less intimidating. Having said that, social media and webcasting has already brought a lot more new people into politics whether like me or @rosiecosy in a formal manner, as a Councillor or as a new informal participant. I have a hardcore of twitter and facebook followers who are *ordinary* people who are a highly motivated to engage. Some, have, via that engagement become activists and some are happy to continue to discuss the running of the city at a more chatty level (whether positive or negative).
But, and some people (especially those who call me unconventional), may be surprised to hear that I believe we should only throw out conventions of formal democracy with great caution. The principles of formal decision making have evolved for good reasons and the public do have some understanding of them and frustration when we circumvent them as politicians: Never hide behind officers for example. And, officers shouldn’t seek to enable this either. Collective responsibility might be difficult to maintain in a digital social environment, but if we discard it too easily, I believe democracy and politics will suffer. Those are clearly values of our system that I see as important but also threatened if we don’t reaffirm them as we make ourselves more transparent.
Many of the principles of democracy need reaffirming with increasingly disaffected citizens who vote less, join parties less and value party politics less. Technology gives us the opportunity we haven’t had in recent decades to reestablish this. In some ways, social technology gives the veneer of deep set individualism and many cry tears over this, but for me evidence of the rise of digial tribes shows a natural wish to act collectively. If we have a different expectation from early 20th centuary citizens it is that we want and can achieve a pop up and informal space alongside the formal democratic one.
I am resolutely optimistic.
In case you couldn’t tell.