Archive | January, 2013

Cool again, local democracy that is

29 Jan

Thanks to digital tools – democracy can become cool again. Because I am magic, I sense your derisive snorts… except for the wonks on the front row who are nodding whilst playing chess on their ipads. But most of them always found it cool anyway.

So why should the kids smoking at the back of the bike sheds turn up? Here, I will try to convince you…and if I fail, I’ll try again in a few months!

Through twitter and facebook (Note: Emma reluctantly accepts facebook exists), you can interact with your councillors or your MP or your Police and Crime Commissioner directly. You can get to know them and what motivates them and you can ask why your bins haven’t been emptied, why the street lighting hasn’t fixed, about schools, care for older people, and all sorts of other things. You can report problems, you can support their campaigns and get them involved in your concerns. You can see what they say to each other. You can see what other people are asking them about. And, that can be very important to give people the confidence to ask a question in the first place.

With webcasting you can watch the debates, interact and discuss with others who are at the meeting or, who are also watching the meeting or presentation. So, local democracy is opened up to everyone not just those who happen to be able to attend and know about the meetings. If only the language and format were as accessible! However, I think that will evolve to keep up.

My favourite element of democracy is scrutiny. I think this aspect which looks at how well a service or policy is really working is a great match for digital tools. Being able to report issues as an ordinary member of the public and trigger a proper scrutiny investigation into an issue, submit experiences and other evidence and watch the panel all online will I think make this unsung hero work better than ever. Consider the viewership and input into the Leveson enquiry and the level of public debate on social media and apply that to a local issue. In Brighton & Hove we saw the publication of the Trans Scrutiny report this week and the closing date for tenant scrutineers! Really interesting cross-party work happens in scrutiny and many people are far more attracted to engaging in this process than other elements of local democratic debate. Mainly, in my opinion, because it isn’t adversarial but it is inquisitive which people feel more comfortable with.

You can start a petition online, here are the pages at Brighton and Hove. Many relate to roads and road safety.

It’s more accessible, easier to watch and the people involved in local democracy are just getting the hang of the interacting with you thing – the more confident they get the more accessible and enjoyable getting involved with democracy will be. Especially, if scrutiny has a new dawn and there is a serious space which has less of the ‘theatrics’ of politic debate where your voice is welcomed.

The whole point of local democracy is to give you the chance to have influence over decisions that most directly affect your health, housing, safety, leisure time. It has been in the wilderness for decades with only a dedicated few turning up to meetings, organising petitions. Through digital tools, whether you are working when meetings happen or you are a carer with limited free time to spend providing you have a smart phone you can make a difference. I think, that’s cool.


My virtual reality and why I tweet!

29 Jan

I have often had discussions about the tools I use online (especially twitter) and experienced a huge level of prejudice. Mostly, these interactions aren’t seen as ‘real’, ‘real’ work, ‘real networking’, ‘real’ learning. It is frustrating and unless someone uses these tools I find explaining why they save time, increase my productivity and help me to do the things I need to do *IMPOSSIBLE*. It’s like trying to explain the colour blue.

Sure, a lot of people do use twitter and blogging to create or share nonsense. In fact, from time to time, I probably add to the pile myself. But, using those examples of why twitter/ facebook/ blogs aren’t useful and are a waste of time is like saying libraries should be closed because some people just go in to use the loos.

I started using twitter to help me when I was on Sussex Police Authority and held lead role for Public Order. I found it invaluable to look at activists perspectives and experiences of police tactics in order to help me ensure that I asked the right questions. Of course, during the riots, twitter and my role came into it’s own. I could keep track of what was happening, I could see the varying methods that forces were using social media to inform and reassure the public. I followed journalists, academics, acpo and front line officers to help me understand the impacts of the riots and, the implications.

From this, my usage of twitter grew to following local affairs in Brighton and Hove. We are quite spoilt with a number of very active social media users to interact with: Many Councillors are online, along with local journalists and community activists. This helped me understand the policy and ‘P’/political debates that were happening giving excellent context for my previous day job in the local voluntary sector and my current role at Public-I.

For me, there is no line between ‘digital’ me and ‘real’ me – most of the people I follow and interact with online are people or, organisations that I really know or work with. To be able to share what I am doing and thinking with them and likewise, see what they are up to is intensely useful. It saves duplication, it makes it easier to collaborate on projects or issues…like we did on the #bhcoatsforkids project this winter, redistributing over 1000 coats to families that needed them. Or, working with others on understanding the implications of the Police and Crime Commissioners elections which enabled me to engage the local voluntary sector in that process and in influencing candidates.

Sharing photos, thoughts, stories and data is in my opinion allowing the recreation of sense of community that urban life doesn’t always allow. Sometimes leading to amazing results like the Riots Clean Up for example. This is REAL. Those who don’t participate are in my opinion becoming digitally impoverished and we need to ensure that this only happens through choice and not through opportunity.


How to piss off James Bond

16 Jan

How to piss off James Bond

By “The Handsome One” – this is the sort of thing I love about him

Rehabilitating Politicians

16 Jan

I am genuinely concerned about the widening gulf between the public and politicians…and the level of sheer contempt for our representatives. I understand why and how this has happened and all parties and participants are to blame for continuing to ‘play the game’ how it is has always been played for fear of losing what influence they have. I don’t believe that this is necessarily selfishly motivated. Many will be concerned that a group who have struggled to get any voice or power at all will slip back again and be back where they started. I doubt any politician would claim that the situation is acceptable and many would accept that its harmful.

What are the key harms as I see them?

  • That people simply won’t enter politics and limit the talent and leadership that we can vote for
  • That people won’t vote at all, leaving the *winner* in an unenviable position of being in power and needing to deliver a strategy without a proper mandate (this symptom flared hugely in the PCC or Police and Crime Commissioner elections)
  • That people vote in a humourous way – LOLZpolitics…which could be disasterous for the area they are responsible for

What does turn people on now:

  • Open politics – being able to see and follow the ‘working out’ of policy which is why I am part of the Open Policy network
  • Professional expertise – people like someone with knowledge and track record in something rather than ‘principle’ politics and I get why but we risk losing something important here
  • Leadership – and, we are sadly lacking this at a difficult time (bear in mind this is my opinion so am happy to be challenged). People need a collective vision and a part to play in getting there..merely being asked to suffer is failing. Compare Churchill and his lasting appeal despite far more hardships.
  • A sense of community, increasingly I think social media is enabling people to come together as communities in a more powerful way replicating the smaller communities of centuries gone. It makes you feel you *can* do something by acting together…influence Starbucks for example. We feel less dwarfed by the world in a community.

Lots of things need to change to get democracy working again and one idea I have bubbling away mentally was inspired by something I learned whilst on the Police Authority. In policing diversity is an issue and one of the key influencing factors which makes people aspire to be a police officer is a positive experience of a police officer before starting school This is why visits to nurseries and play groups is so important because otherwise only those related to police officers will have that aspiration especially in communities where mistrust prevails. Its a way of breaking a vicious cycle. I think we should do the same for local government, which interests me more than parliamentary politics probably because you can “touch it” more readily.

My plot is to have a programme of school children and those in care system taking over the council chamber, redesigning the process, environment and setting the agenda for local politicians. I think Councillors would get as much out of the process as the children would have ‘bossing’ them around. In addition, we would be laying down foundations for trust, aspirations for politicians and hopefully more diverse selection. The ability to webcast the results would provide great learning and I am reasonably certain, compulsive viewing.

Other day dreams relating to rehabiliting politics are:

  • Citizen’s agenda item (a debate on every council agenda which is set by local people)
  • Citizen scrutiny – redesigning the process to be on/offline in order to allow informed and excellent scrutiny
  • Better data and more neutral analysis quantifying the scale of an issue (for example…how much of a budget are political groups really disagreeing about – debate sounds fierce but the areas in question might only be 0.2% of the overall. Local press can play a role here, and local TV might help. Local community umbrella organisations can also support this role of trusted information provider.

Please argue/ agree and give examples of any practice that is relevant here! I would really appreciate it. If you want to collaborate with me on making these ideas come to life then I would be very excited to hear from you.

Do you have ideas around the rehabilitation of politicians?


PCCs doing it digital style (Democracy)

9 Jan

Right then so why am I stalking the Police & Crime Commissioners’ social media interactions. Well my boss @curiousc (the super clever one) has written a report (also super clever) fpr the APCC providing guidance on the opportunities that Police and Crime Commissioner’s have to grasp to engage us citizens in what they are doing and the decisions they make. The super clever one makes clear evidence based arguments. I am the more direct one.

The reasons its important for a Police and Crime Commissioners need to use social media to engage people?

– Because most people didn’t know why they were brought in and,

– What for (massively difficult to communicate leadership role as distinct from Chief Constable) and,

– If they did, many of them didn’t want them brought in (some because of fears around ‘politicisation’ and some because they are naturally more conservative about change

I suppose as a member of a Police Authority at the time PCCs came in, I should be more opposed than say, you. And, certainly I think there are still some risks and transition issues which it would have been ideal to sort out before they did! And, I have concerns about losing the quality of scrutiny in governance that the old Police Authorities brought (however quite excited about the idea of growing some quality ‘citizen scrutiny’ using digital tools!). Like many, I am concerned about how in practice the politics will play out also.

However, I am not going to pretend there weren’t issues with the old system either and this system does bring opportunities with it. One of which, is more direct engagement in decisions and budgets. I think that is to be welcomed, democracy, involvement of citizens in decisions which affect them, and using community voice and action is good because evidence demonstrates this creates happier, safer, healthier communities.

Why do it ‘digital’? Well…there are the obvious benefits! People now use and create content online through twitter, facebook, blogs and other tools in droves. It makes sense to go where people are rather than expect them to come to you. Also, in digital space you can create your own dialogue which is not edited by favourable/ unfavourable print and broadcast media sources. Having built your credibility and networks online and offline you can do real stuff with that. See the @bhcoatsforkids or our blog for example.

Digital space creates opportunities to connect with people who can’t get to public meetings because of work, caring responsibilities, disabilities and many other issues…not least, because public meetings can be intimidating and some people may find that format dull and unappealing. Online, they can watch the questions others put, and hopefully gain confidence to participate but at the very least become more informed. 

Police and Crime Commissioners are all beginning to consult on their policing plans and budget priorities. So, I am spying in to see the different approaches and depth of digital activity in order to get an idea of the style, tone and level of participation is achievable at this very early stage of their terms. It is brilliant to see so many, active online during their campaigns, are already ‘digital by default’ using digital tools on top of traditional meetings, surgeries and other face-to-face techniques to communicate. So far this week I have used storify to collate tweets from Surrey PCC and Lincolnshire PCC which you might be interested in. I think both are really trying to be open and engaging and that’s very positive.

Please let me know your thoughts, any observations or online activity I should have a peek at.

Running totals

6 Jan

Have just been updating our stock spreadsheet –

We have had in 545 useable coats for children in Brighton and Hove so far! Probably around 150 -200 have needed mending or been too worn to reuse. These coats have found a new home via @freeglebrighton and will be upcycled or recycled.

We have around 50 awaiting a wash to see if they are then ‘as new’ enough to give out!

We have many still waiting for collection!

We are still taking coats at our collection points until at least 31st January…please give us more as they are much needed!

We have a big pile of ‘warm or waterproof’ coats which are beautiful but more suitable for Spring…so we will sort through those on Friday night. We estimate around 100 coats are in this pile.

Thanks too for the ‘as new’ scarves, hats and gloves…we have put these into packs for our charity distributers to give out along with coats.

Well done everyone, and keep them coming 🙂

Emma and the #bhcoatsforkids team x

Notes of meeting 5 Jan 2013

6 Jan

Present – Emma Daniel @huxley06 / Julie Cattell @cooljool80 / Julie Rainey @julierainey / Aideen & Denis Jones @AMOQ1 / Karen Amsden @karenams 

Deliveries made ready to go out this week (Julie Cattell to drop)

  • Refugee teens (assorted coats and jumpers for teens)
  • Whitehawk Inn 31 assorted coats (0 – teen) plus 20 sets of hats/scarves/gloves plus misc as new childrens hoodies/ jeans/ tights
  • Sleeping bags and adult clothing for Cllr Bill Randells’ homeless appeal
  • 3 large bags of garmets for mending/ recycling (Julie Rainey to contact Cat of @freeglebrighton to drop off – Aideen willing to drive over) 

3 large bags of coats for washing – Denis

Collection points that need a collection this week (Julie Cattell will get):

  • Hove Town Hall
  • School
  • Victim Support Shoreham
  • Check Dorothy Stringer (Karen will contact)

Further actions:

  • Emma to email charities distributing coats to see if they need more and ask for some feedback
  • Aideen to follow up with Family Support Association to see if they need 0-3 coats
  • Emma to ask Michelle to contact Childrens Centres to see if they want 0-3 coats
  • Julie Rainey to check if Prisoners Family Support need coats
  • Julie Rainey to plan next press release – cold snap 9th Jan tie in
  • Emma to update databases – distribution and our stock database


Next steps for project:

Wind up 14 Feb -consider next year requirements &need to organise a meal to discuss issues such as school uniforms (particularly secondary school) and childrens shoes/ toys and toiletary comfort packs for women’s refuges. Lots of other ideas to discuss too.