Archive | February, 2013

Blue Monday – addressing the democratic deficit

25 Feb

PCCs waking up to the news that the elections failed them, and failed the electorate won’t be surprised. Many of them made representations during the run-up to the election that this was a poorly implemented policy. Most tried really hard to be everywhere and made a massive use of social media during their campaigns to raise awareness. Probably most frustrating was the lack of a direct mailshot to households about the candidates.

The fact that only 10% of people know the name of their Police and Crime Commissioner is depressing given the importance and power held by the successfully elected post-holders. The Electoral Commission said they had been handed a “poison chalice”. Frankly this is so much old news to the PCCs collectively, they knew the scale of the issue when elected: Turnout figures, spoilt ballot paper protests and, the reform of police pay and conditions alongside cuts to policing budgets generally provides them with two key challenges. Here I am interested in the challenge which is the democratic deficit.

When the APCC analysed the candidates’ manifestos the most frequently repeated phrase was community engagement. As a former police authority member I was pleased to see this, authorities were too ‘remote’ from the public and if this post is to be a success, for me, a genuinely improved sense of engagement and control of policing and crime prevention would be proof of concept. There are some obvious measures that you could judge the role by and the people inhabiting the role. Electoral turnout would be a key measure in my opinion. But, this won’t happen unless PCCs are making fundamental changes in design now. To have any chance of a meaningful citizen engagement, three years is fully required to make a difference. 800 responses to a survey from populations of c 1million isn’t meaningful,  it won’t shift perception and it won’t get people to the ballot box.

PCCs can’t wring their hands in response to this report, and I don’t believe they will. The response of the PCCs to this issue is already positive and serious:

-Using social media to manage reach and increase transparency

– Many are planning to arrive at genuine citizen engagement and control of policy and budgetary decisions

Hands up to being an optimist but in spite of the implementation ‘blundering’, these new posts could provide more meaningful democracy than the existing ones if for no other reason that, necessity *is* the mother of invention.




“That’s democracy, son…”

25 Feb

‘How can we rehabilitate politics and democracy?’ is a question I spend a good deal of time thinking about. So when Durham County Council invited me to their participatory budgeting event in Crook where £500,000 was available for the local community to allocate I jumped at the chance.

It snowed. A lot. But it made no difference at all. As we walked into the school, a father and his 11 year old walked in next to us. The boy had on wellies and was clutching his ipad. He asked his father “What do I have to do though?!” His father said,

“You look at all the ideas and you vote for the ones you like best. That’s democracy, son.”

The event was busy all day. There were queues of people registering to vote, at each stall to learn more about the projects they could choose from and then at the polling station. People of all ages attended, mostly in family groups or going with their friends. Held in a local school, the event was staffed by council workers who had been recruited specifically to develop a participatory approach, they have honed their skills and it ran very smoothly with people ably shepherded through the different elements of the process.

Cllr Simon Henig at PB event

Cllr Henig talking with residents at the event

People queue to vote at Crook Participatory Budgeting Event

People queue to vote at Crook Participatory Budgeting Event

I accompanied the Council Leader, Cllr Simon Henig who is a real democracy geek. (He teaches politics at a local university). He has run local referendums, devolved hundreds of thousands to be spend via these local area partnership structures and he was visibly thrilled to see the queues going out through the doors at this event, seeing people motivated to vote. This is just one element of the work they are doing to increase democratic participation and it was very successful. Over 1000 people voted out of a population of around 12 -13,000.

PB ballot boxes

Do I think using digital tools could work with this style of event? Of course! All the projects made videos which could be shared using social media, conversations and Q&A on the projects could have happened before or during the event for local people who couldn’t make the event for some reason…maybe because they were working for example. If people register on the website then even voting could happen online. You can use online polling for example. Having participated in the event, it would be great to keep the conversation live using social media. You might find that the event has provoked the interest of people who want to help with a project and this ongoing conversation would enable the projects and the council to enable this volunteering and further participation.

What I thought was best about this approach? Definitely that age 11+ kids were voting and participating. This opportunity to participate in the democratic process makes sense on so many levels: To encourage participation in the successful projects; To encourage an interest in local democracy from the earliest possible age. I think you could even include much younger children, many of whom were at the event and really interested in what was happening.

Whoop whoop it’s the sound of the PCCs online ..

5 Feb

I am really excited about how many Police and Crime Commissioners are seizing the day and using the internet to connect with their citizens. They all have huge patches in comparison to MPs and it seems that necessity is indeed the mother of invention when it comes to using all available engagement tools. For most, using social media is business as usual which is interesting and established democratic roles such as local government and MPs may well learn a lot from the approach of these PCCs.

It is still early days but many are laying solid foundations for developing a genuinely meaningful conversation which will have time to mature before the next election. I mentally send them to the top of the class.

Some examples of interesting use of digital tools to increase communication and build engagement online this week (if I have missed any, please use comments to add them):

Staffordshire PCC used CoverItLive to hold a live webchat

Sussex PCC used Facebook to hold a live event online

Avon & Somerset PCC is using the hashtag #ourplan to request feedback via twitter see @AandSPCC

All these examples demonstrate a balance of online/offline activity where the online ‘amplifies’ the impact of the physical meetings and discussions. CoverItLive has the benefit that it isn’t channel specific, it allows free access for people to get involved whatever their preferred social tool (twitter or facebook for example)..Facebook gives a sense of ‘membership’ so that helps to know who is committed to hearing from you on a regular basis. Using a hashtag on twitter is incredibly flexible and people can engage in the conversation without having to be a ‘supporter’ of the post holder.

I think CoverItLive probably has the win as you can respond in more than 140 characters, it’s intended for a chat set at a specific time, where Facebook is more of a ‘broadcast’ posts at your leisure medium. And, twitter can work well alongside CoverItLive.

I notice that twitter comes into its own as part of a physical meeting or event that is happening, but it helps to encourage participants to tweet through an announcement of #hashtag and even better (but not always possible) setting up a screen so that tweets are visible to all attendees during the event. This encourages participation from event attendees and makes the description online more owned by the participants rather than the host.

Many are using digital tools to increase transparency and bring to life the values of being open and accountable participating in webcast Police and Crime Panel meetings for example…

Here is Devon & Cornwall’s PCC presenting on his policing plan to the panel (if you click on the slides tab you can watch him speak to the slides he is presenting) and also there are meetings of the Northamptonshire PCP and the Surrey PCP online bringing to life the scrutiny work they are doing. In another step towards greater transparency the Surrey PCC also webcasts his monthly management meetings with the Chief Constable. In this meeting along with other issues, they discuss the estates strategy, as PCC Kevin Hurley has paused the sale of nine assets.

It isn’t hard to use digital to increase both transparency and engagement and it is good to see so many seizing the opportunity. Definitely a big WHOOP WHOOP from me.