Archive | April, 2013

A new frontier -Legitimacy, politics, social media….

28 Apr

When I was lead for public order policing on Sussex Police Authority I was lucky to get to a command course by Dr Clifford Stott on crowd psychology and protest policing. The idea at its most basic was that crowds only came into conflict with police when they considered that they were being stopped from doing something legitimate. The approach reduces conflict and reinforces police legitimacy to act by a process of constant dialogue.

I believe that politicians can reflect on this idea when engaging in and using social media. Their decision making requires a sense of mandate (or democratic legitimacy) ….falling participation in elections most notably the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections at an all time low leaves a legitimacy issue. How can we think about this learning from the Stott model is my first question? I believe, that many PCCs are beginning to think about this and are considering how to make themselves more transparent, more accessible and to check their policies with the community on a rolling basis. The wise ones definitely are!

My second question is around a developing sense of what is legitimate crowd behaviour on social media especially in relation to social media. Three cases we could use for background for our thinking are Martha’s lunches and her NeverSeconds blog, Cllr Jason Kitcat’s standards experience and the experience of people who consider themselves to be citizen journalists.

In each of these cases the attempt to ‘control’ citizen reporting failed and were seen to be undemocratic. For me, the key lesson is, presumption of openness unless breaches confidentiality rules. All involved in democracy, politicians, chief executives and chief constables and democratic services need to assume the instant real time sharing of process and debate. This will look messier but it will be more engaging. No longer can engagement be bottled into packages delivered by community development officers and housing workers. It will not be a timescales you decide. If you resist, you will be accused of conspiracy by the social media crowd.

Politicians who block critics who don’t breach what the online community believe to be legitimate questions and debate will lose voters in my opinion. The crowd will judge this behaviour. I know @curiousc will comment with useful stuff on crowd behaviour online.

There you go guys, a provocation….what are your thoughts? Fancy a cup of tea to discuss?


Hacking local democracy

28 Apr

So how about we hack local democracy? What am I talking about?

Hacking is associated with coding, but as I learned at bluelight camp..essentially it means taking a thing and modifying it to make it work better. I know that lots of policy people, active citizens, politicians, public authority officers and others have really good ideas about how we could create projects which modify local democracy to increase participation.

Why does local democracy need a reboot?

(This is my list…please add more)

  • People feel that they only connect with politicians around election time, yet I am sure that the vast majority of Councillors work very hard all the time. A similar problem is felt in policing where people feel there is a lack of ‘bobbies on the beat’. Of course the chances of randomly bumping into your Pcso when you walk along the road is remote. Social media has to an extent helped the police address the need for a direct relationship with people and to show that officers are present in an area. Could Councillors learn from this? See @curiousc Networked Councillor Blog
  • The language and structure of local democratic meetings has become unintelligible to modern communities – requiring enormous interpretation and support to navigate. I refer to this is in my citizens agenda blog and so many local councillors ( from all over the country) related to this point making me positive that councillors are ready to lead change.
  • Democratic moments (HT to @demsoc) are too spaced out and mostly negative. In essence between elections there are too few opportunities for citizens to participate in decision making. Plus, in all other aspects of our lives we expect swift reaction and interaction/ feedback/ outcome. In local democracy, you can complain and object but to work positively requires massive effort and going to local partnership meetings etc. structures around positive engagement tend to be designed for the council structures and are over anxious about risk, stifle debate (conflicting points of view are generally perceived to be ‘a problem to be avoided’)
  • National scandal has tainted local politics (expenses/ links to corporate vested interests) as well as a perception that politicians are a class apart, groomed from birth via various routes depending on the tribe and not ‘of the people’. Yet again, to a certain extent some of these issues are shared by policing, and the idea that policing happens by the people for the people has been widely underlined by online policing communities. Trust and respect are vital for both police and politics to create a sense of legitimacy for decisions and actions taken. Digital can provide a transparency, it can give people the opportunity to directly question and scrutinise, as well as community reporters and bloggers to provide local and hyper local citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is I believe an asset to democracy, but it is often perceived as an annoyance. John popham and I were discussing this today. Hopefully a session could run on this at hacking local democracy.

There are lots of non tech ideas I would expect to arise which meet the challenge of increasing trust, confidence and participation in local democracy…list yours in the comments or tweet me!

But my list of techy solutions that could support some of the behaviour change that local democracy requires:

  • Doorstep app- let people see routes and allow for pop up events. Use text/emails to alert people so they can ask you to call in (or not)
  • Pop up community surgeries to respond to hyper local issues swiftly
  • Citizens agenda – see my previous blog
  • Develop e-petitions to enable community discussion


Citizens Agenda – making local democracy more relevant

16 Apr

The Pitch – A Citizen’s Agenda Item

At City Camp Brighton, I made the winning pitch of a citizens agenda item on the local council meeting agenda. The pitch won and got feedback that this idea would be most likely to create a citywide, sustainable change which benefits people. If you want to see the pitch, made as part of a team including Kirsty Walker from the Trust for Developing Communities, Annie Heath from the BHCC tenant involvement team, Luke Flegg from and Simon Bannister from the Safe in the City partnership please view here. [Thanks to Jonathan Tilley for videoing!]

What is the problem?

Local election turnouts have been much lower than general election ones, and with a 76% in 1979 to the lowest turnout in 1998 of 28.8%. At the last local elections in 2012 there was a turnout of 33.1% although turnouts always rise to c.60% when held in the same year as a General Election. I think that it is time that we worked to ensure that local government isn’t the poor relation of UK democracy.

Local government and representatives have the greatest opportunity to connect with citizens and make decisions with and for residents that are relevant. Traditional media has, in my opinion played a part in this Cinderella story but so has the risk aversion and unwillingness to share power with local citizens.

Another barrier this project seeks to address is the language barrier that formal and archaic governance processes throw up to the lay person. Notice of motion, amendment, petition, prayer, ‘through you Madam Chairman’. etc etc. Even the most experienced officers and local politicians get in knots with procedures and language. It’s sometimes hilarious but mostly mystifying.

What tools and resources would you need to create a Citizen’s Agenda item?

The Citizen’s Agenda would be shaped positively by the people who live in a local government area. Existing routes could be used to help people deliberate, such as Local Action Teams, community development workers, resident involvement staff could support and signpost people to participate in setting a proposal for the elected Members to debate and consider.

I believe digital tools should be the primary route however, maybe developing the e-petition tool to enable community building and evidence submissions or, perhaps using a brand new tool such as the one that Luke Flegg is developing at where people can submit pros and cons, rate other contributions for relevance and importance and develop policy working as a digital community. Being able to help refine a proposal, as well as show how those most affected by the decision feel about it would be invaluable to delivering coproductive council and citizen relationships.

What are the milestones?

Are politicians interested in this project? – During the #ccbtn event at least one politician from every party in the city supported the principle via social media. We will need to submit more detailed proposals for the groups to consider.

Are there constitutional barriers? I am going to meet with the city’s Democratic Services team to find out if there are barriers and if so, plan how to overcome them.

Can we get people to participate? We could build on the Neighbourhood Governance pilot work with Kristy from Trust for Developing Communities to develop skills and interest in the project in order to create a test Agenda Item to see how the project works.
How to choose which item is discussed? What happens if the Council don’t ultimately control the policy decision or budget? Could the Health and Wellbeing Board and PCC participate in the project?

Perhaps every year there should be a Young Citizens Agenda Item chosen and supported by schools?

Please comment, add ideas, barriers and to-dos! We need your help.

Thanks from Emma – Citizens Agenda #citizensagenda @huxley06

Update 1/5/13 was signposted to a Finnish project similar to this one called Open Ministry (Crowdsourcing Legislation)