The revolution will be televised

12 Aug

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.


5 Responses to “The revolution will be televised”

  1. Ken Hawkins August 12, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    An accurate reflective post Emma. I do not dismiss face ro face engagement but now have far more conversations with residents in my ward via facebook. Here many who may not vote have already found the value of comunicating directly with their councillor. This can only be good for democracy – something I also try to promote via social media. I recognise that many people are turned off by politics, with good reason to, but always seem to enagage in democracy. I’m sure we will keep in touch, thanks for all your support.


  2. ianchisnall August 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Hi Emma, I am sorry that you are moving on from Digital-I but know you have somewhere else to go which is great for you and them, and I am sure that Digital-I will find a replacement, but the benefit of having an actual insider for their work seemed to be a very good fit from an outsiders point of view. I am delighted that you continue to be enthusiastic and I agree, recognising that my views about Party solutions to the Democratic problem differ from yours. In the last few days my twitter account I was unfollowed by the BHLabour account which is very dispiriting – they appear to have a reputation for disconnecting from people who challenge them, yet they are clearly passionate about staying in touch with their Political opponents who they spend hours rubbishing. I hope that this is not a tru reflection of their values!

    • ianchisnall August 13, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

      I am happy to report that @BHLabour have now confirmed that they did not unfollow me intentionally – so things are better already!

  3. Responsible Citizens Alliance August 13, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    The furture of world governance lies in virtual collective decision making with each citizen contributing.

    How we get to this situation is through small increments such as interactive webcasts of council meetings.

  4. Rowan Draper August 13, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    First of all, enjoy your new job! I am sure your colleagues at Public-i will miss you.

    I would agree with you about webcasting becoming a norm, and it should be, I wonder how local councillors would design their authorities if they were new today. I think there would be less of the resistance that many small c ‘conservative’ councillors bring to the debates about engagement, transparency and social media.

    I think for me it also serves as a warning sign that individuals may not be fit to be councillors if they are approaching what we do with a desire to restrict access of those who elect them, when it is in the public interest, and watching a full council, cabinet or committee meeting (which some may find boring) is definitely in the public interest.

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