Equiliberated: Could context collapse make us happier?

16 Jun

I was reading one of my favourite bloggers @victoriabetton recent post on how context collapse affects even the most experienced and thoughtful social media user – Maintaining a Personal/ Professional Equilibrium.

This and thinking about context collapse for our emerging cohorts of Networked Councillors really made me think about the impact of context collapse on us as individuals and on corporations.

On a personal level the discipline of working to influence politicians across the spectrum in charities made me highly aware of the language I use and the examples I choose mostly in order to ensure that the listener didn’t shut down through feeling beleagured straight away. In addition, working with charities and being in a leadership position at a relatively young age (26 as a CEO of a network) meant that I stuck out and was highly conscious of those watching for mistakes which, possibly unfairly, might have been in a non-work setting.

So, I spent my career living in a blurred way, living my values inside and outside the workplace. Sometimes, making myself slightly vulnerable in the process and sometimes being seen by relatives and aquaintences as a PC-gawn-mad bore. But, I have been much happier. I was coached by my first Chairman in a highly effective manner (he was well and truly ahead of his time) to make a decision consciously… Do you put on a work persona? He said, as a manager it will help you take things less personally and give you more resilience. Or, do you be who you are? He said, people will connect with you and will know that you connect with them, but when it’s hard it is much harder.

Well, obviously I chose the latter course. In my view, what was the point of spending the greater part of my waking life being a persona? I am happier for it. Not every day. But most days.

Defining examples stay with me.  On one occasion I was challenged for boundaries when I visited one of my fellow board members from a service user voice group  in a Mental Health unit, I was the Chair of the organisation. I said, they are a colleague in my context…not a patient.

I have been called ‘uncompromisingly straight forward’ and the fact I don’t layer my communication with hierarchy can also be challenging in some situations. Sadly, mostly for me! But I like that about myself, and whatever the consequences I am happier for it. This doesn’t mean using ‘truth’ to manipulate or bully though. Most examples around this for me are where I have been working with others to a stated goal but in fact there are unspoken objectives and agendas. I am generally keen to find out what they are so they, unless unethical or unreasonable, can be met too.

Will the difficulty of keeping our passions, values and beliefs separate from those of the organisations we work with and for become too much? What will those organisations do if they cannot recruit the talent they need because people are ruling themselves out because they have complained that corporate didn’t pay its tax or is overtly sexist? I predict, it will adjust. It may be a happier organisation for recognising that its values aren’t shared and even… adjust its values to be a more successful organisation.

I think the future will be happier.



Meet another Commissioner

11 Jun

Today on twitter, Surrey Commissioner, Kevin Hurley engaged in a debate with politicians and ex-police officers regarding his support for the purchase of Water Cannon by the Metropolitan police, I storified the conversation as there were many threads and elements to it:


For further information on analysing the police response to the 2011 London Riots you can read the Met’s Strategic Review – 4 Days in August here.

The London Assembly scrutinises the Mayor and his decisions regarding the police. So here is a clip of a speech from the post riot meeting:

And here is Jenny Jones, member of the Assembly, scrutinising Boris Johnson on water cannons more recently:

There were references in the discussion to PC Blakelock – if you are interested in policing in riots, I highly recommend the documentary on this “Who Killed PC Blakelock?” by the BBC2 (2004). A brilliant piece of journalism and very balanced.



[View the story “Cop or Scrutineer? ” on Storify]

Meet the Commissioner again

6 Jun

I came to work for Public-i because I do believe that technology and our webcasting software has a valuable role to play in helping the public to feel that democratic processes are transparent and to increase confidence, especially when things do go wrong and people want more information.

I was really pleased that following the channel 4 documentary on PCC Ann Barnes called Meet the Commissioner public interest was raised in who holds her to account. Too often scrutiny is the democratic Cinderella function. I love scrutiny and it is so valuable to democracy. To be fair, the process also enables Ann to put her points across and to apologise without editing.

Media stories were very negative in relation to that programme. And the Police and Crime Panel decided that they needed to question the Commissioner and in addition there was a lot of criticism via social media.


Kent Online


The webcast itself

Kent PCP scrutinise Ann Barnes







The webcast from Kent County Council, where the Police and Crime Panel scrutinised the issues arising from the documentary this week, had over 1000 live viewers as the scrutiny process was undertaken. During the webcast Ann Barnes starts by apologising for her decision to take part in the programme and the impact the negative press that arose from it had on her staff, Kent Police service and, other Police and Crime Commissioners. You can watch the webcast in full here.

The overall decision to participate in the programme, the office move, and other issues that arose from the programme were scrutinised in detail.



Life after winning – do you enjoy it?

14 May

I have been asked a lot recently how much I enjoy being a Councillor. The first set of questioners are our recently selected candidates who I meet at social events and campaigning. Yesterday, the legal team at the Council I serve as a Councillor asked me to describe life as a new Councillor.


It is really difficult to describe.

The most similar life experience was my first year as a mother. I spent it fretting, tired, anxious I would make a mistake. Loving her and desperately keen to be the best I could be. I didn’t relax once. I never felt like I was doing enough, doing it right and never ever got enough sleep or saw my friends as much as I used to. I guess this could be unique to me…or maybe others if they looked back would say the same. The learning curve is enormous, no matter how closely you have observed others doing it. Until you have that responsibility, you don’t know how it will impact you. Then too, all the photos are me smiling!

The joy I do get from the role is the wins, making changes even from the back benches in opposition. You can achieve a lot. I love doing the rough sleeping ward surgeries and giving people a democratic voice who most need it. I love supporting those on the front line of food poverty by keeping this emergency high on our political agenda. I like that I can investigate concerns that people raise and see action taken. I like the solidarity with activists at our campaigns and socials. I like working with politicians from all parties – they are all highly motivated civic people and that unites us in common purpose.

I found it hard to walk through protests, even the friendlier ones..but I am more used to that now and would defend their right to protest. It was just surreal walking through it. I find some of the theatre and insults of full council debate exhausting although I do see them in proportion and I know they are not personal/

I am well aware that here in Brighton nobody can take anything for granted. I won by handful of votes. I determined to work as hard as possible in case these few years are all I get to make an impact.

The feedback I have had as a result of these discussions is that I am positive, extremely hardworking, unconventional (if anyone can tell me the conventions beyond never, ever hide behind officers please do), digital, savvy.

I asked twitter if they had questions and here is a storify of the Q&A

Please add questions or your own experiences of what behind the scenes as a councillor is like…perhaps we can persuade more people to put themselves forward?


NHS Citizen assembly prototype

4 Mar

I was asked to observe and report on my reflections on the live prototype of the Citizens Assembly at the NHS Expo 14 – the layer of the NHS Citizen project which involves direct discussion and challenge for the NHS England board.

Ideas were gathered during the offline contacts on day one of the expo and online too. There was also a system of voting ideas up and down. There were criteria by which one idea would be discussed during this testing of the assembly model. The idea that was selected was “how do we make NHS information more accessible”. This was a very common theme during discussions the day before and covered issues raised on inaccessibility by the following communities in society-

1. People with learning disabilities
2. Trans people
3. People for whom English isn’t their first language
4. Asylum seekers – people who may have experienced trauma and have no idea how to access our health system at all
5. Gypsies and travellers

These points were mostly mentioned very eloquently during the session by people who had agreed on this accessibility issue.

Other people joined the conversation, in fact it was packed out with people standing all around the edge of the discussion. The board members reflected points back well, gave information and agreed that the key challenge was-

1. There is a difference between information and communication and the support to access information is necessary and having said that,
2. The information that is provided should be designed with the people who are most excluded up front perhaps, this way benefiting everyone with clearer more accessible information

The format seemed to appeal, enabling people to attend a pop-up meeting and engage online seemed to work well.

Possibly having the board members that did attend in the front makes sense for a first meeting but it is retaining a “them and us” format and also, possibly enforces a hierarchy. Having said that their behaviour didn’t enforce any negative culture.

The facilitation was good and tricky to achieve in a large group in a confined space with such a fast pace of discussion. We need to think about who facilitates and what approach is taken in the future. This was quite a formal approach and was led by the project team. At what point and how does that move to the group to design? Especially as the “group” can be so flexible and drop in etc.

Lots of unanswered questions but I had the impression that there is plenty of will of all participants including NHS England’s most senior leaders to make this work.

NHS Citizen – The Launch Event

3 Mar

Today at the NHS Expo 2014 the exciting NHS Citizen model was launched. Interestingly, before the model is finished. The team working with NHS England are working very much in public and in live time. The purpose of the model is to increase accountability to citizens of the NHS England Board and, to enable big changes to develop in the NHS, fit for the future, with citizens.

I took a photo of the basic model, which is constantly being re-refined with groups of interested citizens…either live during events and workshops or via digital participation.




The event was packed with people standing around the edges and at the back. Clearly, delegates were really interested in how citizen voice could be heard effectively enabling the NHS England board to engage in better way and use that voice to inform priorities and decision making.




NHS England board member, Lord Victor Adebowale said:

“NHS Citizens is mission critical fro the NHS – it is thing we go to and get to done to.  And it must be a place we go with and get done with”

There were many questions from the floor and I couldn’t do them justice in a blog post. But there were themes:

1. Ensure that the louder voices don’t drown out the most marginalised – This was raised in particular in relation to trans issues and the prejudice faced in accessing health services

2. How reflective is the assembly? – Here both older and younger voices were felt to be important (There are sessions tomorrow to explore how the assembly should work)

3. How accessible is the model? – This was raised in particular in relation to people with learning disabilities being able to participate and be heard

4. Why will this work? – There was some cynicism in the room, though very constructive. The project team welcomed this and Board Members said that people would really only know when change because of citizen voice had clearly happened.

Explaining that this launch didn’t mean the model was finished, and to emphasis the difference in this approach as opposed to approaches people have found less satisfying, NHS England Patient and Public chief, Olivia Butterworth said:

“It is not a thing – we have not created aboard and the voices that are part of this are the voices of the people we have been talking to. Mostly digitally but in other ways as well. So many voices and opinions  – these voices come though in a genuine way that people can connect with and we can  have that conversation – people from learning difficulties have a route and a way to have their say in this process. As to  where are the teeth of NHS Citizen–Tomorrow we are going to try and model what the Assembly space will look like? This is a test and a work in progress. No one of us has all the answers.”




Shout! Let it all out – Getting better democracy

24 Feb

Just a quick post on the kind of interactions that campaigning politicians and activists can expect on social media inspired by a tweet this afternoon by Alex Andreou @sturdyalex – his blog is at sturdyblog.wordpress.com – here is his excellent (left-wing focus ) list which had me crying with laughter because it IS true!

By @sturdyalex

Shout out and get a shout back

Political debates on social media tend to be shouty and can descend fast; a bit like a drunk leaving a pub slurring “…and another thing” as they stumble out. (Especially during a campaign period as I learned hence my post on dealing with negative interactions Sticks and Stones – people generally react to the context they see you in but you do have control over your tone and your interactions.)

Also, you can set context by listening and joining other discussions rather than just broadcasting your views. Broadcasting rather than interacting definitely increases the broadcasting shouty replies. However, in fact, DEBATE is fine and disagreement is inevitable and I think we have to relax and accept that. Even, as Alex has, have a sense of humour about it.

Is debate or party politics the cause of our democratic deficit?

But, shouty debate between politicians is perceived to be a problem and is often cited a reason why people aren’t voting or engaging in formal democratic structures. I, often, see pleas for a more consensus based approach and actually the reality is that consensus is an important part of democracy but we can’t lose debate and disagreement because actually winning elections should be about winning the argument. The challenge for online politicians is choosing the right argument to engage in and win. I believe that actually the main democratic issue was the shift towards seeing local authorities and other bodies like corporations and building a consumer – provider relationship. If we can shift this relationship, and move from transactions to relationships this is a bigger key to unlocking better democratic engagement than stopping the shouty debates on or offline!

Any more lists?

Plea – I would love to see a list that Conservative councillors and activists made to go with this one and if I find one I will amend this post to incorporate. You can submit in the comments or via twitter if you like.