Tag Archives: Democracy

UK gov camp 2014

25 Jan

This is just a quick reflections post on my day at this event. It was my first time at the event and I *really* wanted to go. My first two sessions we on increasing voting and getting more young people to vote. I found the sessions really fascinating although I was struck by the overwhelming message that both politics and politicians are the thing that is broken. Obviously, I wanted to know more, sadly the sessions were a little short and very popular to completely develop these conversations today.

Delving deeper, many felt that they should work more openly, more collaboratively, more digitally and in a more networked manner. Good news for the Networked Councillor project I am involved with for Public-I developed with EELGA.

Here are some of the ideas I heard today –

1. More independent councillors at local level – some felt party politics wasn’t relevant at a local level
2. Proportional representation – so all votes count rather than going for the least worst option or spoiling paper
3. That councillors should blog
4. That councillors should work along a community activist method.
5. That councils should work with schools to teach kids about local democracy

I would have liked to see some experimental ideas come out of the sessions and be sketched out that don’t require a constitutional change or “permission” from a statutory sector body to be trialled.

Also, I wonder what we can learn from methods like rock the vote, Speakers Corner projects, City Camps or any projects that have made an effort to increase voter registration and turnout from anywhere.

There wasn’t time to develop some prototype projects today but I look forward to this conversation continuing at UK Vote Camp later in the year.

I also took a UK gov camp selfie with Christine Townsend from Musterpoint because … Why not?

20140125-193246.jpg

Advertisements

Let me put you in the picture…

10 Dec

This is a very brief post reflecting on the images that myself and some of the Councillors I follow share via twitter. I was curious to see what the images we share say about us and our communities.

Here are my campaign photos taken and shared during the by-election:

HEG Campaign photos

Here are some recent photos which demonstrate my blurred identity – at a women’s football match, catching up on campaign news with a colleague in my kitchen, meeting a Special Constable …generally being a mum and in the spirit of the internet being a bit random:

Emma blurred identity

Here are some sets from other Councillors:

This is Councillor Ken from Solihull’s recent photos:

Cllr Ken Photos

I love that Ken shares pictures of his dog and his use of the local area. I think many people would enjoy these photos and it would help his desire to engage with people on subjects they care about.

Here are Councillor Ian Sherwood’s images from Conservative conference…which includes a photo of me and Cllr Alison Hernandez when we had a conversation about Networked Councillor with Ian and others:

Cllr Ian Sherwood

I think they give a good impression of what being at party conference is like and show that Ian is connecting and influencing as well as being influenced.

What do you think the images we share say about what we think, how approachable we are and how well we are representing our parties and electorate?

Right in to the danger zone?

26 Sep

Looking at the Networked Councillor report again today I was wondering why I have no discomfort working with politicians of other parties to develop thinking and practice about digital engagement with communities where the report suggests that Councillors prefer to develop within parties rather than across parties.

The report talks about Next Generation users of digital tools, i.e. those who access the internet and use social tools using mobile devices rather than just through a PC or laptop at home now becoming Councillors. I wonder if Next Generation Councillors have a shifted view of the world which is a stronger culture than either our party culture or our authority’s culture?

Will this lead to a better democracy?

  • Will our values of openness and expectations around transparency and accessibility of information and people shift politics back into a space that is more relevant?
  • Will our ability to collaborate and work more ‘proportionately’ be improved either by our culture? Or because the public are more likely to create NoC councils? Or both together?

I know that where I keep one principle firmly at the top of my mind – does this improve democratic access? I find it simple and painless to work in partnership with other Councillors to deliver that.

For example I had the idea of creating a surgery within a voluntary sector day service for homeless people to improve their access to democratic structures and hopefully, help obviously. A Councillor from my authority but from a different party asked if he could join me. Of course he can! This is about getting the best access to us so that democracy wins.

Online I notice Councillors from all parties are quite willing to share knowledge and experience in using digital tools effectively as a ward Councillor. Because we want to learn from each other, we are enthusiastic about sharing.

Why more transparency and better skills in using all tools to communicate? I guess because we do care that we win the argument, not win by default. And, when people trust politicians and our structures enough to engage we all benefit from a strong mandate and stronger communities.

I welcome views from all but especially other Councillors 🙂

Can democracy survive politics?

7 Aug

My short answer is I hope so. Though I am not part of the anti-party politics crew, I do feel that party politics has a job to do to reconnect and be meaningful if people are to value democracy. That, along with the economy, should be our top priority for all parties in my opinion.

Why am I even wondering about it? Here are a few things that have been whizzing through my brain and digital timelines the last few days:

i loved this 300 seconds but though brilliant,  it was explaining how to ‘play the game’ according to current rules whereas I think the rules need to change. I have worked for charities as someone who helps people do these line by line type consultations, and yes this is a better way of drafting policy and legislation as experts can help ensure implementation does achieve the spirit and intent.

I worked on this project which was pitched for a NESTA innovation grant, and whilst it wasn’t successful in round two, the project really inspired me. This speaks to me about rules of engagement changing. Of the Councillor acting as a part of a ward network rather than viewing Councillors as part of a bureaucratic hierarchy. Of public meetings being ones where the public set the agenda rather than are allowed in to watch the theatre of full council.
Finally a tweet came through my timeline which said something like ‘can democracy survive politics?’ and I now cannot find it, sorry, but if you tweet or leave a comment, will happily credit. Because like all simple questions, there is a really complex answer. And it’s not just about politician’s behaviour…though that’s as a good a place as any to start with!
There is a £4.2million democratic engagement fund to help get people registered to vote – deadlines are quite soon but I hope that a quality project for Brighton and Hove bids successfully.
Quote

Networked councillor – sticks and stones

15 Jul

I have been asked to blog about my experiences as a brand new candidate (and now, brand new Councillor) and finding a way to deal with cyber-attacks. My case was pretty extreme so I won’t dwell too heavily on it as it is atypical. However, discussing this issue at the LGA conference with Councillors from all parties gave me an insight into the common themes and some of the attitudes/ responses that Councillors have taken. This is an emerging area as more and more people use social media to directly contact candidates and Councillors. Probably the most interesting aspect is how not just the target but how the online community responds to the cyber-attacker.

What is a troll or a cyber-bully? Just being challenging is not a reason to label someone this way. People in public life have to be able to respond to challenge. But, it is acceptable to leave a query until the next day if you are tired, dealing with something else or you need to do some research to answer properly. It is always better to think before you answer. Try to answer the content rather than the tone it is expressed in.

Personal attacks, which are a matter of one person’s opinion, or malicious untruths, or intrusive behaviour are cyber-bullying. It is unpleasant. Most Councillors have experienced it to some extent if they are online. Some will say it goes with territory, they are right, but many of you aren’t career politicians groomed from childhood to expect it. Most Councillors, as is the whole point of local government, are ordinary people who want to improve things for their community and it can be quite a shock. Even experienced Councillors who first go online can be surprised at it and put down the social media tools as a result, but please don’t!!

Here are some questions to consider if you experience this behaviour:

  • Who is making the attack?
  • Are they anonymous?
  • Do they influence people’s thoughts and behaviour?
  • What networks do they belong to and how are their networks reacting to their behaviour?
  • Does it reflect it well on them?
  • Do people admire what they are saying and their approach?

All of these questions should tell you how seriously to take what they are doing. If they aren’t influential, if they are anonymous, if their network is not supporting their behaviour then simply block them. If you need help to find out how to ensure they can’t post on various social media platforms, someone in your council or a friend will be able to advise you. Unless you relish this type of thing (I don’t, but I know people who genuinely do enjoy ‘troll baiting’ so it’s up to you) just not reading it will prevent you having energy drained from you that you could more productively use to engage with people who actually do want a discussion.

  • If they are influencers, and you feel you do need to respond, in my opinion it is fine to call out bad or rude behaviour. You are not obliged to engage with people who are being rude or abusive and you are entitled to say so.
  • It can be helpful to have ‘rules of engagement’ stated somewhere, perhaps on your blog for example.
  • You don’t have to respond to every message, if you have answered a question – you don’t have to respond to the critique of the answer.
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. Often the ‘crowd’ will tackle the behaviour for you if they believe someone is abusing the forum or you unfairly. Typically they will jump in, often with humour.
  • If someone within your network or party is behaving badly, consider how it reflects on you and whether or not you should act personally or corporately on the issue. Do you have any guidelines or mechanisms to deal with this?

Every digital Councillor will have a story to tell; talk to each other. There is no one way to respond, but hopefully some of these questions will help you think through how you deal with it.

Ultimately, it is unlikely to affect your campaign unless you allow your time and energy to be sapped engaging with it. In fact it can be measure of the fact others are anxious about how well your campaign is going.

In the conversations I have had with experienced Councillors from around the country and across parties, there is an agreement that women suffer worse abuse online than their male counterparts. There is a growing body of evidence for this sense, and it would be interesting to know why this is, and how to reduce it. Here is the experience of BBCQT Ghost Guest by Martin Belam. See also this article by Ray Filar in Liberal Conspiracy and here is a brilliant article from the Telegraph (20 May 2013) by Dr Brooke Magnanti on How to deal with twitter trolls

“thanks for the pain, you made me raise my game” – Jessie J ‘Who’s laughing now’

On the road, learning about councillors

24 Jun

Last week, I spent most of it on the road listening to Councillors from around the country discussing the Networked Councillor report and findings. Councillors joined the discussion from rural and urban areas, from all parties and some like me are aspiring Councillors, some have been Councillors for decades.

Key points were:

– The networked Councillor is not the same thing as the digital Councillor. Networks exist on and offline. A networked Councillor understands the different communities within a geographical area and can bring conversations together where needed, knows who the influential voices and active volunteers (the people who get things done). Using this information, the Networked Councillor can work within those networks on and offline.

– As in offline meetings, online conversations can become dominated by a ‘ranty’ few who enjoy aggressive debate…when platforms/ hashtags or offline meetings become dominated by this noise, the majority can become put off. How we manage to listen well and curate conversations beyond these individuals will become increasingly important. This is about skills, about tools and, importantly about how the community or crowd affected by these individuals react to them.

– There is a generational tipping point in the population of Councillors and the expectations of the electorate about being able to communicate directly via social media upon us…how Councils support this transition will vary. There was a conversation about who should set the pace here: Councillors, the public or the council staff? This was contrasted with our views about who *should* set the pace. What do you think? What is your experience?

– A generation coming up now who won’t be able to arrive into politics with a perfectly sanitised past, they will arrive with a digital history from their early teens and networks too. How will we respond to this? Will this improve politics? Or will even more people be excluded before they start in politics?

– Is there an on-duty politician and off-duty politician anymore? I was reflecting on the role of police constable with this issue. So police officers might want to think about the similarities and differences and feedback.

The democratic point that is most important to me about Councils, Councillors and the public and how we all relate online is it offers us the chance to move Councils beyond ‘service providers’ with a relationship with the public that feels very ‘customer service’ orientated to one which is more civic and democratic.

Where a conversation can move between ‘satisfaction’ to ‘service design’ more easily and naturally.

Where Council accounts feel very different from ‘corporate’ accounts because the Council feels like it belongs to it’s citizens. I believe that social media behaviours drive this culture and that is a very positive thing.

Okay…I am UP!

5 Jun

So, its happened, I have been selected as a candidate for our local council by-election. The area is Hanover and Elm Grove in Brighton. I live just across the road from the ward and my little girl is in reception in school in the area. It’s a brilliant area with amazing people and its been lovely to see friends, colleagues and the parents of my daughters’ classmates out and about. It is going to be an intensive six weeks but they deserve a candidate and a councillor who works hard, knows them and matches their passion for the area. I am determined not to let them down. They have fought against CPZ, parts of the ward have ongoing issues with their rubbish collection day and, they want their energy around community activities like the brilliant breast feeding support group and nursery to matched by the council. I promise to do that.

I know too, that there are two sides to the ward..people living quite good Brighton lifestyles and pockets of real deprivation and isolation. The resilience that the better off areas have in the face of cuts, real term reductions in income and pressures of rising living costs, is not matched by those living in the small estates. Shared issues are:

– Rubbish and recycling issues

– Parking

– Play space

– Support for community spaces and projects

– Protecting vital bus routes

– HMOs – quality/ security of tenure and impact on those living around them

Our positive policies are here.

I was motivated to move job last year in order to stand, my previous charitable sector job was restricted. I wanted to stand in 2015 to fight what I believe are both unfair and unwise policies having an shocking impact on the economy, on people’s health, on young people’s futures. Having worked in policy implementation at national, regional and local levels I was well aware that decisions would lead to a rise in homelessness and, people struggling to managing the basics: This is why I worked to found BHCoatsforKids and I am so proud of Cllr Penny Gilby working to set up a food bank for her ward in the city.I firmly believe in taking action on the issues you care about and working together with the community to make a change.

With the surprise of a Green councillor standing down , the by-election has moved the timetable to fighting to win now.

I am really focused on keeping the campaign positive, focusing on winning the arguments rather than critiquing the opposition. I believe people are fed up of negative campaigns and I want people to engage in the process and vote for the ideas that they like best. Idealistic, maybe? But I believe it takes more strength and leadership to engage in that way and is far more powerful than engaging in traditional adversarial theatre and spite. It sets out a statement of intent about how I will engage with the community if elected. Actions, and sometimes, inaction (like refusing to be drawn into unedifying squabbles) speak louder than words.

The digital element of the campaign and people being able to contact me directly is great. So far I have had some really interesting conversations about how to make the main road (Lewes Road) that borders the ward more bearable for those that use it: planting/ pocket parks/ shared space/ volume of off-licences/ proposed new mini supermarket/ empty shops.  Mostly, those engaging via digital are activists from one of the parties contesting the seat and in addition, there are strike threats in the city, so the Unions are very active too. It’s important to remember though, that reach goes beyond those who actually message or reply. Many people will observe the discussion before joining in.

Being a candidate suddenly changes all your relationships slightly, it is difficult not to react to this but just absorb and observe the impact. Mostly, it is positive. But, a lot of people are depending on your performance. . I am fortunate that my lovely workplace is 100% committed to democracy and is supporting me wholeheartedly in a non-partisan manner…also its lovely to have so many messages from friends and colleagues in the voluntary sector and, happy to face candidates who are like me, keen to win the argument (I will try not to let them 😉 ). Yes, some of the reaction isn’t so positive and some is downright painful, but I am not going to let that change my approach or rock my determination.

I will blog again on Saturday night about HEG13 – fingers crossed for the sun as I am joining story time in the park with my little one!

[Please understand: As a working mother, it is important that I am disciplined with my time, I can’t answer #HEG13 or facebook messages when I am working but I will deal with them as soon as I can. I will also ignore and ultimately block any interactions which I find offensive, or irrelevant to the campaign and policies.]