Tag Archives: Open Policy; Politics; Local Government; Transparency; Voting; Young People; Coproduction; Democracy; Digital Democracy; webcasting

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.

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.

“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.

Rehabilitating Politicians

16 Jan

I am genuinely concerned about the widening gulf between the public and politicians…and the level of sheer contempt for our representatives. I understand why and how this has happened and all parties and participants are to blame for continuing to ‘play the game’ how it is has always been played for fear of losing what influence they have. I don’t believe that this is necessarily selfishly motivated. Many will be concerned that a group who have struggled to get any voice or power at all will slip back again and be back where they started. I doubt any politician would claim that the situation is acceptable and many would accept that its harmful.

What are the key harms as I see them?

  • That people simply won’t enter politics and limit the talent and leadership that we can vote for
  • That people won’t vote at all, leaving the *winner* in an unenviable position of being in power and needing to deliver a strategy without a proper mandate (this symptom flared hugely in the PCC or Police and Crime Commissioner elections)
  • That people vote in a humourous way – LOLZpolitics…which could be disasterous for the area they are responsible for

What does turn people on now:

  • Open politics – being able to see and follow the ‘working out’ of policy which is why I am part of the Open Policy network
  • Professional expertise – people like someone with knowledge and track record in something rather than ‘principle’ politics and I get why but we risk losing something important here
  • Leadership – and, we are sadly lacking this at a difficult time (bear in mind this is my opinion so am happy to be challenged). People need a collective vision and a part to play in getting there..merely being asked to suffer is failing. Compare Churchill and his lasting appeal despite far more hardships.
  • A sense of community, increasingly I think social media is enabling people to come together as communities in a more powerful way replicating the smaller communities of centuries gone. It makes you feel you *can* do something by acting together…influence Starbucks for example. We feel less dwarfed by the world in a community.

Lots of things need to change to get democracy working again and one idea I have bubbling away mentally was inspired by something I learned whilst on the Police Authority. In policing diversity is an issue and one of the key influencing factors which makes people aspire to be a police officer is a positive experience of a police officer before starting school This is why visits to nurseries and play groups is so important because otherwise only those related to police officers will have that aspiration especially in communities where mistrust prevails. Its a way of breaking a vicious cycle. I think we should do the same for local government, which interests me more than parliamentary politics probably because you can “touch it” more readily.

My plot is to have a programme of school children and those in care system taking over the council chamber, redesigning the process, environment and setting the agenda for local politicians. I think Councillors would get as much out of the process as the children would have ‘bossing’ them around. In addition, we would be laying down foundations for trust, aspirations for politicians and hopefully more diverse selection. The ability to webcast the results would provide great learning and I am reasonably certain, compulsive viewing.

Other day dreams relating to rehabiliting politics are:

  • Citizen’s agenda item (a debate on every council agenda which is set by local people)
  • Citizen scrutiny – redesigning the process to be on/offline in order to allow informed and excellent scrutiny
  • Better data and more neutral analysis quantifying the scale of an issue (for example…how much of a budget are political groups really disagreeing about – debate sounds fierce but the areas in question might only be 0.2% of the overall. Local press can play a role here, and local TV might help. Local community umbrella organisations can also support this role of trusted information provider.

Please argue/ agree and give examples of any practice that is relevant here! I would really appreciate it. If you want to collaborate with me on making these ideas come to life then I would be very excited to hear from you.

Do you have ideas around the rehabilitation of politicians?