I was really lucky to be invited to participate in a 2 day workshop in Stockholm the week before last organised and hosted by SALAR, with help from Jeremy Millard and brilliant facilitation from Martin Sande.
I have worked with SALAR on and off over the last five years and one of the many things which are impressive about them is there openness to external ideas. This event really came out of this as they gathered a group of about a dozen practitioners, academics and weird hybrid types like me to ‘deep think’ about how technology could and should change democratic participation in Sweden. The process was interesting; they asked us each to write a 5000 word positioning paper in advance and then present to the group (this is going to turn into a book – at some point) and we then debated these in small and then larger groups. Day two (after a well timed process intervention by Rolf) was focused on creating practical suggestions as to the way forward. They also had a ‘ginger’ group of Swedish local government people and the SALAR team to critique and comment on the process.
Some overarching themes emerged from the day; openness in terms of process and data, greater collaboration, networked behaviour. There was a question running through about the nature and extent of the realisation of the network society and there was also an ongoing discussion of civic space online which I will pick up separately as this is a big topic in its own right (picked up by Andy Williamson in his paper in fact).
The group I worked in created something we called the ‘Collaborative manifesto’ and Matt Poelmans who was in the group has blogged in it here. Also in the group were Chuck Hirst from CEECN, Rolf Luhrs from Pepnet and Valerie Frissen from Erasmus University. The presentation we created is below:
We wanted to create something which would allow the team and SALAR to start working towards change without having to have complete clarity of the final destination so we discussed the idea of a collaborative audit which would establish the readiness of a Council to move forward against the values which we had described. We suggested that research needs to be embedded in the process and proposed some specific experiments which could be bridges between the current and new reality.
This is by no means finished thinking and it is something that some of us want to keep talking about as it felt like a practical way to start effecting change in an environment that has no burning platform for change.
This last point, the fact that Sweden is actually in very good financial, social and democratic shape compared to other european democracies was addressed by the other group who discussed the rapidly approaching issue of the ageing population and how to bring this debate to the centre of current political thinking.
It is odd to think of the UK as being ‘lucky’ with respect to our financial crisis but if you do believe that the pressure of social change is demanding that government transforms itself then the more pressing financial problems have to be seen as a good thing in that they place the need for innovation on everyones agenda. Never waste a good crisis as they say.
I’d like to thank our hosts and the other participants. As I said at the start I often feel like something of a hybrid – not quite academic and not quite practitioner – and it was refreshing and exhilarating to be in the company of other action researchers to discuss both theory and practice. I do hope we get to do it again.