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We’ve been having a look at the results from the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – not uniquely I add and I would recommend the analysis on the Guardian Data Blog as well as Sam Chapman’s writing over at http://topofthecops.com/.

The success of the independent candidates is perhaps the most interesting outcome once we look past the turnout figures.

We all know the top line figure:  39% of the new PCCs are Conservative, 32% are Labour and 29% are Independent.  If we look at who they won against those second place candidates breakdown 39% Conservative, 42% Labour, 17% Independent and 2% English Democrat.  However when we look at all of the areas we can see that 55% of the final results were between Conservative and Labour and 45% saw the mainstream party being beaten into third place and an independent being in the running.

Sam Chapman has an excellent post here about what this might mean with respect to the Conservative vote and makes the very valid point that many of these ‘independents’ were in fact local conservative candidates who failed in a seemingly flawed process for choosing local candidates.  However it shows a very different picture to anything we would experience at a General or Local election at this point – this is the first time we have seen anything like this level of success for independent candidates.

The intriguing question is what, if any, effect will this influx of independent politicians have on Local politics and how much more difficult will this make it to integrate PCCs into the National democratic conversation which relies on party politics to function?

Part of the answer to this question lies in how effective the new PCCs are at creating effective relationships not only with the Chief Constable and partner organisations but also with the public.  I wrote last week about the urgency with which the PCCs needs to address their relationship with the public and for independent candidates this is going to be even more important as they have to expect that the mainstream parties will take these elections far more seriously next time.

It’s possible to link the number of Independents with the low level of voter turnout – the lack of even name, let alone policy, recognition being a reason why people didn’t vote – and to suggest that this is a one-off result which will not be repeated once the PCC position has a higher profile with the public. It’s also possible to link it to a general protest against the post itself or a protest from people who wanted to show their dissatisfaction with mainstream parties.  We can finally link it to the fact that many people truly believe that politics has no place in Policing.

However, the fact remains that having a large group of independent politicians represented in the ‘tribe’ of Police and Crime Commissioners reinforces the opportunity that PCCs offer to do politics in a different way.  If we want our politicians to be open, digital, networked and agile then perhaps Independents who are not hindered by having to update a party machine will be able bring these principles to bear quickly.  The political party structure brings with it support, expertise and resources – but it also brings with it the negative connotations of ‘traditional’ politics.  It will be interesting to see how these tensions play out over the next few months – and whether we see any related impact at the next Local Elections in May 2013.

Even without the final results it’s not too early to say that the turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioners has been horribly horribly low. Just a few examples: 16:09% in Nottinghamshire, 19.58% in Avon & Somerset, 19:48% in Humberside but these levels also mask areas of even lower engagement in some places: 11% in Coventry, 10.3% in Epping, 15.65% in Hull, 15% in North Devon. The list does and will go on.

The Electoral Reform Society predicted levels like this earlier in the year but could not sway the Government with respect to either their funding of information or timing of the election – a decision which I personally think shows very little respect for our democratic process.

I’ll be interested to hear whether the Lancashire or South Yorkshire numbers are better given the real commitment of both these Police Authority teams made to get the vote out but in turnout terms no-one can be happy with the degree of voter engagement.

The reasons for this will be complex. Overall we are seeing a general decline in democratic participation and engagement with politics. More acutely for this election the public clearly feel uninformed about both the post and the candidate choices. The mainstream media have been more preoccupied with the US election than this one. Local media has shrunk in many places to the point of irrelevance, which has not helped raise the level of debate about the electoral process. Online the discussion is still fragmented and no candidate ran a really strong social media campaign – though many at least made good efforts. I think there has been a real rejection of party politics and a desire to see independent candidates (making the setting of the deposit at £5000 rather than £500 perverse at best). There is another factor I think in play here which is that the little that people have heard about this election over time has been concentrated on resistance to the post from the Police themselves – who would you rather trust a Policeman or a Politician?

People have been asked to vote for something they didn’t want and for people who they don’t know – can we really be surprised at the turnout? The question is what are we going to do about?

Our choices: We can do an old style political party based post game chat amongst the traditional media – perhaps with some braying in the House of Commons – or we can try and use this as an opportunity to really address the issue.

I believe that if we are going to ‘fix’ politics then we need to start to build a radically different relationship between Citizen and State; one which is more open, networked, agile and digital. Not direct democracy but direct representation – where we can feel a connection to the people representing us and as a result take more responsibility for what happens in our communities.

Police and Crime Commissioners need to make their first priority in post the creation of a meaningful democratic relationship with their constituents. Not one which is mediated through consultation, engagement and PR but one which transforms these functions into something that makes them and this post real to the public.

I have met many of the PCC candidates and Officers who will be supporting them over the last year and there is a huge appetite amongst them to serve their communities in the best possible way. However it will take real courage to seize the opportunity to break with the political pattern and go back to their electorate and really introduce themselves. Arranged marriages can and do work – but it takes effort, respect and patience on both sides. I really hope the new PCCs prioritise this relationship building and start by owning and acknowledging the low turnout and the signal that the public has sent them.

The alternative is that we continue as we are and as @demsoc says we miss the opportunity for democratic reform for the next 10 years. Do we really think we can or should wait that long to fix this?

Huge thanks to the folks who joined me for the session on elected Police and Crime Commissioners – including @demsoc, @Nickkeane, @SashaTayler and a some others who I don’t yet know on twitter.

I used the session to test and expand some work I have been doing on this which you can read about here.  Put simply I am proposing 4 principles for the PCC:

  1. The Office should own the Democracy
  2. Be open by default
  3. Create a space where the politician can listen to the relevant debate and connect with the public
  4. Use really good consultation tools to ensure that decisions are fact rather than media based

I pitched the session because of my increasing concern that there seems to be no conversation happening about the kind of democratic opportunity that the creation of the new PCCs will bring.  Now – I am fairly sure that someone in the Home Office is thinking about this – but not sure enough not to want to poke it with a big stick to try and get some wider debate happening.  I am going to redouble efforts to find the person who is doing this so please say if you know!  Without this wider debate I think the risk is that we end up with a mild adjustment to the current (failing) system rather than looking at this as the chance to create a democratic structure that is going to be relevant and effective for the next 20 years.

My observations from the Police Authorities and Forces that I have been speaking to is that we have all been so certain it wouldn’t happen that we have failed to really engage with what it means.  However – thanks to the intervention of the folks in South Yorkshire I started to think about this and the session at GovCamp was a chance to test my thinking out on a group of informed and interested folks who as is always the case with the GovCamp crowd had some really useful observations:

  • Perhaps the biggest issue is not the structure but the fact that the public don’t understand what the role is and are not likely to turnout in great numbers to select the person.  The question of the validity of the mandate they will get is a very real one
  • There is an opportunity to reengage the public with the task of priority setting – its not all bad!
  • The Police and Crome Panels should be able to hold the democratic accountability but the risk is that they will be weak in the same was as the Police Authorities have often been perceived
  • I really need to read up about the US models which have influenced this approach and find out more about how they work
  • The boundaries of some of the forces are extremely unwieldily (the example used being Thames Valley) and this is not going to help the public feel as if this is a ‘local’ policing solution
  • There is a real question as to where the community engagement role will sit between the Force and the PCC – this is going to need to be faced head on
  • We need to remember that they have responsibility for Crime and not Just for Policing – and try and unpick what this means

So, I’m going to keep trying to find the person who (I hope) is thinking about this and I’m also going to follow up on some of the really useful suggestions that were made in the session with respect to people to speak to.  I’ll update here when we get a meeting sorted with somePolice Authorities (looks like March) and if I find that someone else has got this all in hand then I will also let you know…in the meantime will sharpen the big stick and keep poking this

….if I hadn’t got stuck in Sussex owing to #uksnow

Firstly – apologies to anyone who was actually looking forward to me speaking – I always feel a bit of a whuss cancelling because of bad weather but it really was rather slippery out there…anyway here are the slides that I was going to use but you may find them a bit cryptic without the accompanying commentary so here are some thoughts:

I wanted to make a few different points the first being that if we value our democracy then we need to be putting the same amount of energy into redesigning it to be fit for purpose in a world which is digital, networked, open and agile as we do with every other part of Government. The second point is that while we all hope that politicians will take responsibility for making change happen (this is perhaps a different discussion) we know that the continuity and commitment to following any change through and really making it happen will fall to Officers and in this case it should fall to Democratic and Member Services.

At Councillor Camp last week one Member said that their challenge as elected representatives is evolve or die (I think in the way of the dinosaurs rather than literally) and Officers who are supporting the democratic process should in my view be taking the same position. With a growing democratic deficit we have to look at ways to reconnect Citizens to our democratic decision making – and we need to do it on a shoestring.

Digital technologies can help us do this but only if we actually change what we are doing and redesign the service to fit this new environment and a public who want a more direct and collaborative relationship with politicians and the process of decision making – not by simply adding digital as another job to do.

We have been working with Democratic and Members Services officers for a long time now (11 years!!) and when we started out it was a revolutionary thing to webcast a council meeting – so many of our clients were and are pioneers. However its probably no longer enough and we need to be offering the public the chance to interact with the content as well as simply viewing it.

This is a small example but there is a bigger strategic picture as well. I recently wrote some guidance on Digital Democracy for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners which really opened my mind with respect to the possibilities that are there if we remove the restrictions of our current systems which is in many cases rooted in the past. In the report you’ll see I have set out a different models of communicative, collaborative and co-productive politicians with examples but in all cases these involve making more extensive use of digital technology than is the norm in most Local Authorities.

So – with those comments in mind here is the presentation:

Adso presentation january 2013 from Catherine Howe

I expect that I would have been challenged on a great deal of this so please feel free to do so here!

Stay warm

This post is an outline of one of the policy question that we are discussing that the Master of Networks event (in Venice!!) next week. While not a proper paper as its an academic audience you may find this slightly more referenced than usual…its really lazy referencing with just signposts to literature rather than a proper review.

Master of Networks is “…. is a workshop that brings together cutting-edge policy makers and network scientists. We aim to come up with a specification in terms of networks of some public policy problems, and a viable strategy to address them in new ways.” The Policy question I’ve raised and will be putting to the group along with Ade Adewunmi  and Demsoc is:

WT3: Tracking a democratic conversation across different online media. How would you go about mapping democratic participation in a diverse media landscape?

What’s the problem?

My interest in this question is tracked here on the blog and is closely related to by PhD work (we’ll be using a subset of my research data) and is fueled by the question: “How can we connect the informal civic participation that we see online to the formal decision making process?”.

The contrast in behaviours in the Formal and Informal arenas is stark; Beyond the consistent growth in digital take up we see great growth in the use of digital technologies for civic purposes (Bruns, Wilson, & Saunders, 2008; Radcliffe, 2012; Wellman, 2001) in the context of a more Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 2008; Rheingold & Weeks, 2012). At the same time we are also seeing a concerning drop in participation in democratic participation (Brodie, Cowling, Nissen, Paine, & Warburton, 2009). In the UK this was illustrated with disastrously low levels of voter turnout in the recent policy and crime commissioner elections.

What’s the solution?

One possible route for addressing this dilemma is for the political decision making process to take on more of the cultural qualities and design affordances of the Social Web. I have suggested elsewhere that these should be; Openness, Agility, Co-production and Networked. If we are moving towards a “networked society” (Boyd, 2010; Castells, 2001, 2007; Hampton & Wellman, 2001) then what should our decision making processes look like?

With respect to the Policy Making process I am arguing that one vital way to bring the affordances of the Social Web into the design process is to provide greater levels of openness to the public both contributing to the policy agenda setting process but also making more timely contributions throughout the process (these contributions on the Open Policy Making blog make these points very well; the doctor is out , go where your audience is ) If we accept a description of Social Media as being a ‘Networked Public’ (Boyd, 2010) then understanding the networks that make up the informal civic conversation around either a topic or a geography is vital to ensure this more open contribution.  I also suggest we will also need to understand what are the limitations (if any) of commercial platforms which are currently available to us – do we need to consciously create digital civic space ((Blumler & Coleman, 2001; Cornwall, 2004; Howe, 2009; Parkinson, 2012)?

And the Policy Making question?

However – in order to make this manageable for a two day workshop I am posing only one other question: Simply tracking the conversation is important and informative but it is probably not enough – What is the standard of evidence that we need to meet in order to include content from the social web as part of the policy making process? And what standard is possible from the tools available?

And the data

The data set I have put forward to work on contains over 1000 informal civic websites (from 5 difference location). These represent a good (though not definitive) sample of the kind of informal conversations and networks that we might want to include in an open policy making process. The task is how might we turn these sites into networked data and how we might then understand who is participating. This is clearly a question that I have been working on for a while (civic spaces) but it is also something we have been working on in R&D commercially (Citizenscape Public beta). What we have not done is to consider what the Policy making needs are from these networked publics – we have focused more on finding and presenting them in a shared civic space.

What next

Is anyone has any questions about this then please shout – if not then I will post again with some outcomes from the event.

Bibliograph for those who like that kind of thing

Blumler, J., & Coleman, S. (2001). Realising Democracy Online : A Civic Commons in Cyberspace.

Boyd, D. (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics : Affordances , Dynamics , and Implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 1–18).

Brodie, E., Cowling, E., Nissen, N., Paine, A. E., & Warburton, D. (2009). Understanding participation : A literature review, (December).

Bruns, A., Wilson, J., & Saunders, B. (2008). Building Spaces for Hyperlocal Citizen Journalism. AoIR 2008 conference.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) (p. 304). OUP Oxford. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Internet-Galaxy-Reflections-Clarendon-Management/dp/0199241538

Castells, M. (2007). Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. International Journal of Communication, 1(238-266).

Cornwall, A. (2004). Introduction: New Democratic Spaces? The Politics and Dynamics of Institutionalised Participation. IDS Bulletin, 35(2), 1–10. doi:10.1111/j.1759-5436.2004.tb00115.x

Hampton, K., & Wellman, B. (2001). Behavioral Scientist Long Distance Community in the Network Society : Contact and Support Beyond Netville. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(476), 476–495. doi:10.1177/00027640121957303

Howe, C. (2009). Building the Virtual Town Hall: Civic Architecture for Cyberspace. 3rd Conference on Electronic Democracy EDEM.

Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYU Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Convergence-Culture-Where-Collide-ebook/dp/B002GEKJ5E

Parkinson, J. (2012). Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Democracy-Public-Space-Performance-ebook/dp/B007JRS72A

Radcliffe, D. (2012). Here and Now.

Rheingold, H., & Weeks, A. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (p. 272). MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Net-Smart-How-Thrive-Online/dp/0262017458

Wellman, B. (2001). Physical Place and Cyberplace: The Rise of Personalized Networking. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(2), 227–252. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00309

So – this is going to be a fairly quick one (for me) but here are some links and thoughts from a brilliant day yesterday at Councillor Camp.  Firstly – a massive well done to the FutureGov team and in particular Jon Foster for a really well run event with great speakers (hopefully the presentations will be found on the #cllrcamp hashtag) – and more than that fantastic participants.  8 hours in the company of a diverse group of politicians all of whom ‘get’ the need for Local Government and Local Politics to really start to use digital properly is an energising thing.  FutureGov create and curate this kind of thing brilliantly and I am very grateful that they do as I think its vital that we gather like minded people together to move the debate along.

I just wanted to capture my three points from the session at the end as my learning from the event and also to follow up on promises I made to provide links to various things.  The learning points / observations for me are:

  • Skills:  We do not have enough of the relevant skills to make the behavioural as well as channel shift to digital either within the member population or the officer population.  We either need to start widening our recruitment or thinking very hard about the kind of offer we are making to people – and perhaps both.
  • Training and Support:  We need to kick it up a gear.  Half hearted sessions on how to use Twitter are not enough – we need to completely overhaul member support
  • We cannot just create a fantastic collaborative and vibrant online conversation with the public in the way that many of the active Councillors were demonstrating and not think seriously about how we change the process of policy and decision making.  We need democratic service redesign.
  • We will not be able to really use social media as a democratic tool without breaking it out of the contextual confinement of being treated simply as another communication channel

Yes – there is a great start but there is a long way to go to turn our democratic use of social media from early adopter to mainstream status.

One final thought:  I had a really interesting debate with an extremely eloquent and experienced Councillor who felt strongly that it was wrong to set an expectation that all Members should be active online.  I thought about it on the way home and I think I have to (respectfully) disagree.  I believe we have to clearly set an expectation for members and officers that they will be fluent in not only the technology but the underlying culture of the online world because increasingly this reflects the offline world.  We will not get there immediately but I don’t think that should stop us setting the standard.  I’d be interested to hear whether or not people agree with me on this.

And now – here are various links to resources from the sessions I suggested (I have not put anything up from the webcasting one but most of the examples I mentioned can be tracked down on the Public-i Website)

Evidence!

First up was a session on the evidence behind the digital channel shift.  Most of this can be found referenced from this page I put together in 2011 – it needs updating (in particular with last years Hansard audit) but it has links to all the main stuff.  The Oxford Internet Institute report is talked about here and the digital inclusion data (including links to the Helsper stuff which is hugely helpful) is all here.

I wrote a paper for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners which brings some of this together and might also be of interest as it talks about designing a democratic office for the 21st Century as well as connecting Internet use with demographics (Digital Democracy).

Digital Civic Spaces

This whole blog is really all about these so feel free to poke around but the 5 criteria are below:

  • Design Criteria 1: The purpose of a digital civic space to is to provide an environment in which any citizen who chooses to can observe, audit and participate in democratic debate and decision making – it is a Public and open space that is available to any interested Citizen.
  • Design Criteria 2: The space should facilitate a co-productive relationship between Citizen and Government. This should extend to the content curation and management of the space
  • Design Criteria 3: The geographical reach of the space should be self-defined by users with administrative boundaries being subordinate to ‘natural place’ described by the Civic Creators.
  • Design Criteria 4: The space should support the principles of open government with respect to data, process and transparency
  • Design Criteria 5: The space should be able to authenticate the identity of participants to a standard which makes their contribution available to consultation and policy making processes.

I found the session really interesting and the two things which I took away to properly think about were:

  • The importance of having a clear view of the governance arrangements for the space and the role of the Members in the process
  • The need to re-engineer decision making processes to accommodate this more agile and fluid civic debate or public sphere (the point about creating opportunities for the public to set the agenda was part of this

I’m going to (hopefully!) do a session on this at #ukgc13 next week so will blog more on this then

Supporting Councillors

Great discussion about how to support councillors better and there was a general receptiveness to the idea that we need to have better quality information and analysis about social media available as well as a more sophitsicated discussion about digital footprints and identity.  A few resources were mentioned which are here:

 

Please shout if I promised you information and haven’t delivered!!

 

 

 

I usually spend the first week of the New Year hibernating and this year was no different.  I like to spend the time at home doing various forms of domestic organisation and getting projects started and ready for the year.  This year I have been spending most of the time of the edits of the final version of my thesis as I seem to be nearly ready to submit it (whoop!) which I can hardly believe.  In fact I won’t until it’s done so no more of that.

As part of my mental spring cleaning I have been thinking about some of the things I want to help make happen this year and this sort of leads into thoughts about UKGovCamp  and also Councillor Camp  – both of which I’m looking forward to being in the next few weeks.  It also feeds into the prep for the Master of Networks event   I’m off to with @Demsoc and some folks from GDS later in the month.

There are four main themes that are buzzing around in my head at the moment:

  • Collaborating as the new normal – not just when its easy:  I touched on this with the post I wrote before Christmas (Networks and Culture Change) but I want to spend some energy thinking about how both internal and external collaboration can work better.  Part of this is the old chestnut of breaking down silos – but I think we need to understand this in terms of dismantling and amending mental models and changing people’s relationships with their colleagues – not just blowing up the storm shelter.  We also need to think of this in terms of mutual respect.  If we are moving to an asset based model for community engagement then we need to do the same with colleagues and respect what people do know rather than criticising them from the POV of our own expertise – we need to be open.  Is also involves having the ability to be both single minded at the same time as being authentically open and inclusive.  Tricky.
  • Being clear that we do expect our politicians to be effective online:  I also want to spend time developing the work we are doing in the east of England researching what a networked councillor might look like and how we can better support them.  It ties in with the councillor camp event next week but also with the work we have been doing on PCCs (I’m off to catch up with some of the new PCCs in the next couple of months so I will report back!).  I think we have to be more demanding of our democratic relationships but that means supporting them more effectively.
  • Using networks to effect behaviour change:  I am fascinated by the work we are doing with Leicestershire Police and others to look at how we move social media from a communication to a more operational basis within the force and I can’t wait to get into some of the ideas that we came up with the workshop before Christmas and also to see how these might translate for other parts of government.  Once you have started to use network effects then looking at their ability to influence behaviour is the next step as long as we remember that that influence has to be two way – we have to be open to being influenced.
  • Digital as culture change: These all link to a bigger theme which is the framing of the digital channel shift as a cultural rather than simply a technological one.  We’ve just started a couple of projects which I think get right to the heart of this so more on that later this month.

Digital Civic Spaces

I’m really excited about the fact that we have been making huge progress with Citizenscape over the last few months and we have some exciting things planned to push this further.  I also want to circulate my research findings around Digital Civic Spaces a bit more (now they are finished!) and start to connect this to some of the conversations we see happening about Smart Cities – I want to make sure we are building a social element into this thinking.  And more generally research wise – once I actually push the submit button and start stressing about my viva – I want to look at two different areas.  One is to pick up on some of the thinking about digital identity and to poke how ‘fit for purpose’ some of the thinking/doing is when we consider democratic not just transactional needs.  Happily we are part of an EU research project on this so lots of opportunity to get into this.  Secondly I want to expand some of the network theory work I have started in the thesis and see if it can be operationalised more systematically   This connects both to the @Leicspolice work but also to the Master of Networks event where we are going to be looking at how you model content ingress from multiple civic sources.
So – interested in hearing if other people think these themes resonate with them as well – and also if anyone thinks these look like a #ukgov13 session – or not!

Happy New Year folks

PS  Re-reading this is seems like a set of New Year’s Resolutions – we’ll have to see how that goes!

I was at the excellent Digital Futures event  in Shropshire on Monday and spoke about Community Engagement – here is the presentation from the event if you are interested:

It was an excellent day and hats off to @ashroplad for his curation of the day.  Lots of great presentations but the standouts for me were Carrie Bishop talking about digital by design not default and minimal use of technology and Alison from Pesky People who with humour and determination hammered home the point that technology has no excuse not to be accessible.  I also enjoyed hearing @loulouk sharing some of the highs and lows of GDS’s work with social media – great to see a high profile group being prepared to share their less than brilliant experiences as well as the stuff that goes well.

I was talking about the way in which networked technologies cause ‘disintermediation’  – removing intermediaries from processes and relationships – and what this pressure might mean for Citizen / Government relationships which are often mediated by the Community Engagement process.  My experience is from the digital democracy world – but my point is that the offline process needs to respond the change being driven online.

We have been doing a lot of work on Community Engagement over the last year both on our own and with our partners Demsoc and OCSI (we don’t just talk networks – we work in them!).  The work has spanned the CRIF project in Cambridgeshire, the NESTA Funded We Live Here project in Brighton and at the moment as part of the advisory and research work we are doing with the APCC and APACE around the new Police and Crime Commissioner roles.  Having these new roles to think about really opens up the debate and has started to develop into some principles which we are applying to projects:

  • Digital by Default – not just taking digital as your main channel but by taking the behaviours that we find online and applying them to the offline relationship
  • Open by Default – Putting the emphasis on an open, shared and public evidence base that can be used and contributed to by all participants as well as a creating a process which allows new ideas and agenda items to come from Citizens as well as the process manager
  • Networked – Connecting and creating ‘networks of networks’ which can maintain themselves (because they already are) but contribute to a wider more representative discussion
  • Agile – reacting to new evidence and ideas in a controlled but responsive way

That first one is now back on the drawing board as I think that Carrie is right to talk about digital by design however I also want it to reflect the fact that its about being culturally not just technically digital – might try our digitally native instead – views please!

We are influenced by the Asset Based Community Development approach of people like Jim Diers and our starting point for any project is to go and find the people in the community who are already talking as they are the starting point for your network – we use our social media audit process to do this.  By running and open and agile process from the start, and by making good use of both digital channels and offline events, we have a developed a new approach to Community Engagement.  We also put a shared, robust and OPEN evidence base central to what we do.

Up to this point we have strong evidence and experience which shows that this a highly effective – and cost-effective way of approaching community engagement which leaves you with a reusable asset in terms of a platform and a network of ‘willing localists’.

We think that this can go further however and so within these principles we embed an objective to create more co-productive outcomes – the final stage of community engagement should be a co-productive and self-managing network of local participants.  Over time the investment in creating these networks should reduce the costs of community engagement but more importantly strengthen the ability of communities to help themselves.

Community Engagement should be about creating the right kind of relationship between Citizens and Government and as such it should integrate communication, consultation and the democratic process – which means that reimaging Community Engagement means reimaging the role of the representative within it.  If we are going to ask more of our communities, and I think the financial picture if nothing else means that we are, then it is vital that we renegotiate this relationship.

I have had a fascinating week – firstly at the LGA Annual Conference and then at an APCC event to brief Police and Crime Commissioner Candidates (other briefings included Sir Hugh Orde and the heads of both SOCA and the new NCA so it was an excellent day to be part of).  In both these environments I found myself asking whether or not my belief in the need for a high level of knowledge about the digital agenda is reasonable – my conclusion is that its essential if we want to evolve the relationship between citizen and state.

PCCs have the potential to provide a seismic shift in power at the local level however moving from one event to the other you could feel the pull back towards Local Government as we know it now – not surprising given that the new Police and Crime Panels and many of the candidates that I have met come from this background. However even where all participants in the process are minded to keep the model as close to the current status quo as possible there will be an erosion of current systems as a new balance is found not just between the PCC and the Force they are responsible for but also between the various agencies and partnerships who are part of the wider ‘and Crime’ element of this agenda. My view is that however one feels about the concept of Police and Crime Commissioners its undeniably the biggest democratic experiment we have seen for hundreds of years – so lets not waste it.

My session at the briefing on Friday focused on the democratic potential of this experiment and the need to design a democratic environment which is fit for purpose for the 21st Century. I believe that this does not mean recreating the current Police Authority in a new form and but it does mean embracing digital and networked technologies – if for no other reason than to stay in sync with the excellent work that Forces across the country are doing in this area. I’ve written more about what I mean by this here and my presentation from friday is here on prezi.

Apart from the PCC content which I followed at the LGA Annual Conference I had a few other observations which I’d be interested to know if other people who were in Birmingham would share:

  • We needed more space / time for debate and discussion – perhaps its time to change the balance in the agenda towards a more interactive format for some sessions.
  • Clearly the next CSR is moving towards us and its going to be tough – however there seems still to be a lot of questions as to where the focus of this will fall and there is every chance that the impact on local government will be more insidious than a direct cut (though there will be those as well) with other aspects of the welfare budget being looked at.
  • Though people mention it there is not clear plan for work with Local Government on the economic growth agenda – this seems short sighted in the extreme
  • With respect to both of these agendas there is a growing commitment to the need for more radical redesign within Local Government – the Creative Councils Innovation session was packed for example – but I am not sure that people are yet clear on what this really means or are ready to take the risks that are inherent in this approach.
  • There is still an alarming lack of strategic IT knowledge at a senior level in Local Government

My final observation may be very much skewed by the fact that I was at both of these events in order to talk about ‘digital’ in one way or another and also by the fact that this an area I know a lot about. However, in trying to calibrate my expectations of Leaders, Chief Executives and now PCC candidates around the digital agenda I am looking for an awareness of the key issues, such as open data for example, but more importantly an awareness that digital is a driver of social and behavioural change and not just a passive tool for mechanisation of process. Its for this reasons that the role of IT, and digital as a channel, should be a major element of any strategy to address the big themes which were being talked about at conference – is goes beyond efficiencies and should be a transformational tool. Everyone I spoke to would agree with this statement – but I am not sure that there is enough sector wide access to the skills which are needed in order to translate this need into the strategic planning process.  In my session with the PCC candidates I said I didn’t think you should stand as a candidate if you couldn’t figure out how to use twitter – there was a quiet intake of breath in the room – but I would stand by this statement.

We need to ask more of our communities – there is a growing consensus about the need to change the relationship between citizen and state both in a positive way through the localism agenda and a more negative sense through the withdrawal of unaffordable services.  In asking more I believe we will need to make more central use of technology as more that just another channel – it needs to signal this change in the relationship and respond to the power that technology has offered participants in other realms.  We need government to allow itself to experience the transformative effects that the media has undergone as a result of the ability for anyone active online to directly publish their own content.

We ran one of the few technology focused sessions at the conference and we attracted a group that described itself as a significant minority of Members who want to know more about social media not just in terms of how to use it but in terms of the more philosophical aspects of identity and community which are central to the social impact of new technologies. This is an agenda that I would like to the see the LGA, the political parties as well as SOLACE take up more seriously in the future as we need our senior teams to take a central role in exploring and shaping what happens when we become ‘digital by default’ as a result of both financial pressures and social change.

I have been dithering about this post and this issue for a while now but thanks to a brilliantly interesting meeting with the team at the South Yorkshire Joint Secretariat (thank you folks) and also a couple of conversations with other Police Authority clients its time to get something out in the world I think.

In November 2012 we will be electing 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) who will be the custodian of strategic direction and scrutiny for our Police Forces. These individuals will, with a reasonable voter turnout, have a larger direct mandate than any other elected individual in the UK with the exception of the Mayor of London. This is an incredible democratic opportunity and I think we need to consider what kind of democratic process we want in place to support them.

I am very uncomfortable with the idea of Elected PCCs but I think at this point we need to look at the possibilities that this opportunity offers to shape the kind of democratic relationship that will work in the 21st Century in a networked society. It’s a chance to design something new which is not shaped by the 19th Century infrastructure which holds back other parts of government.

A new democratic relationship?

Before we describe what it could be a good starting point would be to examine what it shouldn’t be. What stops people participating in democracy at the moment? The evidence suggests 3 things:

  • Time / Convenience / laziness (depending on your point of view)

The process of participation does not fit easily into most of our lives. 14% of us (at best) for example are willing localists who would participate if we had the opportunity (Hansard) and this means designing processes that fit in with contemporary lifestyles if we want to increase participation. These are practical not philosophical issues and can be addressed with better use of technology to make remote participation easy, more agile agenda setting so that you meet to discuss items that genuinely need debate and better facilitation.

  • Lack of interest or even dislike of politics.

The public don’t like politicians and they don’t like politics. They are interested in their local community but as soon as the think the conversation has become political they are turned off. The evidence on this point has been growing and hopefully the Political Parties are ready to listen. It we want elected PCCs to work as part of local politics then they may need to distance themselves from party politics. This means we cannot see these posts as a training ground for future prime ministers and party leaders – we need people who are committed to the local area and want to serve. This is going to be difficult – the party political system is deeply embedded in the way in which we do politics despite the fact that the public and increasingly unlikely to participate.

  • Lack of Self-Efficacy

Many people have little confidence in the system and a lack of belief in their ability to change it. Lack of participation can just mean that you are very happy with the status quo – or it might mean that you are unconvinced you could have an effect. Either way we need to help people understand the purpose and effect of their participation. We know the things that make a difference – transparency, openness and accountability – we have to make sure that they are systematically embedded in this new system which should be open by default and be design.

Taking this into account what would a fit for purpose democratic office look like today?

We know that the public will lose interest as soon as they feel that the posts are being wrestled out between the Political Parties – the public don’t want to be involved in the kind of politics that they associate with Westminster and to a lesser extent Local Government. Let’s not take the problems we have with the current democratic institutions forward to this new office. There is not a lot we can do about this at this point – campaign funding being what it is we are likely to get either party candidates or rich independents – but we can and should be making sure that the public are aware of the opportunity that this new election brings to create a different kind of democratic institution.

Of course we can also take a more positive view and look at what people do like – openness, transparency and a sense of connection with the person who is representing them. There is no evidence that people want direct democracy – there is evidence that they want more direct representation. Stephen Coleman suggests that direct representation would assume a constant dialogue between the public and their representative – not just the binary voting opportunity of the full term election.

So – whats the proposal here?

I have 4 broad principles that I suggest need to be considered here:

  1. The Office of the PCC needs to ‘own’ the democratic process
  2. The PCC should be “open by default and by design”
  3. We should create effective places to curate and listen to the debate
  4. We should ensure access to fast but robust opinion sampling tools which support decisions being information based
More explanation on this below:

The office owns the democracy

At present the nature of the Office supporting the PCC is not clear – different models seem to be emerging in different areas. I would like to suggest one principal for this and that is that the office owns the democracy – not the politician. We want to ensure that the Office of the PCC has a clear and non-political responsibility to ensuring that the Public have the best democratic experience possible when dealing with the PCC. We want to make sure that this new form of democracy is strongly managed and scrutinised. This means the Office needs to have independence in this matter from the Commissioner and have a clear mandate to run the decision-making process.

Be open by default

We want our politicians to be open and transparent – what does this mean practically? Firstly we need to know what they do and who they see, we want to know what they are working on and we want to see the discussions they are having to as great an extent that is possible. We want to be able to connect promises to actions and we want to be able to see the effect that they have. This means that we need to assume that meetings are public meetings unless there is an explicit reason why not. This kind of openness is relatively simple online and there us no reason why it can’t be delivered as part of this role.

Collect the conversation and visibly listen
Effective democracies are supported by active public debate. politicians need to be able to sample and connect to public opinion in order to understand how the public feel about issues. We cannot rely on old media – newspapers – to do this as they are severely depleted at the local level and as know that regional TV coverage is patchy at best. New media can help however – we know that the public are active online and that they are talking about local issues via social media or hyperlocal websites. I am suggesting we need to support the PCC by providing access to this public conversation in a civic space which is both open and transparent in terms of what is being said.

This civic space would enable the representative to listening to priorities and concerns from the public and where necessary ask questions and gain clarification. The public would know where the conversation was happening and would be confident that views aired there would be noted.

The civic space also gives the opportunity for the PCC to interact directly with the public in a coherent way which also doesn’t mean that they need to leave the places they are already using – this is a ‘network of networks’ that connects the relevant sites and content together without having to force people to participate in places they are not using anyway.

Sample opinion quickly and accurately
You can’t make decisions based on this kind of conversational space especially since we can be certain that at least in the short term the participants won’t be representative of whole electorate. Consultation tools can be used to get a representative sample of the views of the public using online and offline methods. This needs to not be cumbersome – this is more like the sampling methods of YouGov and Ipsos Mori than the full blown Place Survey with associated wrangling about questions.

Wrapping up

One of the things that shows the divergence between democratic practice and the network society is the way in which the public react to issues that reach a flashpoint of concern. Any new democratic system needs to be ready for the wildfire effect of online campaigning and be ready to respond swiftly and meaningfully to public concerns. These should surface within the civic space described above but should have an active and positive response from the office of the PCC.

I feel very uneasy with the idea of policing being controlled by a political process. I think an independent police force and judiciary are key elements of a liberal democracy. However, we are where we are as they say and that means that on 15th November 2012 we will be going to the polls to elect 41 Police and Crime Commissioners and on 16th November 2012 they will have control of the strategic direction of 41 Police Forces.

I imagine that in practical terms it will take a little bit longer than that to sort out.

We know how the public behave when they are concerned about something. We know how people campaign today and it is not with leaflets and posters. There is no excuse for creating an Office of the PCC which doesn’t meet the needs of contemporary society and which shapes a new form of democratic relationship.

What this relationship might be is still very open to debate. I have made some suggestions here but as no plan survives contact with the enemy there is a lot of practical thinking and exploration needed to refine how this will work.

We have had some initial conversations with Police Authorities and where some are thinking about this with excitement others are still too immersed in the details of asset transfers and staff structures to consider the democratic implications about this change. We will be spending the new few months trying to encourage Police Authorities to start to consider what kind of relationship and infrastructure will be in place on November 16th 2012. If you want to be involved in this conversation then let me know.