I went to an interesting seminar today at the CLG where Prof. Lawrence Pratchett and Dr Catherine Durose from De Montfort University talked about a recent systematic review they have carried out of a number of different empowerment tools.  You can find the full report on the CLG site and its excellent to see someone looking at stuff that has already happened rather than running around trying to start something new the whole time.

The research picks up 6 tools but the 3 of these I am interested in specifically are:

  • Participatory budgeting
  • Petitions
  • eParticipation

I think in the research and discussion it was clear that the first two of these are far more tangible and as such can more clearly be evaluated.  eParticipation was not defined well enough for my liking and seemed to talk too much about eForums which is such a small part of the potential.  Where things did get interesting however was in talking about the link between empowerment and co-design – which is a connection I see very strongly.  Co-design seems to be a necessary part of empowerment but this brings a few problems that need addressing:

  • Does Local Goverment really want to share power?
  • Do the citizens really want to be shared with?
  • What’s the role of the representative
  • Is it sustainable

These are very much in common with the problems that I want to address within the virtual town hall approach – and this makes sense as the project is in some way a response to the empowerment agenda.

The seminar also made it clear to me how inadequate a tool based approach to empowerment is – you need a clear idea of what you want to create and a strategic vision for achieving this that goes beyond the tactical.  This worries me because we are not even starting to have the debate around this with decision makers even though those of us thinking about these issues knows its essential.  However much we prefer to do this by stealth we need to lobby and educate on a far wider basis if we are going to make these changes happen and I am not sure who is doing this or how it will happen – answers on the proverbial postcard please!!!!

PS  The other tools were Citizen Governance, Redress and Asset Transfer – also all very interesting but I do try and stay on topic when I can!!