….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:

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

Stay warm

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?

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.

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