Bit of a change of pace as this is a note from an event I was at last week – normal academic service will resume soon (am reading The Myth of Digital Democracy so that you don’t have to….).

I  wrote this while at Hamburg Airport waiting for a delayed flight home and thought I’d try and use the time constructively and write up some thoughts from the Pep-net summit that I was over here for.  I’m part of PepNet through both Public-i and the Democratic Society so enjoyed it twice as much as a result….

For those of you who don’t know about it you can read about PepNet here – its growing out of a  European Project to build a European Network of eParticiaption practitioners and has gathered a number of interesting people together.   It looks like they have found a model to sustain themselves after the project funding ends which is great as it would be a shame to lose it.

However I do view these events with some trepidation – and as someone who has considerable form when it comes to attending eParticipation events it’s always a real pleasure when you come across something genuinely new or insightful rather than yet another citizen’s portal with a deliberative tool within it.

I’ll add the link to the presentations once they get circulated but I would probably highlight:

  • Paul Johnston from CISCO did an excellent presentation just pointing out exactly how different the perspectives of the eDemocracy advocate and the policy maker really are.  Very honest and very useful in its conclusion – made me think of @davebriggs!!
  • Anke Domscheit-Berg from Microsoft gave a very thoughtful overview of eParticipation – little light on EU examples but definitely useful
  • I was pleased to get chance to see an overview of the FutureGov projects from Dominic Campbell – lots of interesting stuff going on there

But now a few more general observations – most of these are not you but were all triggered by the set of presentations:

  • I was disturbed how much the talk was still of tools – and its speaks of a technological determinism that really we should have got over by now.  Social media really is now about social change (yes – its yet more about the network society).  We should be thinking in terms of diplomatic missions into Facebook-land where they have a different culture – not how do we build the app to do it.  Let’s get the relationship stuff right and then worry about the tools to deliver it because it’s all about people now.
  • A lot of this emphasis on tools also gives us the chance to avoid the more difficult issues of reconciling difficult choices and dealing with how to turn these into deliberation and democratic decision making processes rather than more neutered consultations.  I’m involved in a project at the moment which is doing this – focusing on the minutiae of technology design rather than addressing the bigger issues around content and impact.  The technology has to be right – but it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to have an effect and you need to make sure you are worrying about the right things.
  • I believe more and more that Government should be enabling and supporting citizens to create their own spaces and then helping to knit these into coherent democratic units – which means any talk of ‘engagement frameworks’ and the like starts to disturb me as I think it keeps alive the assumption that the process is owned by government.  We need to move past this and talk about negotiating process and contract with the public as part of a co-productive process.  Yes – it will be more difficult and it will take more time in the first instance but it does present our best chance of sustainable change
  • Open data is a huge key to all this and I would like to see governments and council’s really focusing not only on how to make their data sets open but also how to give people the tools and help that they need to in order to benefit from these new data sets – and to appreciate the new openness that it signifies.  What you want to see is people starting to build openness into every new data set that gets created as well as the tools which will make sure that people can use the data.

One last thought – the presence of two large IT companies at an event like this would have been pretty unusual a couple of years ago and the quality and openness of their contribution would have been even more unprecedented.  Big providers are starting to think seriously about eparticipation and have the scale to connect this to the major process re-engineering that a radical shift towards co-production will need.  Suggest we all take a moment to think about how we feel about this.