From the archive: Hacking local democracy

Emma Daniel /   April 28, 2013 at 8:34 PM 2,436 views

So how about we hack local democracy? What am I talking about?

Hacking is associated with coding, but as I learned at bluelight camp… essentially it means taking a thing and modifying it to make it work better. I know that lots of policy people, active citizens, politicians, public authority officers and others have really good ideas about how we could create projects which modify local democracy to increase participation.

Why does local democracy need a reboot?

(This is my list… please add more)

– people feel that they only connect with politicians around election time, yet I am sure that the vast majority of Councillors work very hard all the time. A similar problem is felt in policing where people feel there is a lack of ‘bobbies on the beat’. Of course the chances of randomly bumping into your PCSO when you walk along the road is remote. Social media has to an extent helped the police address the need for a direct relationship with people and to show that officers are present in an area. Could Councillors learn from this?

– the language and structure of local democratic meetings has become unintelligible to modern communities – requiring enormous interpretation and support to navigate. I refer to this is in my citizens agenda blog and so many local (but from all over the country) related to this point that I believe people are ready to lead change.

– democratic moments are too spaced out and mostly negative. In essence between elections there are too few opportunities for citizens to participate in decision making. Plus, in all other aspects of our lives we expect swift reaction and interaction/feedback/outcome. In local democracy, you can complain and object but to work positively requires massive effort and going to local partnership meetings etc. structures around positive engagement tend to be designed for the council structures and are over anxious about risk, stifle debate (conflicting points of view are generally perceived to be ‘a problem to be avoided’)

– national scandal has tainted local politics (expenses/ links to corporate vested interests) as well as a perception that politicians are a class apart, groomed from birth via various routes depending on the tribe and not ‘of the people’. Yet again, to a certain extent some of these issues are shared by policing, and the idea that policing happens by the people for the people has been widely underlined by online policing communities. Trust and respect are vital for both police and politics to create a sense of legitimacy for decisions and actions taken. Digital can provide a transparency, it can give people the opportunity to directly question and scrutinise, as well as community reporters and bloggers to provide local and hyper local citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is I believe an asset to democracy, but it is often perceived as an annoyance. John Popham and I were discussing this today. Hopefully a session could run on this at hacking local democracy.

My list of techie solutions that could support some of the behaviour change that local democracy requires:

  • Doorstep app – let people see routes and allow for pop up events
  • Use text/emails to alert people so they can ask you to call in (or not)
  • Pop-up community surgeries to respond to hyper local issues swiftly
  • Citizens agenda – see my previous blog
  • Develop e-petitions to enable community discussion

There are lots of non tech ideas I would expect to arise which meet the challenge of increasing trust, confidence and participation in local democracy… list yours in the comments or tweet me!

Courtesy of Emma Daniel at Huxley06

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