How Notwestminster workshops are helping us do democracy differently

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User stories workshop
User Stories workshop at #notwestminster – photo NotWestminster (4 of 30) by Anthony Mckeown


Notwestminster workshops are a really useful way of debating local democracy issues, generating ideas and making practical changes to the way we do democracy. Our focus is on turning our discussions into action, so from each workshop we’re asking participants to come up with one practical suggestion that we can act on between us. 

In 2015 our participants hosted workshops about elections content, public values, open data, youth engagement, the lean startup approach, what councils might look like in the future… and lots more. We’re looking for 2016 workshop ideas now, and we have a series of Design Challenges for Local Democracy to help get you started. If you’re interested in running a workshop, you can pitch a workshop idea now.

Perhaps the most important way that our workshops have helped our participants is by creating connections between people who have an enthusiasm for local democracy. Here are three examples from some of our 2015 workshop hosts, showing how Notwestminster can help us to work together to do local democracy differently…

1. User stories

At Notwestminster 2015 Dave Mckenna collected lots of local democracy user stories. We gave out cards and encouraged people to drop their user stories into our ballot box throughout the day, then we sorted through all the cards in the closing workshop and talked about each one in turn. It was an excellent discussion and very revealing about the things that our participants find most frustrating as users of local democracy. The user story which got the biggest reaction was this:

“As a local resident

I need to see council reports in a form I can easily digest

so I can understand the decisions that are being made”

We continued the discussion online and soon came up with a few ideas:
Four ways to make council reports more digestible

City and County of Swansea quickly introduced summaries for all of their scrutiny publications in Swansea as a direct result of this workshop.

[Dave Mckenna hosted our 2015 workshop User Stories for Local Democracy]

2. Open Government

“At Notwestminster we discussed ideas for making government more transparent, engaging and accountable. Since, we have crowdsourced an Open Government Manifesto to collect the best open government ideas from citizens and civil society across the UK, In total, 79 ideas were collected through a series of workshops and an online platform, which were developed and condensed into 28 proposals. These include two related to local government, to “Establish an Open Local Government Partnership” and “Include local governance and engagement frameworks as part of devolution deals“. The 28 proposals in the manifesto are now being discussed with government for possible inclusion in the UK’s new Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. You can get involved in this by joining the Open Government Network via the Open Government Forum.”

[Tim Hughes hosted our 2015 workshop Open Local Government: How can it be spread?]

3. Regional Democracy

One of the main outcomes of the workshop for me was an insight into the importance of language, and how it’s used to frame events that generate positive energy. Before the workshop I’d assumed that the momentum of the Scottish independence referendum meant that any conversation about devolution would inherit the same energy, but the Notwestminster event, along with other events at which I was in the audience, has led me to think “devolution” has technocratic feel that often drains the initial anger and frustration that people bring into the conversation. I don’t think this is just a question of language, but the word devolution doesn’t help.  

“I was already an active regional democracy campaigner before the workshop, and so I have continued to do the same things, but whenever I’m in a committed conversation about how to make great places to live and work in part of England’s north, I ask people to question the associations of the word devolution, and to consider the term “regional democracy” as an alternative. This suggestion has usually had a positive response, and I was one of the co-organisers of the What Kind of Region? event in Bradford, in which we tried to consistently use regional democracy rather than devolution:

Will the future of our region be about all of us?

[Andrew Wilson hosted our 2015 workshop Doing devolution without permission]


One thought on “How Notwestminster workshops are helping us do democracy differently

    Good Practice Exchange said:
    December 3, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    Love the impact focus of this post, something that we don’t often do enough. Thinking about outcomes rather than outputs, this is really helpful. Cheers!


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