Here’s a guest blog from Matt Clack, who is hosting the Emotion, empathy and urgency – personal experience in public narrative workshop at Notwestminster 2016.
I’m really excited about hosting my first Notwestminster workshop. The topic may seem a bit abstract, but in preparing for the session I’ve had some great conversations with some very clever people and we’ve found tangible ideas of how more empathetic and affinitive approaches will improve the way some public services can operate, and ultimately how we can support residents to be more involved in local democracy.
I’d like to use the workshop to consider the specific services where better rapport between local public servants and residents can make the experience more enjoyable and effective (there are lots of services where this just won’t work, for lots of reasons). This will also need to consider what the exiting barriers are to injecting a bit more personality into the way we work with citizens at present.
As expected, there’s lots of crossover with some of the other workshops being hosted. Ed Hammond will be looking to get under the skin of co-production and deliberative democracy, which I think can only really work if both sides can properly relate to one another, whilst Nick Booth will be looking at how we grow the civic conversation – again I think that for this conversation to work we need public services (outside the comms and consultations teams) that know how to listen, and to share.
One question I have for Notwestminster attendees is what are the aspects of local democracy we want to disrupt? Is it getting people actively engaged in decision-making and / or service provision? For a wider group of residents, is it about supporting informed citizens who know how to raise and resolve issues? Is it enough that they understand the way their council operates, are informed of how decisions are made and can vote in elections that are sensitive to poor performing services? Apart from this last point about electoral power, I think empathy and affinity can contribute to each of these.
In advance of this session, I’d love to hear your examples of where a more informal, human approach to working with residents has improved local public servants. These might be brilliant co-designed services, examples of really effective behaviour change projects, or an organisation being proud of its achievements and the staff that have achieved them. This project from Essex County Council is probably the best I’ve come across.
I’m also really open to challenge on whether any of this matters – to riff off the conference’s rock and roll theme, should we be embracing Aerosmith’s ‘sweet emotion’, or was Elvis right that we need ‘a little less conversation (a little more action please)’?