Design Experiments for Local Democracy is a practical programme for local democracy advocates. We are encouraging people to rapidly test and evaluate new ways of doing local democracy, and we’re supporting each other in doing this. The programme is co-ordinated by the Centre for Public Scrutiny and the Notwestminster local democracy network.
How to be part of it
We are setting up a co-ordinating group to manage the experiments at national level.
At local level, experiments will be managed by research teams.
- Co-ordinating group – this will be a relatively small group of people who’ve been active in #notwestminster and who are pushing the work forwards day-to-day. The group might include council officers, academics, councillors and activists.
- Research teams – each team will design and deliver an experiment in local democracy. Teams will be made up of those who are enthusiastic to do the work. It might be useful for teams to include a couple of digital makers or other “doers” (to do the practical work), an academic (to provide advice and guidance on good practice) and a sponsor (perhaps a councillor or someone else within the council, to be part of the work and to act as a champion for it).
As much as possible, the experiments will be done in public. We’ll be encouraging participants to write blogs explaining their work, and we’ll be publicising and discussing what happens through the co-ordinating group. Anyone is welcome to get involved – advising, arguing, challenging and commenting on our plans.
The programme began in July 2016. In August and September 2016 we’re finding people who want to run the experiments and places that can host them. We aim to start work in each area as soon as people are lined up and ready, and as soon as the participants have a clear sense of what they’re trying to achieve. We’ll support each other throughout and will develop guidance for new participants as we go along. We will share the outcomes of our design experiments at the Notwestminster event in February 2017, which includes our Design Experiments Day on Friday 10th February 2017. CfPS will produce a short toolkit for those wanting to conduct their own design experiments in March 2017.
These are the outcomes that our participants would like to achieve:
1. For local democracy
- There’s a dissonance between the needs of citizens (to get involved, to challenge, to influence and make decisions) and the needs of professionals and public bodies (for certainty, for a quiet life and to engage with the public in a way that’s convenient rather than necessarily productive). Our work will challenge this.
- We need to think of ways that public organisations and professionals can build empathy and understanding about the hard choices that democratic decision-makers need to make. Our work will provide practical ways to build this empathy and encourage dialogue and understanding.
- We need to do work which recognises the role of councillors within the local democratic “ecosystem” – this is complex, and isn’t just about the difference between “representative” and “participative” democracy. Our work will deliver practical solutions for local democracy, with an understanding of these limitations and opportunities, rather than seeking to implement top-down interventions that will fail due to their assumptions about what accountability is in practice.
- Ultimately, what we do has to focus on the aim of making local decision-making better for local people.
2. For the #notwestminster network
- We need to make it easier for anyone who is interested in doing democracy differently to use our experiences to turn ideas into actions (based on the learning from the design experiments).
- We want to press forward with opening up local democracy and decision-making, and we need to secure buy-in and support from people in power to make that happen.
- We hope this work will help us to understand how to build some scale into the experiments in due course, so that we can generate momentum and affect change.
3. For councils and public organisations
- To make all of this happen, we need to create cultural change and behaviour change.
Comments? Questions? Ideas?
The Notwestminster network brings people together to create and share new ideas for doing local democracy. It’s for everyone who has something positive to say about local democracy and for anyone who is up for a challenge. We aim to turn our discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools and techniques that we can all use to make democracy work better for us. Our volunteers organise an annual Notwestminster event each February in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, which is the UK’s default unconference style event for all things local democracy.
The Centre for Public Scrutiny is a charity which does work on public sector governance, mainly in local government. We get an annual grant from the Local Government Association for providing advice, guidance and support to local councils. This year we are focusing our efforts on helping to promote and deliver on the vision of #notwestminster – hoping that, by putting some energy into some of the more tricky issues of local democracy and local democratic engagement, we can help to effect some change.
Together, we want to plan and deliver some design experiments for local democracy.