Latest Event Updates
PechaKucha speakers wanted
We’re hosting a special PechaKucha Night in Huddersfield on Friday 10th February 2017 – and we’re looking for some speakers.
A PechaKucha Night is a fast-paced evening full of exciting speakers and topics. Ours will have a distinctly democratic flavour, as it’s a fringe event of Notwestminster 2017, a two day event bringing together people who have something positive to say about local democracy and who are up for the challenge of making it work better.
So if you’ve got something to say about local democracy, if you’ve a story to tell, or if you’ve got an idea to share, you might like to be one of our speakers on the night.
Each speaker will talk for 6 minutes 40 seconds on a theme of their choosing, following a “20 slides for 20 seconds” format. The slides advance automatically, so everyone gets exactly the same amount of time to speak – and you should be prepared to keep going!
The event will be in Cafe Ollo at the Media Centre on Northumberland Street in Huddersfield, from 7pm.
Our previous PechaKucha talks have included everything from whether public servants are human beings and why technology can’t save democracy, to the ‘joy’ of being a councillor and how regional democracy in England measures up to the Galactic Empire. As you can see, it’s a mixed bag, and sometimes challenging.
We’d love to hear your suggestions.
Want to be a speaker?
Please contact us if you’re interested in taking part. Get in touch by Friday 20th January if you can.
Want to listen to the talks?
Please come along to learn something new and be entertained. It’s a fun way to find out what inspires some of our local democracy advocates and to hear about people’s passions and interests. There are always a few surprises.
The Notwestminster PechaKucha Night is organised by the Media Centre in Huddersfield and the Notwestminster local democracy network.
Democracy Experiments Day
Friday 10th February 2017
The Media Centre, Northumberland Street, Huddersfield HD1 1RL
This is a day for anyone who is interested in making a difference to local democracy through practical experiments. It will give participants an understanding of the principles of design thinking and some hands on experience.
Nick Taylor from the University of Dundee will get us started with some key lessons that draw on his experiences with design-led civic technology experiments and community-level hackathons over a number of years. We will then be working on some real life examples brought along by participants, and trying out some techniques and approaches.
This day will be of interest to anyone who is already working on one of the Notwestminster experiments, anyone who would like to get involved or anyone who is interested more generally in design and democracy. Everyone is welcome and it’s free to take part.
University of Dundee
Nick Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Dundee’s School of Art and Design, specialising in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) and Interaction Design. His main research interest is the use of technology to support civic engagement in communities, working closely with communities over extended periods of time and deployments of new technologies ‘in the wild’. His most recent research has involved the use of hackathons to support grassroots innovation by bringing together communities with local makers.
University of Dundee
Loraine Clarke is a research associate at the University of Dundee’s School of Art and Design, with a background in Industrial Design and Human–Computer Interaction. Her research concentrates on physical technology supporting social interactions within groups in public spaces such as community spaces, museums or galleries. Her current research focuses on supporting community innovation utilising digital fabrication and the DIY maker movement.
City & County of Swansea
Dave works for the Council in Swansea where he has been for 20 years. Prior to finding a home with scrutiny he worked in a variety of front-line and policy roles with varying degrees of success. He has completed a PhD with the Department of Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University. His topic was Local Government and Public Participation.
Photo of Dave courtesy of Anthony Mckeown.
Centre for Public Scrutiny
Ed leads on the Centre for Public Scrutiny’s work around local accountability. His work has a particular focus on corporate governance within local authorities, but he has also carried out extensive research on policing and community safety, having produced national guidance for the operation of Police and Crime Panels in 2011 and 2012, and research on their first year in operation in 2014.
He is currently leading on Design Experiments for Local Democracy, a partnership programme from Notwestminster and CfPS.
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.
Election week is one of those times when many of us who are part of local government don’t have time to kick the proverbial table leg (though we might fall over it accidentally). But on the eve of the 2016 UK elections, I’m taking half an hour out to write this, because there’s something that needs to be said. And that thing is this…
Something amazing has quietly happened over the past year. I’ve been thinking back to conversations with the Notwestminster gang in Spring 2015, in which we talked about the clear need for people to be able to find out about their election candidates more easily. We thought about how we could do something locally, but we knew that this same issue stops people from voting across the country. And in the midst of this, I got an email about Democracy Club’s YourNextMP site, and I got a bit excited about the prospect of maybe adapting a tool for the General Election into something that could work for the local elections too.
On 29th April 2015, during the intermission at the Election Special PechaKucha night that we were live tweeting in Huddersfield’s Media Centre, I tentatively asked a few questions…
…and so we got talking with Democracy Club that evening. This led to a gathering of Local Democracy Bytes, Democracy Club and LocalGov Digital Makers in Birmingham a couple of months later. What I hoped to learn that day was whether anyone thought it was feasible to develop a YourNextCouncillor or some such, and what it would take to make it happen. What I didn’t expect was for Democracy Club to come with an aspiration to do this for every election in the UK.
Now, I knew that was a big ask. Many people would not think it possible. Probably even everyone in that room didn’t think it was possible. But when Sym Roe quietly said “we’re aiming, by next May, to make it possible for everyone to find out who they can vote for in every election in the UK”… well, I believed him. And if you’ve been paying the slightest bit of attention, you’ll know that he kept his word.
For our part, we promised to do whatever we could to help, such as explaining how local government works, sharing contacts in the sector, and getting the word out to people that this is important work that we all need to support. We also agreed to work together in any way we could. This led to our first Local Democracy Maker Day, a fringe event of LocalGovCamp in Leeds that September. We organised this jointly between us – LocalGov Digital Makers, Democracy Club and Local Democracy Bytes. It was a really inspiring day in which I learnt much, and our friends from Democracy Club were right at the heart of it.
Because people came to work on our local democracy challenges and stayed for the whole of LocalGovCamp, this also meant that the Unconference the day after was packed with sessions about local democracy too. We could not have hoped for more.
Back in July 2015, I said that we’d started on a journey together, and by the Notwestminster event in February 2016 it felt like we’d already come a long way. Importantly, along the way we’ve made new and stronger connections between those of us who care about our local democracy. That’s really what Notwestminster is all about – the connections between us, and how we can find ways to work together to improve things.
Seeing Sym and Joe from Democracy Club arriving at the Media Centre in Huddersfield, in the place we’d first spoken via twitter, somehow closed a loop for us. It was an arrival, but it also made the journey still ahead suddenly very real…
Just a few short weeks later, and a little short of a year since we asked that first tentative question, a small but ever-growing army of democracy wombles quietly did something extraordinary:
I have sat in meetings over the past couple of weeks and told colleagues that this is amazing. I regret to say that I have received some blank looks in response. But not always. Either way, I shall keep on saying it – and you should too.
I know it’s been hard work to get this far – much harder than it should be. For everyone who has pored over mountains crappy PDFs to get this data together, and to make it open, thank you. There’s much more to do to improve things, which is why we all need to keep going.
For everyone else… please be a part of a better local democracy.
All you need to do is say it will happen, and find people who can help.
Wondering what happened after we packed up our plectrums at Notwestminster 2016? In this blog Carl Whistlecraft reflects on how we generate and develop ideas through Notwestminster.
Carl talks about our journey and shares the evidence we’ve contributed to the Councillor Commission, based on the Real Representation challenge that was part of our 2016 Maker Day and main event.
We’d love to hear where your #notwestminster conversations have taken you. If you’ve something to share, please email us at email@example.com or tweet us @LDBytes.
It’s really important for me to start this post with a thank you. As one of the Notwestminster organisers I’ve been lucky enough to have seen this thing build from an idea into a bit of a movement that has at its heart a lot of good will from like-minded people.
Organisers, sponsors, supporters, workshop hosts, speakers and participants have all selflessly given up their time to contribute to doing some pretty wonderful things in the name of local democracy. I salute you all.
Turning to the main theme of this post. It’s partly my take on the magical things that happen when you start on a journey, a journey where you have a rough idea where you’re going but have no idea what will happen and who you will meet on the way. It’s also my crude attempt to end that journey (for now) by summing up my experience of the Friday and Saturday at Notwestminster 2016.
NOTE TO SELF – The only down side of organising these things is you don’t get to be involved in as many of the great workshops as you would like.
The journey part of this post began at We’re not in Westminster any more in February 2015. In retrospect one of the greatest things we did last year was to be fairly dictatorial (not very democratic I know) in insisting that workshop hosts come up with three ideas or actions that they would commit to progress. Anyone wishing to put those ideas into action only had to sign up and continue the conversation.
Whilst I would be lying if I said that all 48 ideas were worked up into prototypes and embedded in local democratic culture and practice, I do think we created a bit of a marker post for the next step on our journey.
We took those ideas, did some crowd sourcing along with a bit of clumping and collapsing and ended up with 19 local democracy design challenges. These have become a bit of a route map for the rest of the journey.
Next stop was LocalGov Camp last September in Leeds. Thanks to the wonderful Phil Rumens we were able to use the Friday before to hold our first Local Democracy Maker Day where three of our challenges got their first airing. Much has been written about this in various blog posts. For me it was a significant waymarker – we had taken real challenges and brought people together to begin to solve them.
Fast forward to Friday 12th February 2016 and I’m sat in Huddersfield about get stuck into our second Local Democracy Maker Day. The challenge for the group I was involved in was ……
Real Representation: The job of the local councillor is to represent their constituents yet their wards can include as many as 25,000 people, all different, all special. How can councillors better reach out to people in their community so that everyone can be properly represented?
During the course of our design challenge we:
- Had a passionate discussion about the opportunities and challenges associated with representation – it’s complex, multi-layered and involves difficult choices, dialogues and decisions. A rise in participatory democracy presents both opportunities and barriers.
- Picked a “live” issue playing out in Huddersfield to begin to explore how the representative role works and how it could possibly be done differently and better.
- Employed a user story approach to begin to understand the different, and often competing, needs for the representative and the diverse communities and perspectives they have to endeavour to represent.
Whilst our group didn’t build a digital prototype, we did come up with a set of factors and considerations that provide a design brief for how councillors can reach out to the people in their community in order to provide Real Representation. The inter-related building blocks are:
Devolved Resources and Responsibility – The model of representation is changing. Councillors are facing a bit of a pincer movement at the moment. Less resources and reductions in service, on a simplistic level, make it harder for councillors to solve problems in the traditional and paternalistic way. With this in mind it has never been more crucial for councillors to have the resources to mobilise and enable communities to develop solutions for themselves, particularly where the council is no longer able to deliver such services. Engagement and consultation around service changes and different models of working is crucial in developing a new and effective form of real representation. Our group suggested that councils should review and refine their approach to corporate consultation with a view to doing less at a strategic level (often seen as tokenistic) and therefore freeing up resources which can be devolved to the ward level. This will deliver a more meaningful model of consultation and engagement and as a consequence enhances and reaffirms the representative role.
Mobilising and Communicating – More than ever before real representation will involve the ability and capability to mobilise and communicate with and on behalf of communities. Network building will be a key skill and enabler. Councillors will need to be effective in communicating directly to and with residents whilst reflecting views and aspirations back to the council. Traditional methods, whilst important, will need to be enhanced with more innovative and responsive approaches. Opportunities presented by social listening, real time ward based intelligence, self-organisation tools and crowd funding technology were all cited by our group as important factors in modernising the representative role.
More Time – It may go without saying but if you want real and effective representation it is important that councillors have the time and space to do it well. Based on the real experiences of the councillors in our group there are a range of factors and issues that indicate that this is a real challenge. For example it is clear that there are real time pressures in balancing the direct community leadership role with the attending a plethora of meetings. The intention of the Local Government Act 2000 may have been to free up councillors to spend more time in their wards but evidentially and anecdotally the volume of meetings haven’t reduced to allow this to happen. This situation has been compounded further by the plain and simple truth that we “still do meetings like we always have”. Our group advocates the need to develop a framework that facilitates doing meetings differently, with a greater focus on engagement and collaboration in communities as the starting point rather than the current town hall centric approach. This should involve more digestible democracy (we need to join up the design challenges) and a greater use of digital collaboration tools as part of all meetings. Only then will there be a real drive to bridge the gap between communities and decision making.
Tools and Skills – Councillors alone cannot free up more time to represent. If they could, they would have done it already. Our group concluded that there needs to be a more holistic and imaginative approach to how councillors are supported. Such support should include better intelligence, mobile technology, a more enabling approach by council officers AND given the current climate should be cost neutral. In addition we explored some of the “softer” skills that may be required as the representative role changes. Being an enabler, problem solver, networker and influencer requires a shift change in the type of developmental support councillors should expect.
Thanks to the following for their contributions to the group discussion:
At the end of the Maker Day we fed back our design brief and made an immediate commitment to action. Our findings would form part of a submission to the Councillor’s Commission roundtable that would be taking place on Day 2 of Notwestminster 2016.
Less than 24 hours later I find myself, armed with crude flip chart notes, sat with Professor Colin Copus in his round table session. I had the chance to summarise our findings from the previous day and also received a commitment that this blog post will form part of the evidence that goes into the Councillor Commission’s final report.
So this is the end of the journey (for now). I hope this provides a grain of evidence that Notwestminster is not just an event. It is an action focussed movement that happens to get together once a year. A year ago we had 48 great ideas, this is the story of how one progressed into something tangible.
Powerful stuff eh?
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)’?