Emotion, empathy and urgency – personal experience in public narrative

A Notwestminster 2016 workshop idea from Matt Clack

Notwestminster workshops ident

The power of personal experience is often greatly underestimated in local democracy. Given the state of public dialogue, local citizens are understandably unexcited about how big decisions which affect them are taken, and politicians remain less trusted than estate agents.

Almost any topic can be reframed as the story of me (why I care), the story of us (what binds the audience), and the story of now (why the issue is urgent). Storytelling can feel very uncomfortable in professional settings, and goes against the British aloof stereotype, but can be incredibly powerful in galvanising groups to action.

The role of professional public servants is clearly important in providing excellence, but it has come at the cost of turning a large workforce into soulless robots. This may be a provocative exaggeration, but there’s a chance that a significant opportunity to better engage local residents is being missed because staff don’t feel able to bring their personal experience into their professional activities.

I would like to discuss how storytelling can realistically be used in public service, and whether this could improve democratic outcomes by making organisations seem more personable. 

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Matt Matt Clack
Public Health Strategist
Hackney Council

Matt is a Public Health strategist for a London borough, leading programmes to get the rest of the council to consider the health impact of their services. Much of this work involves with colleagues in services like housing, transport and planning to promote healthier lifestyles through their day jobs and support communities who need the most help.

Matt joined local government fresh out of uni way back in 2004, and has spent most of his time in democracy-focused roles. After a few years supporting various committees he joined a scrutiny team, working with councillors to get residents better engaged in decision-making, and to improve the services provided to them.

Design Challenges for Local DemocracyLocal Democracy Design Challenges

All our 2016 workshops have been created by our participants in response to our Design Challenges for Local Democracy, which were crowdsourced from our Notwestminster network. This workshop is inspired by….

Digestible Democracy:  Local democracy needs to involve the widest range of people and yet the format of reports and the use of jargon puts off all but the most dedicated.  How can we present local decision making so it’s less obscure like modern jazz, and more popular, like rock and roll?

Notwestminster 2016 workshops list

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