local government

Public Square – putting people at the heart of local government

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Public Square

A guest blog from The Democratic Society

Around the world democracy is struggling and needs strengthening. It’s time we ensured that people are placed at the heart of how decisions are made, how places are shaped, and how services are run. Local government is a key place where this vision will either be realised or sunk. In response to this challenge, Public Square is a two-year-long programme of research and action exploring how local government can go further in putting the voices of the people they serve at the heart of how they work. It is a collaboration between The Democratic Society and mySociety with funding from Luminate.

This exploration will be based on research in test sites across the UK where we will be working with councils and the communities they serve to look at what is already working well for involving people in the work of local government and what challenges and unmet needs remain. Drawing from this research we will then be prototyping techniques, approaches and tools that could respond to these gaps and push public participation to the next level. These resources we develop will be made freely available. We will also focus on making these resources work in a way that fits with other tools out there and that are freely adaptable by others.

We know that there are already many people working on this question. Often this is done from a wide range of different angles, and with advances not always being joined-up. A key aim of this programme is to reach out to this diverse community, learn from what is already known, and make sure that what we learn can have maximum impact for people working in this space. Throughout the project we will be sharing what we are working on and seeking views from people already working on this challenge.

How to get involved

Public Square really kicks off on 19th November 2018 with an event open to all at the People’s History Museum in Manchester where we will be learning together about where progress is at now and what is needed to take public participation further. You can sign up for free through this Eventbrite page: Public Square – register

We are also looking forward to speaking to people at The People’s Powerhouse Convention, Stakecamp and Notwestminster.

If you want to know more you can also get in touch with us through team@thepublicsquare.org.uk We are particularly keen to hear from councils who would like to take part in this programme of research. You can also follow our progress, and find ways of feeding in, through @PublicSquareUK and www.thepublicsquare.org.uk

We look forward to speaking with you.

Mat and Michelle

The Democratic Society

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Democracy Maker Day 2018 – Twitter Moment

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The disconnect between democracy and services

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 Brainstorm by Jessica Lock from The Noun ProjectWorkshop idea by Phil Rumens


All of the workshops at Local Democracy for Everyone have been created by our participants. We’re sharing a summary of each workshop idea to help you decide what you’d most like to participate in – and so that everyone can start to share their comments about each idea.


The disconnect between democracy and services

The challenge:

How might we re-engage the democratic process with the delivery of council services?

Listening to public opinion, I’m increasingly hearing the perception of a disconnect between service delivery and the democratic process. In short, some citizens no longer see or perhaps understand that their votes or other participation in the democratic process allows them to have a say on which (and how) services are delivered to them.

It’s important to me, as in my view democracy if not linked to something tangible like service delivery becomes an abstract concept and as such, citizens may question the need for its very existence.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m hoping collectively that we may be able to start to find a solution.


#notwestminster #services


Phil RumensPhil Rumens
@philrumens
Web Development Manager
West Berkshire Council

With a background in creating digital services and online engagement, Phil manages the Digital Services Team at West Berkshire Council. He has a keen interest in democracy and has been involved in local government elections since 2003.

Phil is also Vice-Chair of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group, a national organisation for digital practitioners working in Local Government. He leads the Makers design and development strand of LocalGov Digital which includes the Pipeline platform, a “Kick Starter” for innovation and collaboration in Local Government.

LG/WWW – Phil’s blog

Ballot for Bondi Beach

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 Brainstorm by Jessica Lock from The Noun ProjectWorkshop idea by Rashid Mhar

All of the workshops at Local Democracy for Everyone have been created by our participants. We’re sharing a summary of each workshop idea to help you decide what you’d most like to participate in – and so that everyone can start to share their comments about each idea.


Ballot for Bondi Beach

The challenge:

Using only the resources that you can find amongst your neighbours, your own initiative and the co-operation of some trusted neighbours… What strategy could you find to return a council to local democracy, with no help from the authorities? 

The case study used for this exercise will be based on the untold real life story of the citizen led transformation of Waverley Council in Sydney, home to the world famous Bondi Beach.

In the 1980s, a group of locals decided to challenge the group in control of the council. They formed a Community Action Group where none existed, started getting things fixed that were ignored. They used their local knowledge to get to grips with the issues the locals faced, changed canvassing to conversation that was about getting to know people and what they wanted done.

From a standing start they were driven by curiosity. Democracy, they decided, wasn’t just about voting, it was about knowing what needs to be done, how to get it done, how listening formed the start point of getting heard, how doing was better than talking and how in they end they didn’t hope for votes, they knew on election day the big parties were in for a surprise. 

We will be offering a workshop where you will take the role of the locals of Waverley. You’ll get your context information from Joe Taylor, who was an active part of the events, and you will develop ideas that could form the basis of plans that the locals used to transform the relationship between the people and local government. At the end of the workshop we’ll evaluate those ideas using knowledge and experience of the actual events.


#notwestminster #activism


Rashid Mhar
Local activist and democratic campaigner

Rashid Mhar is a local organiser for 38 Degrees Manchester, Planner and Facilitator for Manchester Assembly for Democracy, NatCAN Administrator and local activist and democratic campaigner. Follows a strict principle of independent political thinking and radical challenge to systems that exhibit a tendency to stay the same. From a perspective informed by environmental consciousness and humanism he advocates for the restoration of evolution to the heart of the democratic process. In a line; the people should raise the issues, participate in proposing the answers, decide which to try and see and take responsibility for the results and when fitting change their minds and try again.

In the past he worked in programmes for the long term unemployed, development of vocational training and qualifications, key skills and basic skills support for Manchester College of Arts and Technology. Also was involved in early days of Internet evangelism and Redbricks wired network for Hulme Estate.

He would rather spend his time learning and walking the great history and heritage of the North West, study science and nature and sit quietly in Whitworth Art Gallery but accepts that democracy should not be an opt in or opt out affair but a state of conciousness that you express by doing rather than believing in.


Joe Taylor
@NationalCAN

Community developer and organiser

Joe Taylor is a community developer and organiser. He spent many years of his life on itinerant travels working his way across the world which led him to spend the Thatcher years in New South Wales. Upon his return to Wigan he was shocked by how much he had missed and the changes wrought during that period. Moved by the effects on the people of those changes he committed his efforts to doing work to support the community. He divides his time and determined effort between NatCAN, Greenslate Community Farm, 38 Degrees Manchester, Positive Money, Assemblies for Democracy and Manchester Assembly for Democracy amongst many others.

Starting his ‘second youth’, Joe likes to offer to his help and vast experience to anyone trying to do something. With blunt manner and dry humour of a son Wigan that hides the experience of years of journeys across the world, people who get to know him inevitably realise he is a surprise package.

The Council of 2045

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 Brainstorm by Jessica Lock from The Noun ProjectWorkshop idea by Andrew Walker & colleagues


All of the workshops at Local Democracy for Everyone have been created by our participants. We’re sharing a summary of each workshop idea to help you decide what you’d most like to participate in – and so that everyone can start to share their comments about each idea.


The Council of 2045

The challenge:

Building strong communities who support and are supported by their local council requires cooperation, trust, empathy and the willingness to share power.

Imagine that in 2045 local government has been entirely cut off from Westminster. Councils no longer draw their powers or finance from central government. Instead they must focus on developing and sharing power with their own citizens.

In this workshop we will explore ways for diverse groups, with conflicting interests, to cooperate so that they can make important decisions and find ways to deepen democratic participation.

Fully participative decision making is complex and challenging. The aim of ‘The Council of 2045’ is to deepen our understanding of the decision making process.


#notwestminster #2045


Andrew Walker
Andrew Walker
@LGiU
Policy Researcher, Local Government Information Unit

Andrew Walker runs LGiU’s policy projects on innovation in local democracy, housing, and community management of public space.
His recent work includes Public Houses, an investigation in how local authorities can protect community pubs, Strong Foundations, which looks at the changing relationship between social landlords and their tenants, and House Proud, an analysis of local authority involvement with the Private Rented Sector.

Can civil society organisations offer local government any ideas on citizen engagement?

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 Brainstorm by Jessica Lock from The Noun ProjectWorkshop idea by Sarah Allan, with Cllr Tim Cheetham


All of the workshops at Local Democracy for Everyone have been created by our participants. We’re sharing a summary of each workshop idea to help you decide what you’d most like to participate in – and so that everyone can start to share their comments about each idea.


Can civil society organisations offer local government any ideas on citizen engagement?

The challenge:

There is a wealth of theory and best practice around how civil society organisations (CSOs) engage the public with political issues, both online and offline. What could these ideas offer to local government as it seeks to engage people with local democracy and its renewal?

With the exception of ideas around double devolution, debates in this area often focus purely on shifting powers between politicians of different levels. There tends to be an assumption, sometimes explicit, that a more local exercise of power will by itself re-engage citizens with local democracy. This workshop starts from a position that this assumption is inaccurate and that, whatever happens in terms of decentralisation, it is therefore useful to discuss how councils conceptualise their public engagement and whether this could usefully be updated or improved. Indeed any enhancement of council powers, or double devolution requirement, could be an ideal opportunity for a change in council practice in this area.

I am particularly interested in:

1. whether the mass of theory and best practice developed by CSOs on public engagement can be of use to councils; and

2. if it can, which bits are most helpful and how could work and thinking in this area develop to most benefit local democratic renewal?

Involve is in the process of developing a new programme of work on democratic reform. Depending on its outcomes, this workshop could help set the direction – and identify potential partners and participants – for a much bigger piece of work in this area.


#notwestminster #engage


Sarah AllanSarah Allan
@SarahAllanUK
Engagement Lead (Democratic Reform)
Involve

Sarah leads on democratic reform for Involve – a think-tank and charity which helps people take and influence the decisions that affect their lives. She started her professional life as a researcher looking at the health of democracy (The Power Inquiry). Her extensive experience since then covers research, project management, and local and national campaigning. Most recently she worked in Friends of the Earth’s Campaign Specialists Team for three years, playing a key role in its highly successful Bee Cause campaign. She then spent five months at the Electoral Reform Society, before joining the Involve team in November 2014.


Cllr Tim CheethamCllr Tim Cheetham
Barnsley Council

Born and raised in Barnsley, Tim is in his third term as a councillor for Royston ward on Barnsley MBC. Currently cabinet spokesperson for People (Achieving Potential), he has previously had cabinet responsibility for Children, Young People and Families, Development, Environment and Culture as well as Corporate Services.

Tim also represents local government at a national level having been a member of the LGA improvement and innovation board for some years and is lead member for Data and Transparency working on opening up government and it’s information. He is the member representative on the DCLG Local Public Data panel and for two years chaired the new Local Government Breakthrough Fund Review Panel looking at cutting edge ways in which to open up and use public data.

He regularly speaks on Local Government at national conferences, specialising in innovation, leadership, data and the use of social media. He is a Local Government Researcher at De Montfort University and presented his own academic research paper on Leadership in times of Austerity at the Political Studies Association annual conference last year. Tim is also using his background in research as a member of the Knowledge Navigator for Local Government Steering Group tasked with getting the best for the sector out of the research projects of the future.


Doing devolution without permission

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 Brainstorm by Jessica Lock from The Noun ProjectWorkshop idea by Andrew Wilson


All of the workshops at Local Democracy for Everyone have been created by our participants. We’re sharing a summary of each workshop idea to help you decide what you’d most like to participate in – and so that everyone can start to share their comments about each idea.


Doing devolution without permission

The challenge:

There is a new enthusiasm in England for devolution to local and even regional government, but people can’t yet see how they can help make it happen. This workshop will ask how we can start doing devolution from the bottom up as soon as we walk out of the room. We’ll talk about what we understand by devolution, why we think it is of value and what it might mean for us to do devolution rather than waiting for it to happen. We’ll then try to find ways for people to start as soon as they walk out of the room.

For the last two years I’ve coordinated Hannah Directory, which celebrates the great stuff people are doing in places in England’s north, and I’ve been asking how even more of it can happen. This has given me chance to listen to lots of people talking about how they see the future of the places they live and work. I think there is now a widespread feeling common to most people in the north, understood from our lived experience, that our voices are not fairly heard in the national conversation of England.

If that is the case, it could grow into a very powerful wellspring for positive change. I recently heard about the Gleicher change equation: D x V x F > R.

D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;

F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision; 
R = Resistance.

If the product of the first three factors is greater than R, then change is possible.

This workshop aims to establish some first concrete steps that people living and working in the north can take in their everyday lives.


#notwestminster #devo


Andrew WilsonAndrew Wilson
@__andrew_wilson
Hannah Directory / Foldup CiC

Andrew has been using mobile technology for creative participation for well over a decade. His work includes socially engaged software development and location aware games for children, families and even grown ups. Andrew has worked with large organisations including The Guardian, the BBC, Greater Manchester Police, an NHS trust and Kirklees Council as well as local councillors, front line council staff, and many third sector and small voluntary groups including a drugs treatment agency, a regeneration charity on the Aylesbury estate in South London, tenants and residents associations and a community allotment. Some of this work has been in partnerships supported by Nesta through three of its national programmes, Reboot Britain, Make It Local and Innovation in Giving.