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Notwestminster Synchronicity – When 48 Becomes 1

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Notwestminster plectrum

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 rewiring.democracy@gmail.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:

David Bundy
Annabella Ashby
Ricky Clarke
Andrew Wilson
Elizabeth Shassere
Andy Nash
Perry Walker
Michelle Veasey
John Austin

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?

 

Carl Whistlecraft

What we’ll be working on at our Local Democracy Maker Day #LDMaker16

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Local Democracy Maker Day

Local Democracy Maker Day
Friday 12th February 2016
The Media Centre, 7 Northumberland Street, Huddersfield HD1 1RL

Eventbrite - Local Democracy Maker Day 2016
 

What is a Maker Day?

Our Maker Days are a chance to collaborate with others who care about local democracy on issues that we choose together. Our focus at this Maker Day will be on responding to some of our Design Challenges for Local Democracy.

We want to turn our discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools that we can all use to make democracy work better for us – and we hope you’ll be part of it. You don’t need any previous experience to join in – we’ll be learning from each other as we go along.

We’ve chosen three challenges for us to focus on during the day, based on things that participants of the Notwestminster network have shown keen interest in recently.


Our three Local Democracy Design Challenges are:

  • Social Decision Making: Councils make many important decisions yet the people who are affected rarely have their say. How can we get people involved in local policy making so that they can influence the decisions that affect them? 
  • 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? 
  • 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?

Who is it for?

  • Digital makers
  • Open data advocates
  • Local government officers
  • Councillors and candidates
  • Community activists
  • Hyperlocals
  • Voters of today and tomorrow

Want to join in?

Free tickets are available now:

Eventbrite - Local Democracy Maker Day 2016


Other event info

Taking part at the venue or online? Here’s some other information you might find useful:


We are…

We are Local Democracy Bytes and the wider #notwestminster gang. Our Maker Day is part of our collaboration with LocalGov Digital Makers. It’s about turning our discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools that we can all use to make democracy work better for us.


With thanks to our sponsors

Our Maker Day is part of Notwestminster 2016, two days of rock n roll local democracy kindly sponsored by:
the-media-centre

Supported by UKGovcamp

UK Open Government Civil Society Network

LocalGov Digital

Democracy Club logo

Delib logo

Modern Mindset

ADSO

Help us to pick our next Maker Day challenges

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Local Democracy Maker Day

We’ll be announcing the three challenges for our next Local Democracy Maker Day this week. If you’ve signed up to take part, you’ll already have received our shortlist. If you haven’t signed up yet, the event is in Huddersfield on Friday 12th February and you can book free tickets for our Maker Day now.

We want to make sure that everyone who is interested gets a chance to help pick the challenges that we’ll be working on together. Here’s our suggested shortlist, based on what participants have told us so far. Please let us know if you have any comments or other ideas.

5 challenges to choose from

  • Social Decision Making: Councils make many important decisions yet the people who are affected rarely have their say.  How can we get people involved in local policy making so that they can influence the decisions that affect them? 
    [we received several workshop pitches for Notwestminster 2016 about this topic, so we know that some of our participants are really interested – but does it appeal to you?]
  • 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? 
    [we’re delighted to have several councillors participating again this time – is this a good opportunity for us to work on this challenge together?]
  • 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?
    [we’ve worked on this challenge at a previous Maker Day, and some participants want to have another go at it, as there are many small things we could do to help – do you agree?]
  • Connected Candidates: High turnouts in local elections are a mark of a healthy democracy and yet many people have no motivation to participate.  How can we get people connected to their candidates so that they will see a reason to vote?
    [Democracy Club are already doing some great work to crowdsource local election candidates for 2016 – are you interested in sharing elections data or talking about what else is possible?]
  • Young People: The young people of today are the voters of tomorrow and yet many see local politics as irrelevant.  How can we get young people involved in local democracy so they have a voice, both now and in the future? 
    [this is really important to many of us. We have some amazing young participants at our main Notwestminster event, but we don’t currently have any young people signed up to our Maker Day – and we can’t work on this challenge without input from young people. Shall we save this for another day, or should we try to involve more young people on Friday 12th February?]

 

Comments?

Please try to let us know by 12 noon on Tuesday 26th January 2016.

You can leave a reply on this page, email us at notwestminster@gmail.com or tweet us @LDBytes.

Please tell us about:

  • Challenges that you’re interested in.
  • Anything not listed here that you’d like us to work on.
  • Anything else you’d like to say about the Maker Day.

All comments and suggestions welcome. 

This is just to help us pick the right challenges for our network. If you’re going to be here on the day, you can join any group (or more than one group) to work on whatever takes your fancy. You can also follow online during the event.

 

What we’ll be working on at our Local Democracy Maker Day #LDMaker15

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Local Democracy Maker Day, 11th September 2015

Local Democracy Maker Day
Friday 11th September 2015
The Studio, Riverside West, Leeds LS1 4AW

 

What is a Maker Day?

Our Maker Day is a chance to collaborate with others who care about democracy on issues that we choose together. Our focus at the Maker Day will be on sharing ideas for the 2016 local elections and trying some things out using elections data.

We’ve chosen three challenges for us to focus on during the day, based on responses to our Design Challenges survey and things that our participants have shown keen interest in over the past few months.
 

Our three Local Democracy Design Challenges are:

  • Access to Decision Makers:   People want greater access to decision makers and yet to many the local decision making process seems remote and impersonal.  How can we encourage real contact between those making the decisions and those affected by them?
  • Voter Information: If democracy is to work then voters need to be properly informed about their candidates and yet much of what they receive is biased and sometimes even inaccurate.  How can we ensure that voters in local elections get the facts and figures that they need to make an informed choice?
  • 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?

 

Other event info

Taking part at the venue or online? Here’s some other information you might find useful:

 

We are…

We are Local Democracy Bytes and the wider #notwestminster gang. Our Maker Day is part of a new collaboration with LocalGov Digital Makers and Democracy Club. It’s about turning our discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools that we can all use to make democracy work better for us.
 

Want to join in?

Book now for Local Democracy Maker Day

Local Democracy Maker Day – Friday 11th September 2015

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Local Democracy Maker Day, 11th September 2015

Local Democracy Maker Day
Friday 11th September 2015
The Studio, Riverside West, Leeds LS1 4AW

Book now for Local Democracy Maker Day

 

 

About us

We believe in bringing together people who have an interest in local democracy – and who are up for the challenge of making it work better for all of us.

We are Local Democracy Bytes and the wider #notwestminster gang. Our Maker Day is part of a new collaboration with LocalGov Digital Makers and Democracy Club. It’s about turning our discussions around local democracy and digital into some practical tools that we can all use to make democracy work better for us.

What is a Maker Day?

It’s a chance to collaborate with others who care about democracy on issues that we choose together. Our focus at the Maker Day will be on sharing ideas for the 2016 local elections and trying some things out using elections data.

You might have seen some of Democracy Club’s great digital tools like YourNextMP for helping voters during the 2015 General Election. How can we create relevant tools for the local elections – and every election? We’ll be learning from each other as we go along.

Please come and take part in this practical day to help build a better local democracy. We’ll talk about the issues and use data that’s already available to quickly prototype something based on our shared ideas.

Who is it for?

  • Digital makers
  • Local government officers
  • Councillors and candidates
  • Community activists
  • Hyperlocals
  • Open data advocates
  • Voters of today and tomorrow

What will we be working on?

We want you to help us decide which issues we’ll focus on at the Maker Day. We already have a list of Local Democracy Design Challenges that have come from our previous events and conversations. You can tell us which us these you’d most like to see us working on right now:

Local Democracy Challenges – what matters most to you?

If you work for an Electoral or Democratic Services team, we also have a short survey that you can fill in to tell us more about your experience of being involved in elections:

Electoral and Democratic Services survey

Book your ticket

It’s free. We have a limited number of places, so please book your ticket now.
Book now for Local Democracy Maker Day
 
 
 

Democracy Club

Local Democracy Bytes and hashtag Not Westminster
 
 
 

LocalGov Digital Maker
 
 
 

Local Democracy Bytes and LocalGov Digital Makers are part of LocalGov Digital. Our Maker Day is a fringe event of LocalGov Camp 2015, held on Saturday 12th September at the same venue.