On Monday the 19th of March, we’ll be sitting down for the Public-i user group, which will feature an afternoon discussion, themed ‘Rebooting Democracy’. So it seemed like a good idea to explain what we’re thinking – and to kick off the debate. You can get involved on the day by watching and chatting here on the day and tweeting with the hashtag #piug12…
If you wanted to make sure that the public was able to participate in democracy would you really run council meetings in the way that we do right now? Process and purpose have been layered and changed over years and what we have ended up with looks and feels alien to anyone not involved on a day-to-day basis. Forget about the technology, the language alone tells us the public is not welcome. There are good reasons why local democracy operates the way it does and it is pretty difficult to imagine radical change of processes which are so culturally embedded. I’m not saying it’s impossible but it’s going to be hard.
I think that much of the change will be and has been incremental. When we started trying to persuade people to webcast their meetings we had a fairly non-plussed response (though that may have been down to the idea that you could view video over a 56k modem!) but, 10 years later, streaming meetings is now an established practice.
We probably don’t want to wait that long for the next major change in the way in which meetings are run.
The democratic process is so rooted in tradition, culture and power that we very rarely take it apart and examine it. There is an additional challenge, too: the unspoken fear that we may be using the arcanity of the process to cover up the fact that the underlying debate is not actually good enough to show people.
With the arrival of the elected Police and Crime Commissioners, and a cohort of newly elected Mayors turning up soon, we are going to be seeing changes in local democracy that might offer us the chance to look at the process and redefine how we want it to work. This should mean looking at the world as it is today and creating a process which works for people as they live their lives right now. And yes – this will probably involve better use of technology.
We’re going to try and contribute to this debate: we are already talking to police authorities about what the new PCC posts might mean and we’re going to use the user group to debate this a bit more. It’s a good place to talk abou this because it brings together people – either in person or online – who care a great deal about the democratic process and we think they are an excellent starting point if we are going to really take the council meeting apart and put it back together. We’ll let you know how we get on but feel free to contribute here.