Tuesday, 26 May 2015

82. Design Challenges for Local Democracy - Take 2


Along with some of the #Notwestminster gang, in particular @72prufrocks and @gr8governance, I've been developing a set of design challenges for local democracy.  At this stage we just want to capture a high level list that can be used as the starting point for some serious redesigning.

The raw material came from the Notwestminster event and some of the work we've done previously around local digital democracy.

The first version of the list was shared on twitter and sparked some lively debate - this second version is our attempt to respond to some of that.

All comments very welcome.

Design Challenges for Local Democracy

  1. 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?  
  2. 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?
  3. Social Council Meetings: Council meetings discuss many issues that affect people yet they are poorly attended by the public and often pass unnoticed.  How can we get people to take part in council meetings so that they can be involved in debates that affect them?
  4. 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?
  5. Community Campaigns: In a healthy democracy change comes from the bottom as well as the top and yet it is nearly always the politicians that set the agenda.  How can we get people to talk more to each other about the issues that concern them so they can build campaigns and change things? 
  6. Community News: The more people talking about their local democracy the better and yet local councils are not always best placed to tell people about what's happening.  How can we help journalists and bloggers to know about local political stories so that they can share them with their readers?  
  7. Democracy Alerts: People don't spend their time studying council agendas and forward plans so it's no surprise that they don't know when decisions are being made that affect them.  How can we ensure that people know about decisions that affect them so that they can get involved if they wish? 
  8. Open Democracy Data: The details of local council decision making affect everyone's lives and yet they are often obscured within agendas, minutes and reports.  How can we better share the data of local democracy so that it is open to be seen, used and shared? 
  9. 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?
  10. Inclusive Democracy: Everyone has the right to participate in local democracy and yet many have barriers placed in their way whether because of poor health, impairment or disability.  How can we ensure that all local democratic activities provide a fair chance for everyone to participate?
  11. Democracy Clubs: If local democracy is to be more than what happens in the town hall then a wider range of interested citizens need to be involved in keeping it up to date.  How can we help democracy enthusiasts to work together so they can help each other, switched on councillors and councils to redesign local democracy?
  12. Uncontested Elections: Healthy debate during elections is a cornerstone of democracy and yet too many local elections are either uncontested or one sided in the minds of the voters.  How can we encourage more people to stand so that that everyone gets to be part of a lively and contested local election?
  13. 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?
Update:  Lots of suggestions for new challenges so here are an additional five - absolutely free!


  • 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?
  • Understanding How It Works:  Local government represents communities and makes decisions on their behalf and yet very few people know how it works.  How can we make local government understandable for ordinary people so that they have a better chance to influence? 
  • Agenda Setting:  It's important that local policy makers focus on the right issues and yet it the public often has little say in what is chosen.  How can the public be involved in setting policy topics so that they can see why chosen topics are important?
  • Access to Voting:  The importance of a high turnout at local elections is widely recognised and yet the practical process of voting can sometimes be difficult.  How can we ensure that voting in local elections is simple so that everyone can easily have their say?
  • Candidate Diversity:  Local councillors represent the whole community and yet they are overwhelmingly male, white and middle aged.  How can we encourage a greater diversity of candidates so that councillors reflect the whole community?  



Photo: https://flic.kr/p/qNWdKF

4 comments:

Joe Taylor said...

Can you link up and help organise Asemblies for Democracy - http://assembliesfordemocracy.org/

kevin davies said...

great stuff Dave, a really good starting point. couple of things id throw into the mix that cross cut a lot of the points you made above:
- less jargon
- better information infrastructure/tagging content in a way the people want it
- improve public image - council/assembly/government all have this difficulty of being seen as establishment that people may not want to get involved with
- more effective storytelling

johnpopham said...

Great post Dave.

Some comments

As many Council meetings as possible should be live streamed, but, even then, only the democracy geeks (or people directly involved in the decisions) will watch. I made the point here http://wp.me/ppLRZ-HO that we need to do more to help promote the content from meetings, interprete it, and open it up for public discussion. I live stream planning meetings, and it is noticeable how the numbers of viewers goes up and down for certain items.

There are some great examples of connected politicians, and it is no coincidence that the best of them are also often the best at talking to people offline too. And they are usually the ones who can rise above party agendas (or may be independents) and listen and respond to people's concerns without spouting pre-prepared party lines.

About participation in meetings - council meetings are often run in ways that excluded people not versed in the etiquette and procedures. I have seen members of the public shouted down and ridiculed for not observing protocols they were unaware of and which don't apply anywhere else in normal life.

Politicians need to get better at explaining their positions and decisions too. At Planning meetings I have seen councillors hinting that they don't like having to take certain decisions but their hands are tied by legislation, but they often don't convey this in sufficiently detailed terms to the public.

And politicians need to get much, much better at telling their stories to the voters. One notable candidate who did this in the General Election was Naz Shah, and I am sure that was a factor in being able to defeat George Galloway so comprehensively

Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble

Shelley Burke said...

really like the digestible democracy point - maybe it's about thinking up some simple rules/principles we could all seek to adopt locally. Less is more and all that.


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