Later this month I’m heading up to Huddersfield for #notwestminster. It’s a collection of civic minded folk who get together to think about democracy, digital, changing relationships and changing power. It’s not in Westminster – hence the name.
I’m going mostly to learn and meet, but I’ll also be talking briefly about ‘growing the civic conversation”. Here’s me just drafting some thoughts.
Public services should have more than a comms function – they should actively grow the civic conversation.
Growing the civic conversation is what probably half of our work is about.
We deliberately find ways to help more people who are civic minded or have roles to create some sort of civic good get online and talk about such matters. The social media surgeries are an example. The training we provide that allows public servants and active citizens and community groups to learn together is another. Our Impact Assessment App helps social organisations bring to the surface what their clients are experiencing – enriching the civic conversation.
Why do it?
Acting to grow the civic conversation should be part of the background hum of the work of public services.
This approach also helps public services build towards the five stars of open local democracy I suggested a couple of summers ago:
As I said – this is me starting to organise some thoughts and and that “Public meetings have moved from the bedrock of local democracy to the rocky-bed.”. Others who chipped in are
— Dave Mckenna (@localopolis) January 21, 2016
and his Post on the Double doughnut of Democracy.
This suggests that government isn’t well placed to deal directly with the public – and is best to do it through intermediaries. He calles them sharers. I think growing the civic conversation could well be about partly growing the number of shares and partly about strengthening the networks of sharers through which information and conversation can flow.
Dave mentions these sources of inspiration.
The first is a conversation we had about online democracy at govcampcymru.
The second is a set of ideas developed by Catherine Howe that I heard about first at localgovcamp. While Catherine is more interested in a citizen perspective here the implications for government are centre stage.
The third source is some conclusions form the academic literature. Lawrence Pratchett in a paper for Parliamentary Affairs suggested that intermediate bodies such as the media and community groups might be the best route for public participation as local government is essentially a representative rather than participative institution. Similarly, Marion Barnes, Janet Newman and Helen Sullivan in their research into public participation, suggested that participation initiatives might be more successful when semi autonomous from government and run by voluntary groups.
It also chimes with some of the skills/qualities outlined in the the 21st century public servant work (we’ve been involved with) – which suggests skills that will be more prized in future public servants, skills such as “story teller”, “networker” “system architect” and being human.
Growing the civic conversation is also about recognising the place you serve as a platform, or a series of them. It helps shape and strengthen the platform upon which local democracy sits. Surely that is partl of the work of any local civic or democratic body?
More after #notwestminster.
Thanks for reading thus far. You’ve helped me collect some thoughts.