The Doctor is Out

This post originally appeared on Emma’s personal blog.

I have been following this discussion with interest. Probably because I have worked in policy (in the voluntary sector for 15 years) and I am not put off by the title. Could ‘real’ people be interested in the blog posts? I am not sure they would be. Unless we involve ‘real people’ however, we are going to be a bunch of policy and democracy geeks navel gazing (albeit in an interesting manner).

What does Open Policy mean to me? It means getting citizens involved in shaping public policy…they vote on it, but rarely access the evidence or ideas in a meaningful way. Tackling the barriers to evidence and ideas is a good starting point. Why is moving from ‘professional’ domain to ‘public’ domain good? Because as with our health, sometimes we do need a qualified professional to ‘make things better’ but often we can take steps ourselves to keep well or we can look after each other using our common sense and experiences to do so. I acknowledge that, albeit very rarely,  sometimes the *answer* is counter-intuitive.

However, mostly, when people are given the facts (not data-sets you need a doctorate and a certain type of personality to interpret *you know who you are*) but reasonably neutral interpretations of data which outline the ‘scale’ of the issue people are able to participate in a constructive debate and live with the outcome of that debate.

Social media is a blessing for the open policy evangelist because suddenly, we can move away from formuliac narratives in the mainstream print press and we can populate our own ‘front page’ and our own ‘commentators’. I notice that on social media, many people respect your input where you make an obvious effort to be fair, acknowledge all sides of an argument, and translate views which you don’t necessarily agree with. So, I am optimistic through my own experience that people are quite ready, willing and able to participate in discussions where they trust the moderation and information. That isn’t to say you can’t be partisan, as a political ‘hopeful’ I am often obviously left-wing in my social media discussions and debate but I try not to be tribal or, use convenient data or anecdotes which I know to be useless or misleading to prove my overall point. This is a short termist strategy if I want to engage with people long term, via direct social media, then its a #fail!

In my opinion, all the ingredients to make successful policy and action plans which are delivered by a mix of professionals and citizens are already in place. It takes politicians to be ready to give away power and to act upon what they are hearing. One of my most popular tweets of recent times was the Child Poverty Action Group’s work to get children to develop strategies on child poverty. This is ‘Open Policy’ to me – this is direct policy development by the people most affected by it. You need people who have direct community level relationships to facilitate that involvement, then you can share on social media and allow others to comment, vote, and buy into to the plan. All that work needs now is the will of the politicians to implement the policy….

People always don’t work to work on policy via consultation, because they rightly think that the overall decision is unlikely to change. It isn’t interesting to vote yes or no as some sort of game. However, consultation is useful if it’s used around how a policy should be implemented, only if the decision maker is interested in preventing negative consequences. An example of what could be a really interesting public consultation is the Hertfordshire Police & Crime Commissioner’s suggestion that prisoners should pay for their ‘night in the cells‘. Intuitively, what’s wrong with that, some lads go out and get leery, assault someone and then sober up in the cells…why should the community pay for that? However, there are a lot of potential pitfalls, if they are innocent, if they can’t pay etc. The PCC seems genuinely interested in avoiding these. I hope that this conversation is wide-spread and constructive..even if the cost and difficulty of implementing the idea means  it’s shelved in the end. This, to me, is someone getting the point of the new post: To engage the public in genuine policy debate in a way that Police Authorities weren’t able to. I hope that he gets all the tools to do this and other engagement effectively. (Small plug for my new job  at Public-I inevitable)

My kitchen cabinet is developing new ideas all the time, my latest recruit and I were discussing Children’s Services…she is a professional in this area. We had a what if you started from absolute scratch discussion. Who would you talk to? Who would you involve in designing services fit for 2013? Obviously, those working in the area, mainly families who use the services and the wider community to make sure that they thought it was fair, fit and safe. We don’t talk about issues to an agenda with our friends and colleagues, something happens that concerns us or isn’t working and we talk around the issue without boundaries. The boundaried decision making of a ‘portfolio’ is part of the barrier to open policy though it doesn’t necessary have to be a revolutionary change just a gentle evolutionary shift in political culture would probably suffice: Looking at the power of people working in a networked and inquisitorial way rather than hierarchical and adversarial way would be an important start. Compare Mumsnet to PMQs for example!

What do you need to make people the policy gurus?

– Well written infomation/data which outlines the scale of the issue

– People who have experience of the issue

– Decision makers who can work in networks and are inquisitorial rather than naturally adversarial in approaching ‘solving problems’

– Investment in community development (people who connect with the people living in an area or who are community of identity or experience)

– Use social media to create a new narrative

That’s what I think anyway… *lies down*



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