JRF says “Governance pretty geeky”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a new report¬†which says that citizens’ participation in governance and service delivery is made harder by the complexity of the structures they have to navigate. It’s not exactly news – even if you just count the major players, there are probably twenty to thirty bits of government acting in any local area – but it is a serious problem.

In Groucho Marx mode, Government probably doesn’t want to hear only from the people obsessive enough to navigate their way through the different boards and consultations, and the campaigns that really seize the public imagination tend to be quite small-scale and middle class (like the one running in the Society’s home city to prevent a new branch of Starbucks opening).

Perhaps what is needed is a sort of topic-based clearing house for consultations and projects in each local area. Alternatively or additionally, local authorities could make wider use of citizens’ panels, where (admittedly self-selecting) groups of citizens sign up to be consulted on issues over a two-year period.

(Hat tip to Ingrid at the Policy & Performance blog)

Create Debate

Just checking out a new site called Create Debate, which was drawn to my attention by CitizenSpace.

As Ben at CS says, it’s not the prettiest of sites but the format is interesting. The debates pose a binary question (Has evolution been proven? Is homosexuality wrong?), and you can add arguments on one side or the other. Those arguments can then be voted up or down, Digg style, so the best-rated arguments appear near the top of the list. I like this feature, though it might be open to gaming – what’s to stop you up-rating bad arguments on the opposing side?

Downsides include the research tab, which appears to be an aggregated RSS feed from various sites, and the fact that you’re forced into a two-sided debate from the get-go. The headbutting theme is continued on the profile page, which allows you to build a persistent personality (good), but then identifies your ‘enemies’ and your ‘hostiles’, which sounds rather like the games my five year old plays with his sister.

Finally, rather dishearteningly, the site says that debates ‘will never end’. I know this is the internet, but even so.

Shine Unconference 2008

The Society was represented at the Shine Unconference in London on Sunday, and it was an excellent day. I spent more time polishing my own presentation than listening to others’, unfortunately, but I did catch an excellent session on branding run by Neru.

As others have said elsewhere, there was a great buzz about the day, and I was only sorry that work and childcare kept me away from the other two days.

The Society’s session on Saturday afternoon gathered about a dozen people together for a discussion on our ideas and our aims – thanks to those who turned up and who left their names at the end. I’ll put up my slides from the session a bit later on.

Why did Boris win?

It would be interesting to see some research into the motivations of those who voted for Boris Johnson in the mayoral election on Thursday. This is not to make a political point, although enough of them have been made over the past few weeks. Rather, Boris’ high media profile and good public image makes for some interesting questions about why people vote as they do.

You can see a few possible motivations for Boris voters. They might have been:

1. Conservative party voters who would have voted for anyone on their side
2. People who didn’t like or trust Ken Livingstone
3. People who liked Boris’ ideas
4. People who liked Boris himself, from what they had seen on TV or in the papers

The interesting question, from a democratic point of view, is what proportion of voters fell into group four, and of them, what proportion knew or cared what Boris’s policies actually were.

This is of particular relevance in this election because Boris supporters said on more than one occasion that, while Boris himself wasn’t temperamentally up to running the city, he’d hire a lot of smart people who were.

If, as I suspect, a fair portion of Conservative voters liked Boris and bought this line, it does make one wonder what the point of manifestoes and policy platforms is. Also, it’s a worry, or should be, for the Conservative party in London. Boris as the outsider was able to say ‘you like me, so trust my judgment’. After four years of governing, when he will (even without gaffes) inevitably annoyed and disappointed a lot of people, that line won’t work any more – he will need some set of policy proposals underneath.

It’s now clear that you can win elections (in favourable conditions) on the platform of being a charming eccentric, but you can’t govern that way.

Election slightly raised temperature

So, UK local elections are here, as well as the pantomime contest for Mayor of London. Much has been said elsewhere on the elections and what it means for the different parties. Here’s Michael White, for instance.

We are strictly non-partisan here, so we’ll leave the political battles to one side to note in passing the sad absence of election night drama, with many results, including the London ones and all of Wales, not being counted till tomorrow morning. While this is better for the poor officers who have to do the counting, and doubtless prevents careless errors, it does mean that results come out when people are at work and their minds are on other things.