Gender equality: whose battle?

By Francesca Attolino

At the World Forum for Democracy 2018, held in Strasbourg on November 19-21, I met a smart young woman. She is Icelandic, 24 years old, a politician, and she claims she has quotas to thank for her presence in politics and at the Forum. And she was in the right place, because the Forum centred around women’s public, political and economic participation, and combating violence against women in the wake of #MeToo.

It was an honour and a real opportunity to participate, even if it is very sad gender equality is still needs to be defended so publicly. The question is now, what are the keys to fostering change?
Language is one of them. In Italy, we are redefining job titles, to ensure a ‘lawyer’ can be described as female too (e.g. Avvocato – Avvocata), and vice versa for the secretary positions. English language is gender neutral in its conception, but Italian and French are not. During the Forum there were interesting proposals concerning languages such as shifting from “droits de l’homme” to “droits humains” or talking about “gender justice” instead of the most commonly used “gender equality”. Gender equality is not only about fairness. Women representation and engagement is key to greater equality, development, growth and peace across society.

A second one is maternity, as the elephant in the room of any gender discussion. Marlène Schiappa, serves as the Secretary of Equality between women and men in the French Government, and was speaking at the Forum as well. I felt deeply inspired, as her speech laid out the idea that maternity should not be conceived of as a gap, but as a plus, a master. Being a mother means having organisation and planning skills, motivational skills, being an HR professional. It is is about team work and leadership, energy and sacrifices, perseverance, risk management and a lot of other things. This video is worth 3 minutes of your time, because it reframes something we thought was so stubbornly fixed.

How can we succeed in reaching gender equality, and what are the most effective measures towards it? I would say that we have at least three ways to reach this ambition, but we have to use them all simultaneously.

– Education

– Capacity building and leadership, from empowerment to power

– Temporary measures

Education is self-evident. We need to raise new generations of young girls and boys without stereotypes, with a strong sense of respect and solidarity. We need teachers and professors committed and knowledgeable about the cause. We should all be aware that gender is an intersectional and crosscutting theme, and we need to adopt and mainstream the gender perspective in every day life. Gender may be seen as something related to politics and representation, but it is also fundamental to economics, science, policy making, the quality of democracy, inclusiveness, growth and peace.

Capacity building is about the opportunity to develop new skills, to challenge the actual leadership and politics, both typically built on a male perspective. Historically, women spoke less than men did – at least in public occasions! – but this gave us the chance to become very good listeners, and listening produces better decisions. Listening, for instance, is key to participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement. Michelle Bachelet once said that when a woman enters politics, her life changes. When more women enter politics, politics changes. I am sure we can extend this to all fields; once women will be equally represented in every field, they will strongly add value to the general equation.

Finally, temporary measures. They are often – incorrectly – associated with political ideology and polarization. They should be introduced in a unilateral way to promote and accelerate the road to a balance participation of men and women. Temporary measures, the best-known ones being quotas, must be in place for a short and defined period of time. And must be conceived as the first step of a bigger and wider plan to reach gender equality, the so-called enforcement mechanism.

These are not theoretical or dogmatic line items. The young lady I met at the Forum was there because of cultural changes like these. She needed them to experience politics, and to have the opportunity to push for her country and for Europe. Without them, Iceland would have lost a wonderful occasion to be renewed and to be inspired by this girls’ mind.

I want for my country exactly the same. I want to be represented by a woman, by a young woman, by her knowledge and skills, by her emotional intelligence, by her willingness to do the best she can.

So, coming back to the title “Gender Equality: whose battle?”, this is my battle, your battle, this is mankind’s battle and we need to stand together and fight for it.

Three things to do on democracy for the information age

I spent the last couple of days at the EU’s Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights. It was an interesting exchange of views, but I have to confess that by the end my horizons had been opened up so wide by stories of big data, big platforms and deep fakes that I was desperate to bring it back down to actions and basics. So when it came my turn to speak, in the last session, on the topic of “Free and fair elections and an informed and pluralistic democratic debate”. This is (roughly) what I said:

I want to start from something that Tanit Koch said, “We shouldn’t take human nature out of the equation”. I’d go even further. When we’re thinking about these huge issues such as disinformation, big platforms and big data, we should start from human nature and the human condition.

People are generally stressed out and time poor, I know I am. They don’t have time to read and process information in a structured way, and how we think about information and democracy has to take account of that fact. People are not “dessiccated calculating machines”. They are warm, illogical, emotional beings, and making democracy work better isn’t just a question of putting better information in and getting better information out.

The three practical things that I want to suggest are:

Show a story that is rooted in citizen voice. The age of unquestioned institutional trust is gone. The age of quiet acquiescence is going. People are not going to have trust in political information or narratives that they don’t have a chance to shape, and that don’t speak to their emotions and ambitions. That doesn’t mean oversimplifying, and it doesn’t mean avoiding the trade-offs, and it doesn’t mean referendums on every topic. It means showing your work from the start and involving people in shaping the choices that you make, demonstrating transparency and making the trade-offs clear, from before the policy is decided, to after the law is implemented.

First Vice President Timmermans said in the opening session – we have to distinguish myths from facts. As social media platforms are beginning to fragment, and the rise of deep fake makes information less and less reliable, that is going to become harder and harder.

Trust is going to be the most important commodity. This should be good news for institutions with strong brands and reputations but they can’t just rely on it. They have to show that they are trustworthy. It means taking on ideas like Marietje Schaake’s for information watermarks on government publications. That can work for some content.

At local and citizen level it will mean creating participation and engagement methods that can be trusted both by governments and by citizens – peer to peer as well as up and down.

When we’re doing this work, we have to mindfully build a democracy that looks like the internet, not like Facebook. We’re at a moment when democratic initiatives have to move from standalone projects that start and stop into systemic transformations that start and continue. We need to ensure that as new approaches to democracy are built into governing systems, they learn and support each other, and that local, national and European scale initiatives can connect up. That’s a task for European institutions, but also for local and national civil society.”

It was an interesting session to be part of – my favourite story was the Dutch organisation DROG who run the “Bad News Game” which trains young people to create viral fake news stories so they can recognise the markers of them later on. Great idea!

Thanks to DG Justice for inviting us.

How Does Greater Manchester Decide What Gets Built Where; and How Does Your Voice Fit In?

Through the Space in Common project we are using a series of workshops to learn how we create more constructive and inclusive conversations about what gets built where in Greater Manchester and beyond. In our latest workshop we were fortunate to have a planner from a local council present to talk us through how this works at the moment, and what it looks like from the inside. This blog shares what we learnt.

Deciding how Greater Manchester Takes Shape: How it works

  • Central government publishes a National Planning Policy Framework that sets out the government’s planning rules. It’s a short document but this means there’s quite a lot in the footnotes. Legal precedents are also quite important in this country.
  • Each of the ten Greater Manchester councils produces a Local Plan setting out how they want their area as a whole to take shape. These plans (and so the planning decisions that are informed by them) have to conform with the government’s planning rules. The government’s view is that these Local Plans are needed to make sure that local areas plan to make enough new housing. If councils don’t produce or review plans quickly enough, there are threats of government intervention
  • ‘Local planning authorities’ (such as Greater Manchester’s ten borough councils) make decisions on planning applications. The system is ‘plan-led’ – i.e. the policies in the Local Plan are the starting point for making these decisions. The biggest planning applications are usually decided by the Planning Committee, but most applications are delegated to council officers to decide on.
  • There are lots of things to think about that stretch across council boundaries, and lots of things where acting together makes sense in a large conurbation like Greater Manchester – such as overall strategy, the distribution of new housing, and the infrastructure to support this . Because of this the ten councils in Greater Manchester are working together on a Spatial Framework, which is a kind of Local Plan that they are required by law to make. The ten councils and the Greater Manchester Mayor have to unanimously agree on this plan for it to happen.

The History of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

  • The first draft of Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework was developed by the ten Greater Manchester councils, and subject to a major public consultation exercise. There were 27,000 responses to this Spatial Framework, many from individuals and groups opposing the release of green belt land for development.
  • The consultation preceded the election of Greater Manchester’s first elected Mayor, Andy Burnham. In his election campaign Andy committed to a ‘radical rewrite’ of the Spatial Framework.
  • The ten councils and Mayor Andy Burnham are now drawing up a revised draft Spatial Framework for Greater Manchester, which will require the unanimous agreement of the Mayor and the ten council leaders. They also have stick to the rules laid out in the National Planning Policy Framework, including for calculating how many new homes to plan for.

What this System Looks Like in Practice

There is scope for the mayor and ten councils to decide what they deal with through a Greater-Manchester-wide plan, and what they deal within in individual Local Plans. The decision was made that the Spatial Framework should focus on strategic planning issues, and that decisions about releasing greenbelt land to meet needs for housing and employment should be made at this Greater-Manchester-wide level, rather than through individual Local Plans.

Reaching agreement between all ten councils and the mayor is potentially difficult. Local areas come with their own unique needs, and have their own focus on what is important and what is not.

While there are rules laid out by central government, these still leave significant scope to use plans to shape and develop policy within Greater Manchester to meet real needs and to make sure that the city region develops in the right way through to the end of the 2030’s.

Within councils and at the level of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority there are only limited numbers of planning staff available to draw up plans. Developers and landowners can make a lot of money from favourable decisions about what gets built where. Because of this they invest time and resources in scrutinising council plans and coming up with strategies for challenging them. There is a challenge for the Greater Manchester councils, Combined Authority and Mayor to ensure enough resource is put into developing a Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and Local Plans that are well-enough evidenced to stand up to examination by an independent inspector.

Where the Voice of the Public Fits In

Local Planning Authorities have to produce a Statement of Community Involvement, which sets out how they will involve the community in planning decisions. Each of the ten councils in Greater Manchester has one of these, and each is different. They all go beyond the legal minimum requirements for consultation, but they are all different. The Spatial Framework consultation has to be consistent across Greater Manchester, and consistent with each council’s Statements of Community Involvement.

Effectively reaching out to the community and getting their input into plans is time consuming and resource intensive, and councils have very limited resource . Generally, landowners, developers and special interests will respond to strategic issues, but members of the public are unlikely to respond unless there are specific proposals which are seen to be controversial at the local level. During the first consultation on the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework lots of people wrote replies rather than submitting these online, because they thought these would be given more attention. This made for much more work as people had to be employed to scan these responses and remove personally identifiable information before putting them online.

Public discussion of planning decisions is mainly based on opposition to particular developments. Everyone recognises that people need homes, but those living close to a proposal will be concerned about its local impact. It can be hard to discuss the longer term in this context. Neighbourhood Planning is an attempt to do things differently, where local communities themselves proactively decide how they want their area to take shape, although in doing so they also have to accept that housing is needed and that planning for this involves making often difficult choices.

 

After listening to this insight, we asked participants at the workshop to share their thoughts about the topic. You can see some of the key points they told us in this blog post.

This is part of a series of workshops on this topic. You can express interest in taking part in our next workshop through the Eventbrite page or by contacting mat@demsoc.org . You can also click the following link to find out more about the Space in Common project.

[Image by XAndreWx  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manchester_Skyline.jpg ]

 

Helping Communities Shape What Gets Built Where: What Needs to Change?

Through the Space in Common project we are using a series of workshops to learn how we create more constructive and inclusive conversations about what gets built where in Greater Manchester and beyond. At each of these we have brought together a group of people interested in the topic from a range of different angles.

In our latest workshop we were fortunate to have a planner from a local council to talk us through how this works at the moment, and what it looks like from the inside. You can see what we learnt through a separate blogpost. Having heard their insight we asked our diverse group of workshop participants to reflect on public involvement on public involvement in shaping the future shape of our cities, and what needs to change.  Here are some of the key points we learnt:

Developers have much more resource than councils. This means that developers are in the driving seat of planning, and under-resourced planners within councils can’t get on top. The challenge of achieving cooperation across the mayor and ten districts within Greater Manchester adds to the challenge. It’s in this challenging environment that planners are struggling to work better with local residents.

Political considerations can be a barrier to better decision-making. Some councils are too politically scared to make hard decisions about the future of their places. Sometimes politicians have their own plans and aren’t interested in the views of residents. Election cycles can also be a barrier to working over a period of time with residents. Other forms of ‘political’ cycle such as funding cycles can also be a barrier.

Engagement is currently based too much on consulting on plans, rather than developing plans by working with communities from an early stage. Consultation is often just about going through the motions. Too often it just involves stakeholders that the council is already aware of. There is a lack of capacity and skills in councils to engage with, and work with, communities. The level of anger sometimes received puts councils off engaging, but they need to find a way through in spite of this.  One way of motivating councils to engage better could be giving councils funding only if they meet certain standards of public engagement, similar to an approach used by Historic England.

Planning is currently very regulated, structured and legalistic and doesn’t allow for a holistic approach to issues. Engagement should be focussed on having conversations about the vision for a place before detailed plans are put in place. This is better than having an adversarial clash between developers and residents later on. It’s currently hard to look at the bigger picture within discussions of planning, such as how to design for a post-car society or create housing suitable for a society with changing demographics.

There are examples out there of working with communities to make plans, rather than consulting on the end result. There are planners and architects already working in this way. Local access forums, the Beelines cycling lanes project, and the Mayfield development were cited as positive examples. Neighbourhood Planning was seen as another example of this. Often these examples are about the local level; it’s harder to involve people in conversations about a larger, more strategic, scale. To do this you have to find a way into the topic that interests people; a way of breaking it down into issues they care about.

It can be hard for residents to get through the jargon and process, and to get to grips with the evidence base involved. It feels like it’s assumed you already know all this stuff. Save Greater Manchester Greenbelt carried out research into how spatial planning works and cascaded this understanding through training sessions, but the work involved in getting to grips with this stuff was like a full-time job.

Currently some voices within communities are more likely to speak up than others, raising concerns about unequal impacts of planning decisions.

Where resources are created to inform engagement, these are often about working in an adversarial rather than a constructive way; based on campaigning against proposals rather than having better conversations about the future of places. More could be done to provide resources that are independent and encourage a more constructive conversation. Another option is providing independent ‘brokerage’ using methods like Citizens Juries to encourage deliberation about issues in a neutral space.

 

This workshop was part of a series on this topic. You can express interest in taking part in our next workshop through the Eventbrite page. You can also click the following link to find out more about the Space in Common project.

[Image from the 2016 Draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework]

The B-word, and its place in a democratic community.

By Marian Cramers

The best conversations take place at round tables, with a few diverse people, and an bold, ambitious topic. The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt has understood this, and has established a tradition of European Tables, culminating in a Forum held last week, to give the ideas generated a big lift. Kelly McBride and I were there from Demsoc.

Over the past year, the European Tables have dealt with Identity, migration and the impact of technology on the European jobs market. At the Forum, where participants from those tables met each other, we also faced up to how much the world has changed again in just the space of a year. The 11 recommendations from the table still held, and the resilience of citizens, their livelihoods and the sustainability of their environments stood front and centre. However, the tone of the Forum debates was also full of concern about the populist zeitgeist in Europe, and how to maintain a hold on our democratic values, leading up to the European elections. In the heart of the BMW Welt, and among the steel and prosperity of Bavaria, the key instruments to shape a convincing outreach campaign seemed particularly elusive.

One outcome from the Forum was the establishment of Alliance4Europe, a platform for pro-European NGOs and businesses to ‘augment the impact of civic society groups’, and first of all drive the kind of turnout and voting that is constructive for the European project. [Demsoc did not sign up to be part of the Alliance, but will follow the development of the platform with interest, particularly in its work on turnout and voting.]

I found the discussions on the involvement of business in democracy particularly intriguing, because that topic is bound to be received with awkwardness and hesitation on both sides.

I strongly believe there is a role and a mandate for business communities to be involved in politics, beyond lobbying, representing their employee and consumer communities. I have also experienced the slight bitterness in their leaders, when the only thing they are asked for is money, while they have more to put in the balance. And evidently, R&D + Marketing can equal a product, but not a lasting democracy. But it is worth considering that some European enterprises may, for their own interests, have a better finger on the pulse of our citizens concerns than certain governments do.

However, as we see the first signs of a surge in interest by the business community to get involved, there are lessons to be mindful of. Too often, efforts to engage the public are duplicated across the field, and don’t have the runway or focus to develop. Also, if this recent political turns are at least partly explained by a schism between political elites and their core constituents, then the one-sided profiles of many business leaders will likely result in the same outcome. And lastly, for any organisation, but corporates in particular, without a clear statement of principles and an open conversation they will not be able to build trust. For citizens, these are the brands that employ and sustain them. It takes caution and courage, but it is worth providing both with the agency to be part of the conversation.

The BMW Foundation showed passion and humility at the their Munich European Forum, and their approach merits some consideration. Given shape to a round table with every pillar of European society, citizen voices included, would be a wonderful base, and offer us more stability than we currently feel.

Cities and Civic Resilience. There is always one step forward.

By Anthony Zacharzewski

Where better to think about the future of cities than in a city that feels frozen in time?
Last week I was at the Venice Forum on the Future of Cities, part of the Shaping the City strand of the Venice Architecture Biennale, talking about new ways of governing in cities.

With me were our hosts, from UNDP, and a range of city leaders and civic innovators from places as different as Mogadishu and Birmingham. We spent two intense days thinking about the future of city governance.

What did I learn? The first thing was that, though the conditions are very different, some of the questions and methods were surprisingly similar. In Mogadishu, they are trialling the same participatory budgeting tool that my Scottish colleagues are using in West Dumbartonshire. The conversations we had with Batumi and Rustavi, in Georgia, were about building up civic realm improvements around public spaces, very like our project in Messina.

In the bigger sense, though, I was reminded of the principle underlying the Open Government Partnership – that wherever you start from, forward motion is always possible if you can build the right coalition.

The conditions that some of the participating cities were operating in were – put mildly – not the most fertile ground for democratic innovation. But everywhere, civic society space can be grown, and new initiatives can create small-scale democracy opportunities.

These can work below the level at which an oppressive state imposes itself, but still create, in a small way, some of the civic resilience that will be needed to drive and respond to broader system change.

Even where democracy is flourishing, we will need that civic resilience. In an environment where trust in institutions is low and people want to see impact from their personal actions, democracies based on four-yearly renewal of public acquiescence are no longer enough. Nor is winning the news media or social media day. We need active social participation, if we are to manage the shifts that the networked digital society will bring to our cities.

The cities that do not have extensive infrastructure to unpick might be able to move faster into the new generation of governance. We saw it with participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, though that experiment is now on hold. Perhaps we’ll see it next in Mogadishu, Yerevan or Rustavi.

The conversation we started in Venice will continue at the forthcoming Istanbul Innovation Days in November.
Thanks to Millie, Lejla and Rae from the UNDP team for an excellent and thought-provoking event.

A Better Debate About What’s Built Where: What We’ve Learnt So Far

Deciding what gets built where is often an intensely fraught subject of debate, as Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework consultation showed. Space in Common is a project exploring whether a better quality of debate is possible on this subject in Greater Manchester. To start the discussion off, we brought together a small group with a stake in this issue from a range of different standpoints to talk about their experiences of this topic and to start thinking about what a better conversation might look like. What did we learn?

  • It’s currently really hard to understand how decisions get made, and when its most relevant for people to feed into these plans. Including how large-scale spatial plans connect with local plans and individual decisions. This uncertainty adds to people’s fears and breeds suspicion. It makes it more daunting to speak up and much harder to do so amidst other demands on peoples’ time.
  • People aren’t always aware of the range of concerns out there. For instance, bringing together a greenbelt campaigner with someone working on inner city issues initially threw up quite a few misassumptions about where the other was coming from. Even through a short discussion people working on different aspects of this topic were able to learn quite a bit more about some of the different concerns at play.
  • People with different concerns aren’t getting much chance to talk to each other. People understandably approach debates about this topic with the priority of arguing for their objectives rather than listening to what others are saying. This means there isn’t much chance for people to learn about other takes on the issues.
  • Financial pressures are impacting strongly on local authorities’ ability to reach out, and on how charities and other bodies can respond. This includes preventing charities from doing more to engage their constituents in policy debates and from working at a more localised scale.
  • Local authorities could do more to talk about the pressures they are trying to balance, and how they are making these decisions. Including how they have to balance the positives of development alongside the downsides.
  • More could be done to notify local groups about plans in their area and give them support to respond. This would give them more capacity and help build trust.

This was just the first of four workshops we are running on this theme. In our remaining workshops, as well as learning more about our group’s experiences, we are also going to help our participants get a better understanding of how decisions currently get made, and what has been tried elsewhere to build a better quality of debate. Our next workshop is on Monday 29th October 17.00 – 19.15 in central Manchester. If you are interested in this topic there are still spaces available in our group. You don’t need to be an expert to take part, we want to link up people interested in this topic for a range of reasons.

Space in Common is being run as part of Jam and Justice, a project exploring potential for more collaborative urban governance in Greater Manchester. You can find out more about Space in Common here.

If you want to take part in future Space in Common workshops you can get in touch through this short expression of interest form, or by emailing mat@demsoc.org . We look forward to hearing from you.

Space and Heritage, to build Democracy.

By Ivan Tornesi

The conceptual meaning of the Greek words that compose Democracy are δῆμος and κράτος, people and power. They have come to mean that all citizens, no one excluded, have the right to exercise participation to influence, control, take part to decisions, elect and be elected, with the aim of obtaining the best form of government.

Yet is that the life we live today?
The current state of Italian and European democracy’s health is strongly affected by the crisis of large mass parties and in general intermediate bodies. Those channels, which once allowed the various social groups to express their interests and their discontent, are reduced. The parties no longer exercise a pedagogical function for the people, and the political system shows the malfunctions of their instruments of internal democracy. In many cases, non-profit associations have been left to create spaces for discussion and for the elaboration of proposals.

In our physical worlds, in the so-called ”non lieu” of modern cities, in shopping centres, fast food restaurants, hypermarkets, etc, people cross each other without knowing each other and entering into a relationship. It severely impacts as the knowledge of our environment, of the landscape, of the squares, of the historic buildings and of the monuments, and it influences our ability to participate and stay together.

There can be no active and democratic citizenship if a relationship with the public space is not recovered. Citizens must regain possession of these spaces, taking care of them and denouncing any degradation. In addition to the possibility of meeting and discussing politics, this fulfils the function of identifying oneself. A space understood as such, becomes everyone’s heritage, reactivates its civil function and makes us feel part of a community.

A small Italian town, Mottalciata, has chosen to redevelop the old town hall, through the creation of a library and a museum entitled ”The roots of democracy”. Their cultural commitment to democracy was made tangible. Other significant examples are those actions to claim public spaces, carried out by local associations that redevelop the forgotten places of the city. Or mobilised and involved communities that fight for their environment and cultural heritage.

Promoting the values of democracy and the involvement of citizens becomes a central issue for our democracies.
And it is needed now, because face three main challenges of change; the return of a climate of trust in national and European institutions, the fight for equality, peace and collaboration between peoples, the inclusion and integration of migrants.

These are cultural battles across the board, and they all start with small communities. Active citizenship, then, requires an education in beauty, in architecture, in the heritage of our cities, and an ingrained cultural commitment to our local, democratic institutions.

Ivan Tornesi is Demsoc’s Community and Engagement Officer in Messina, Italy.

The Agorà di Messina is a hyperlocal pilot project to develop public spaces and participation. At the heart of our proposal is the idea that participation is best designed with the people who are going to use it, and can advocate for participation in their communities.

The three main objectives are to support and enhance existing ground-up networks and actions in a systematic way; increase opportunities for citizens to be involved in dialogue, deliberation and decision making; create something that is long-term so that the networks and structures will be around for longer than the period of the project.

Bruegel Annual Meeting – The Missing Link

by Anthony Zacharzewski

I spent this morning at the Bruegel Annual Meeting, kicking off the autumn with economics and geopolitics. Several high level speakers talked about the EU’s future economic policy and geostrategy (armies, hard power, soft power and so on), but for me there was a critical missed connection.

It was clearest in the economy panel. The speakers talked about the impact of the Trump presidency on trade, how Brexit was going to damage the EU and the UK, and the importance of acting at regional and local level on skills and development.

Marketers and economists understand people as consumers, as measures of confidence in purchasing or in products, but the last few years have shown us that people are just as powerful as citizens. In the way that 2008 reshaped the European financial system, 2016 should have reshaped the European political system.

Yet issues of open politics and good governance didn’t come up. With every generation, a later speaker said, democracy has to be born again. Yes, and economics too.

The risks and opportunities in the economy depend on people and communities – and therefore on the ability of the policy makers in Brussels to address those people and bring them into the decisions that are being made.

Our Networked Democracy project and work with the Open Government Network for Europe are about building a resilient democratic society that works at local level and at European scale. It’s no easy task, but neither is banking union. Success in that would be good economics: it would reduce the risks of disruptive events and system collapse, while increasing the opportunities for effective collective action around skills.

Why predict when you can read the newspaper? Politics is a huge risk factor for economics and finance. So where are the banks and financial institutions talking about open government and participation? I don’t see them, but perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places.

GM Democracy Hub

Last Wednesday, Demsoc Manchester hosted the first Greater Manchester Democracy Hub, with The Politics Project. Aiming to identify, map and connect everyone working in the Greater Manchester region to improve democracy in innovative ways, we organised an event for those people to meet, share their work and network. Whilst there is a lot of wonderful work happening in this area, it seems that no one is aware of all of it, and even those with similar plans and ambitions haven’t crossed paths. We wanted to rectify this, as we think that collaboration and communication is a great thing, and can prevent missed opportunities and unnecessary duplication of work.

At this first event, there was a really great atmosphere amongst those who took part, with lots of conversations happening before we even kicked off. After introducing the aims of the Democracy Hub, we invited everyone in attendance to take the floor, for up to three minutes, so they could give a brief insight into their work, talk about upcoming plans, introduce a subject they wanted to talk about more or just introduce themselves. We had contributions from almost everyone in attendance, which was fantastic and very interesting. These pitches enabled attendees to get a better idea of who they wanted to connect with and so afterward we allowed people to break away and delve deeper into ideas that had been raised. Simultaneously we had printed an enormous map of Greater Manchester to physically pinpoint where good work was taking place – we asked attendees to write on a post-it note and stick it to where they or another organisation or individual they knew of was based, giving us a better idea of the spread of this work around the area. We also asked people to write on flipchart paper their feedback about the event and how they would like to take the Hub forward and stay in touch. The idea is that this is a collaborative effort from the very beginning so we want to continue the project in a way that works for all those involved. If you have an opinion on shaping the GM Democracy Hub, you can share it by filling out this survey: https://bit.ly/2uokOqc.

The next Greater Manchester Democracy Hub event will be in January 2019, as we aim to meet every 6 months. We will release details closer to the time, but are looking for input and ideas to help us shape it. If you want to stay in touch, drop a quick email to beth@demsoc.org and we’ll keep you in the loop about plans for this event. Feel free to also get in touch with any questions or comments about what we’re doing.

We look forward to seeing you at the next event.