Micro-participation at ShropCamp

Continuing my current obsession with micro-participation, I ran a session on the subject at yesterday’s excellent ShropCamp.

Basically I chatted through what micro-participation is and what it tries to achieve, where it came from etc. Then I gave some examples of it in action, and after that asked for some ideas and thoughts from the floor.

Here are the slides:

I’m really taken with this idea, as you can probably tell, and am starting up a project space at microparticipation.com to explore it more fully.

We’re going to be developing the site to be a resource in terms of examples and case studies in micro-participation, discussions about the potential and the issues involved, but also try and get people’s ideas for both online and offline micro-participation.

I’d also really like to find a way of making some of those things happen, by finding organisations to work with.

So if you’re interested in taking this forward, do sign up for updates from the new site!

Modern Councillor Webinar, 21 April 2011

With the elections on May 5 just around the corner for both English and Scottish councils, Dave and I’ll will be holding a free webinar to showcase Learning Pool’s relaunched Modern Councillor service. Modern Councillor is the online learning and support destination for councillors, people considering standing for election, or indeed anyone with a passion for local democracy.

The service has been designed with both new and more experienced elected members in mind. A subscription to Modern Councillor provides elected members with full access to a growing course catalogue for a fraction of the cost of classroom based training.

So what’s new and improved with Modern Councillor?

  • Brand new e-learning modules
  • A unique online community where councillors can connect, share and learn
  • Guides and resources on local democracy
  • Blogs and stories sections keeping you informed of the latest democracy developments

What modules are included?

Learning Pool have created Modern Councillor with help from experts in local government. This means all 14 of our e-learning modules, from Introduction to Local Government to Technology and Change, reflect the latest challenges and transformations facing councillors today. See the full list of modules.

Who does the community involve?

Alongside a suite of e-learning modules, Modern Councillor will now include an online community bringing together councillors, prospective councillors, co-opted members, local government officers, activists, and residents so that they can connect, share and learn together.

The webinar takes place on Thursday, April 21, 2011 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM BST.

With increasing budget cuts and the May elections just around the corner this is going to be an extremely popular event so register now for your free place.

More on micro-participation

There was an interesting response to my post on micro-participation, in a number of spaces – which goes to show the value in seeding your content on sites other than your own!

The most active conversation was on GovLoop where the concept of micro-participation seemed to strike a chord with many people. Even better, it uncovered the work of Jennifer Cowley at Ohio University, who has been working on micro-participation for a little while.

Here’s a slidedeck from Jennifer about using micro-participation in planning.

Here’s a video of Jennifer talking about micro-participation:

Some examples of micro-participation were also shared:

Not all these examples fit exactly with what I had in mind for micro-participation. Several fall into the reporting category – a bit like FixMyStreet. This is important, but I was thinking about getting people involved in democratic and government processes at a slightly more engaged level.

In other words, this should be more than just pot holes.

Over on the Communities of Practice (sign in required), some real-life concerns and issues were shared.

Adrian Short shared the example of Speak out Sutton, and also challenged me to come up with some concrete proposals. Fair enough, though I try to avoid specifics on this blog 😉

Dawn Iverson provides some great pointers to increase participation and overcoming barriers:

1) Make a specific, small call to action. Start with asking people to do something very small like a litter picking day at the local park or distributing leaflets locally. Maybe provide tea and biscuits afterwards.

2) Make the call to action in a number of ways. Knock on peoples doors during daylight hours, deliver leaflets, contact the local PCSO and either ask them to come along when knocking on doors to allay fears, or ask if they can send out your ‘call to action’ in their community email messages. Put information on the local council website, the Parish council website, the local Volunteer Centre website.

3) Have a small number of people who can be the face of community involvement. This will make those newly involved feel like they have a connection. Those who knock on doors / have their photos on the leaflets should be the people there to welcome new volunteers when they do respond to your call for action.

4) Once a volunteer feels connected to the community, give them more responsibility and ensure that their ideas are taken further.

5) Local councils / NHS services could identify plenty of people who would be fantastic involving themselves with local services. These are the people who send frequent complaints, the people who send thank you notes, the people who have made big changes in their lives, those who are lonely and don’t know anybody in their community.

There also need to be some ‘calls to action’ that can involve those with busy family lives. This could be asking someone to proofread a webpage, take and upload pictures of their local community, referee at a local under 13s football match, organise a fundraising event for mums and daughters. There’s a lot that could be done, but unfortunately it does need someone to coordinate this type of thing. Hopefully the new Community Organisers will be that person 🙂

Finally, going back to the GovLoop discussion, some attempts were made to define what is meant by micro-participation. Mine was “Providing a means for citizens to interact with democratic and government processes at a time, in a place and in an medium that suits them.”

I think I prefer Jennifer’s much simpler: “participation at the convenience of participants.”

Anyway, I’m pleased this has sparked interest in a few folk. I’m going to plug away developing some ideas and see where it ends up.

The need for micro-participation

A theme I’ve been returning to on a regular basis in the talks I’ve been giving lately has been about the need for government to make participation easier.

I’ve blogged in my usual half-assed manner about the participation deficit before, and it strikes me that this is an important issue that is both not going away and also is probably going to get worse.

I tend to highlight myself as an example of the problem here, in that despite being one of the very few people in the world who actually find government interesting, I never actually engage myself. I’ve not been to a council meeting, responded to a survey or questionnaire, and never given feedback through another route.

Why is this? It’s not that I’m lazy (keep quiet at the back), nor that I don’t care. It’s mainly that the instruments of local democracy just don’t fit in with my lifestyle.

The most obvious culprit here is the meeting. It strikes me that the dominance of meetings pretty much means that anyone with a family and a job (or perhaps even just one of those) is excluded from the process.

Read the boy a story before bed time, or go to the town hall to talk about a planning application? Not a difficult choice, but the answer means that participation is always going to be low.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity here to learn from the micro-volunteering that is becoming increasingly popular. An easy, quick way to get involved in civic activity that fits into people’s lives the way they are lived now, not fifty years ago.

After all, I may not be able to give up two (or more!) hours of an evening to attend a council meeting, but I’m sat in front of a computer almost all day, and could easily take 15 minutes or longer out to get involved, perhaps by answering some questions, providing ideas, or identifying problems.

Even better, with a smartphone and a bit of geo-tagging, why not tell me how I can contribute from exactly where I am?

Getting involved and participating shouldn’t be a chore. As I mentioned in my post about councillors, we need more people doing less, rather than the situation we have now where only a few people do far too much.

I don’t think this needs massive upheaval, or some kind of revolution in local democracy (although that might be nice). A bit of tinkering around the edges would, I’m sure, go a long way.

More on e-petitions

Excellent stuff from Fraser Henderson who has published a summary of some research done into the use of e-petition facilities in councils.

I’ve embedded the presentation below:

Fraser also links to some interesting evaluation of the europetition project, which is well worth a read.

Council e-petitions

Just after Christmas I wrote a quick post about the prospect of e-petitions for Parliament.

Of course, local councils are also supposed to have their own e-petitions systems and processes.

My own local council, South Holland, has a system in place (the MySociety one) but sadly it doesn’t look like anybody has created a petition on it just yet. We must be a very content lot in south Lincs!

On the Communities of Practice, there’s a dedicated group for e-petitions, ably facilitated by Fraser Henderson. In a recent blog post (sign in required), Fraser notes that quite a few authorities don’t provide an e-petition facility on their website, despite encouragement from central government (it’s no longer a mandated requirement).

He also notes that there is an independent study going on to assess how e-petitioning is being used – it will be interesting to see the results.

In the meantime, Team DavePress (ie me and @davebriggswife) are quickly scanning the web for e-petitioning activity. We’re collating what we are finding in this Google spreadsheet.

At the time of writing, there’s not much data in there yet. However, it’s apparent that e-petitioning hasn’t exactly set the local democracy world alight just yet. Many councils have apparently not had a single petition submitted!

Why might this be?

One reason is that even when councils are providing an e-petitions facility, they aren’t exactly promoting it that heavily. In a number of cases, the e-petitions page is hidden in the website navigation. So people aren’t using the facility because they don’t know it’s there, or they can’t find it.

I suspect though that the bigger issue is that petitions, e- or otherwise, are not not that great a way to do local democracy. It’s a fairly blunt instrument, and of course they tend to identify and problem and provide a solution in one go. What if you agree there’s an issue, but think the proposed idea in a petition sucks?

I’d have thought something a bit more deliberative would be of more use. E-petitions strike me as a bit shouty, and as we all know, the web is all conversational these days.

My manifesto for councils engaging online

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to the national conference of the Society for Local Council Clerks up in Durham. It was a great conference with a group of people who really care about what they do and the communities they help serve.

My talk was on the usual stuff of how the web can help all of this happen. Particularly pertinent for this sector, where over half of Parish, Town or Community Councils don’t have a website. Most of the councillors in this sector don’t use email.

(I do sometimes think that we forget, in all the excitement about the new forms of online tools, just how utterly brilliant the act of simply publishing stuff online is. The fact that it is so easy, and can reach so many people!)

So, to help them out, I produced a ten point manifesto for what to do and where to start with this stuff.

If I’m honest, I threw this together in ten minutes whilst slightly hungover. However, I think there is value in most of it, and it would be interesting if others would pitch in and suggest some improvements.

Here’s the ten points:

  1. Get the basics right
  2. Don’t spend lots of money
  3. Go where people already are
  4. Don’t forget: what you say is permanent and findable
  5. Use the right tool for the right crowd
  6. Promote online stuff with offline stuff
  7. Be open, honest and human
  8. Don’t overburden with process
  9. Make your stuff findable, sharable and reuseable
  10. Think: how does the web change the way we do everything?

The entire slidedeck is embedded below.

Stimulating informed debate around AV

Steph provides an update on the AVdebate project (cross-posted from Helpful Technology).

Six weeks ago, Dave kicked off a little project which he described as follows:

I’m rather interested in the referendum that we are going get get next May in the UK about changing our voting system.

It occurs to me that it isn’t an issue I have a particularly strong understanding of, and I’m sure that’s the case for a few other people as well.

So, with the help of friends like Anthony and Catherine, I’ve kicked off AVdebate – which will be an online space for constructive, deliberative debate and learning about voting reform, which will hopefully help folk make up their minds.

For now, AVdebate is a Google Group with a dozen or so people on it, but there’s already been some interesting activity:

My small recent contribution was to start thinking about how the site might be organised, and how you might start to visualise a debate of this kind online. A timeline? A mind map? The pros and cons? Or something else?

There’s great potential in this kind of site, that takes the work of pioneers like Debategraph and uses a combination of curated and original content, social media aggregation, and a really good interface to help host and stimulate an intelligent discussion about a tricky question. The AV referendum feels like a great testing ground, but I see potentially much wider application to help explore the big policy questions of our time. What’s the economic case for cuts vs stimulus? Why is tackling climate change difficult? How can we improve the lot of people in the developing world? What would it take to make our society more socially mobile?

It would be great to have some more minds and ideas on the job. If you’re interested in this stuff – whether it’s the content, the aggregation, the user interface or the sociology of it all – then it would be great to have you on board the Google Group. It feels like we could build something really quite clever if we put our collective minds to it.

AVdebate

I’m rather interested in the referendum that we are going get get next May in the UK about changing our voting system.

It occurs to me that it isn’t an issue I have a particularly strong understanding of, and I’m sure that’s the case for a few other people as well.

So, with the help of friends like Anthony and Catherine, I’ve kicked off AVdebate – which will be an online space for constructive, deliberative debate and learning about voting reform, which will hopefully help folk make up their minds.

There’s almost nothing to see at the moment, and things are really in the early planning stage. But if you would like to get involved, or just keep up to date, sign up to the Google Group. You can also follow the #avdebate hashtag on Twitter.

More soon.