Political Innovation no 5: Government information? Get the public to provide it!

This is a cross-post by Lauren Currie – originally posted on the Political Innovation site here.

For too long, policymaking has been monopolised by civil servants, self-serving pressure groups and sensationalist journalists. We get a vote once every four or five years and we’re expected to be satisfied with that.

Public services are too important to get lost in headline issues, and too big to leave to those who have the time and energy to write letters or sit on committees. The best communication happens when it’s easy to do, and when it’s a conversation, not just a complaint.

For this reason, in 2009, a group of us created MyPolice. It was a collaborative project that came out of the Social Innovation Camp. It’s an online feedback tool that enables the public and police to have a conversation. It facilitates three things.

  • It’s a neutral space where people can find out more about who their local police are, and what they do.
  • it allows people to send feedback about their experiences with the police, good or bad, which then gets delivered to the right force.
  • it collects empathic data based on real customer experience and feeds it back to the police, which creates a deeper understanding of what the public wants, bringing police and public closer together.

We help communities identify weaknesses and opportunities in police services. In providing analysis and data for the police to act on, it challenges and helps make policy decisions, ensuring that service users have an active part in changing the police for the better. People can give their opinion at a time when they feel strongly about an encounter with the police or feel that the service offered by the police could be improved. It’s the place where people can see how their thoughts translate directly into action.

We have a funding model that is politically acceptable to both left and right (Labour as one of the most innovative social enterprises in Britain, and the Conservatives say it is ‘potentially transformative’). We charge a small annual fee to every force that takes part and provide the software and methodology that makes it work for them.

The cost is far outweighed by the benefits in terms of efficiency and quality. The people for whom the police exist get a better and more inclusive service.

The idea of a ‘candid friend’ – neither a hectoring simplifying journalist / pressure group, nor spinning apologist for an unresponsive service – isn’t entirely new. The excellent Patient Opinion project achieves exactly the same ends in a way that is tailored to the services provided by the NHS.

This brings me to the political innovation that I would like to propose: Let’s set a target whereby significant sections of the public sector aim to replace all self-produced information about themselves with content that is generated by the users. This can’t simply be a crude ‘have your say’ exercise – but I think that MyPolice and Patient Opinion both show that it’s possible to get good fair descriptions of public services authored by all of us.

That’s better than just a one-size-fits-all X in a ballot box every five years, isn’t it?

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  • joeCanuck

    policymaking has been monopolised by civil servants, self-serving pressure groups and sensationalist journalists.

    The civil servants and self-serving (and self appointed interest groups who have a legitimate role) but sensationalist journalists? Do they really have much influence beyond making money for their proprietors?

    I think the Mypolice idea is a great one.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Surely thats the whole point of local policing boards where Police can have a “conversation” with local people.
    Troublesome as it is for some people that policy is “monopolised” by civil servants, self serving pressure groups and sensationalist journalists (sic).I personally cant see how adding some nerdy bloggers makes the process better.
    The conversation that Ms Currie talks about is already taking place. Even for very weird people who dont own a laptop……incredible as that is to some people.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Canuck…call me old fashioned but I kinda like the idea of electing people to do this kinda thing.
    Theres no difference between self serving pressure groups and self serving individuals as most bloggers are.

    Personally I hate to see my democratic rights eroded by this surveillance society.

  • joeCanuck

    Surely thats the whole point of local policing boards where Police can have a “conversation” with local people.

    Echoes of religious differences. Can you have a direct conversation with god or do you need priests as intermediaries?

  • joeCanuck

    I may be wrong but I read it as a forum for feedback rather than “surveillance”

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    oh I meant the creeping encroachment of the laptop gestapo. 😉

  • The Raven

    “Surely thats the whole point of local policing boards where Police can have a “conversation” with local people.”

    You’ve been to a public meeting then, have you? Pre-prepared questions, no room for the awkwardness, 20-odd people – the usual great and good, retired folk with time on their hands, or the usual serial committee members – on a board getting paid £x per month (admittedly that will disappear in a year), and “I’ll get back to you” from the local Chief which results in never hearing from him/her again.

    I am waiting until the money element is done away with, and then I’m going to try for an independent seat. I note that locally, most of ours are ex-peelers. Nice. Daytime meetings too, so that working people are discouraged. Some conversation had there.

    But anyway…back to the post in hand….

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    yep I was one of those 20….but more often 50….who had the initative to actually get up off our asses and go out of the house.
    The notion that anyone addicted to a keyboard understands “community” is a an unlikely premise.

  • Mick Fealty


    A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

    You may take this as a Yellow Card. Ms Currie deserves better than these utterly baked-dry refried beans.

    Try commenting on the material produced…

  • Mick Fealty

    In a society where the police have problems engaging with the citizenry (and where anti social behaviour is rife), anything that bridges that gap deserves looking at.

    It would be good though to hear from Lauren about the qualitative advantages (if any) of such a scheme. Without that, I am not sure how politicians could be encouraged to ‘buy’ the idea.

  • The Raven

    Then you’d have been one of the twenty members no doubt the most of whom were delighted with their monthly payment.

    Nice to see the board turn up at public meetings – but for sure, the public don’t.