Removing the obstacles – getting government involved in the conversation

Here’s another idea for the PICamp event that we’re organising at Queens University on the 26th May. Slugger’s mission – if it has one – is to promote a more conversational politics. A few years ago I wrote about why I thought the directive from the head of human resources was wrong headed in their decision to ban staff from using interactive technologies…Now, via the Local Democracy Blog, Tim Davies, an Oxford based participation specialist has taken this all a step further. He has looked at the dozens of little reasons that public bodies – local authorities, government departments and NGOs – aren’t interacting effectively with you and me. He started with a post on his blog, and the comments were so prolific, he has spun them out into a Wiki called overcoming the hurdles.

Tim’s list is fairly comprehensive and recognisable to anyone who works in a large organisation. At the top, there may be a general acceptance that interaction, consultation and inclusion are all Very Good Things, but as to move down the managerial ladder, you hit lots of veto groups: The most basic ones are that the desktop PCs only have Microsoft IE6 on them and users can’t install their own browsers – thereby ensuring that a lot of Web 2.0 applications don’t work.

Elsewhere, the compliance people may take the view that – as something could go wrong, nothing can be allowed to be done – Tim outlines ways of getting around this with the drafting of suitable guidelines and training for staff. Other issues include the technical (and social!) abilities of staff, the attitude of different layers of management, and the concerns that a promotion of social networking will lead to time-wasting and troublesome inappropriate communications. Tim has listed 50 small obstacles – and you can go in there and suggest changes if you like – they’re not set in concrete.

I’d be interested in convening a session at PICamp that is intended to look at how political innovators can make the case and provide a framework that will make government in Northern Ireland more interactive. And – perish the thought – if such a move were to meet resistance from bureaucrats anywhere – I’d like us to thing about how the various veto groups can be …. er…. encouraged to start making their organisation go out and talk to the people that they are supposed to be serving.

  • Hey Mick

    Thanks for the comments on the 50 hurdles.

    I see there are definitely two frameworks needed here:

    -One is the vision for conversational & participatory politics you mention above

    -And the other more mundane but essential one is the practical framework for letting that happen.

    I’ve been exploring what that practical framework might look like (hence the 50 hurdles post to start from the problem) – but I’m finding that without a clear articulated vision of why the hurdles are being removed any framework at this level risks becoming yet another obstacle to progress rather than an enabler of it. So I’m really looking forward to seeing the conversations that emerge from PI Camp with some of that first vision framework…

  • Ugly Bug

    Is this for the people not wealthy or connected enough to gain entry to Common Purpose.

    I believe they have now set up in the US. “Common Purpose meeting has involved a White House official, communications director Ellen Moran, two sources familiar with the meeting said. It’s aimed, said one, at ‘providing a way for the White House to manage its relationships with some of these independent groups.’ The group’s founder, political consultant and former Gephardt aide Erik Smith, described it in general terms after others had confirmed its existence. ‘The goal is to convene a group of people that identify the most effective progressive messages and to advance a progressive policy agenda,’ said Smith

  • The Raven

    Mick, thanks for this. I enjoyed this post, the subsequent links, and the Wiki, which I hope to contribute to later. Too long has the public sector languished behind the rest of the world on this.

    Heartened that we haven’t been flooded here with the usual brickbats reserved for the public sector. On their side, I have to say, I watch with amusement the horror on the faces of the senior managers when I suggest a more democratic approach to internet usage, even as a basic marketing tool.

    The internet as a tool for reaching young people in, say, consultation work, is much overlooked, and it is only a few brighter young sparks in local government who are starting to use it properly – and even then only sparingly.

    Anyway…nice post.

  • Jean Baudrillard

    I think key to all of this is the boring data management stuff that lies beneath most processes. Government (including councils) need to start thinking about getting all of their data up front and central (using XML).

    That way, we won’t be restricted to what bored and untrained civil servants think we want to know.

    It’s something the Obama adminstration looks like forcing on central government and should be the ultimate goal here.

    Imagine if you could get a live XML feed of departmental expenditure by area, tax revenue collected by area – and then mash it to Google Maps.

    Now *that* would help drive informed engagement….