In the latest post in this series on voices from the frontline, Emma Daniel - who works for an organisation which brings together democratic organisations and digital media to improve democratic engagement - looks forward to a new social media-supported era of local democracy in which local people’s voices are welcomed.
Thanks to digital tools – democracy can become cool again. Because I am magic, I sense your derisive snorts… except for the wonks on the front row who are nodding whilst playing chess on their ipads. But most of them always found it cool anyway.
So why should the kids smoking at the back of the bike sheds turn up? Here, I will try to convince you…and if I fail, I’ll try again in a few months!
Through twitter and facebook (Note: Emma reluctantly accepts facebook exists), you can interact with your councillors or your MP or your Police and Crime Commissioner directly. You can get to know them and what motivates them and you can ask why your bins haven’t been emptied, why the street lighting hasn’t fixed, about schools, care for older people, and all sorts of other things. You can report problems, you can support their campaigns and get them involved in your concerns. You can see what they say to each other. You can see what other people are asking them about. And, that can be very important to give people the confidence to ask a question in the first place.
With webcasting you can watch the debates, interact and discuss with others who are at the meeting or, who are also watching the meeting or presentation. So, local democracy is opened up to everyone not just those who happen to be able to attend and know about the meetings. If only the language and format were as accessible! However, I think that will evolve to keep up.
My favourite element of democracy is scrutiny. I think this aspect which looks at how well a service or policy is really working is a great match for digital tools. Being able to report issues as an ordinary member of the public and trigger a proper scrutiny investigation into an issue, submit experiences and other evidence and watch the panel all online will I think make this unsung hero work better than ever. Consider the viewership and input into the Leveson enquiry and the level of public debate on social media and apply that to a local issue. In Brighton & Hove we saw the publication of the Trans Scrutiny report this week and the closing date for tenant scrutineers! Really interesting cross-party work happens in scrutiny and many people are far more attracted to engaging in this process than other elements of local democratic debate. Mainly, in my opinion, because it isn’t adversarial but it is inquisitive which people feel more comfortable with.
You can start a petition online, here are the pages at Brighton and Hove. Many relate to roads and road safety.
It’s more accessible, easier to watch and the people involved in local democracy are just getting the hang of the interacting with you thing – the more confident they get the more accessible and enjoyable getting involved with democracy will be. Especially, if scrutiny has a new dawn and there is a serious space which has less of the ‘theatrics’ of political debate where your voice is welcomed.
The whole point of local democracy is to give you the chance to have influence over decisions that most directly affect your health, housing, safety, leisure time. It has been in the wilderness for decades with only a dedicated few turning up to meetings, organising petitions. Through digital tools, whether you are working when meetings happen or you are a carer with limited free time to spend providing you have a smart phone you can make a difference. I think, that’s cool.
Courtesy of Emma Daniel at Huxley06
If you’re a frontline practitioner or service user and you’d be interested in contributing to this series, please do get in touch with us at: [email protected]