I’ve been away from LocalGovCamp for five years. But this time I made it.
I came back home, I had a very long nap, I had a toasted teacake, I went to the allotment, then I sat in my mum’s garden with the cat. I’m just starting to gather my thoughts about LocalGovCamp 2015 and our Local Democracy Maker Day. Here are your little voices in my head telling me that there’s much to be done and not to be afraid of doing it…
From the Local Democracy Maker Day #LDMaker15
1. “We all know algebra but we don’t know who to vote for”
I learnt a huge amount from Chloe, one of the Kirklees Youth Councillors, at our Maker Day. She told us that kids grow up knowing more about American politics than even national politics in the UK, let alone local democracy. Our democratic content just isn’t in the places where young people are, either online or offline. She’s angry about the lack of education around democracy (it isn’t on the national curriculum) and is frustrated about the things young people aren’t told. She was also blunt and eloquent about the consequences of this…
2. “What are you going to do in 20 years time when you have no councillors?”
This was one of many questions posed in my group during our Maker Day conversations. The challenge we were responding to was:
Access to Decision Makers: People want greater access to decision makers and yet to many the local decision making process seems remote and impersonal. How can we encourage real contact between those making the decisions and those affected by them?
This issue came out top in our Design Challenges for Local Democracy survey. Conversations with Chloe and others on the day made it very clear why this is important for all of us.
3. “It’s a snakepit, but it has to happen…”
One of the inspiring things about the Maker Day was seeing how eager the participating councillors (of all ages) are for change. This was Julia’s Berry‘s response when asked about digital disrupting politics and encouraging a different type of person to become a councillor. She said that those who want to hold back councillors from being part of online dialogue should “just get over it”.
4. “Some people say to me ‘I’ve stopped voting because I’m retired now'”
Mike Jordan gave us lots of insight into life on the doorstep in his constituency, including some of the reasons why people don’t vote. He knows that if he doesn’t create leaflets as well as digital content, he will miss out on connecting with half the village. This helped us to think about doing something to create connections both online and offline. It also made me think we should all have an icon for our preferred method of contact painted to our front doors.
5. “We’re going to hit the streets to do some guerrilla research”
This was the point in our Maker Day (at the first check in) when I felt that the day was worthwhile. It didn’t take us long to get there, and that’s due to the quality of thinkers and doers in that room. Our friends at Democracy Club made a big contribution to that.
6. “I’m not a normal citizen though, am I? I take too much interest in things”
There was also a lot of laughter on the day – and I laughed a lot at John Popham‘s response to being asked to tell his user story as a citizen 🙂
From the #localgovcamp pitches
7. “What are we going to do about this?”
Bravery and honesty have been part of LocalGovCamp since day one. I still remember the discussion we had at LocalGovCamp in 2009 with the Birmingham bloggers who responded to an important and impenetrable council document by publishing their own digital, commentable, plain-language version. It was great to hear James Cattell openly confronting current issues for Birmingham head on and also making a pledge to do something about it. I really respect that.
8. “blah blah blah blah blockchain”
This is how Esko Reinikainen responded when we ran short of time for the pitches and Dave Briggs asked for all other requests to be in five words. It’s one of the best repsonses to a call for brevity I’ve heard (hey, if you’ll only give me five words, I will only use two). It even popped into my head whilst I was picking Beetroot this morning.
From the #localgovcamp sessions
9. “there are armies of muppets in the cabinet office”
This easily wins the prize for best image that you can’t get out of your head. The lesson behind it is that having structured data and making it open is only part of the battle – for it to be useful, you also need people to understand how to input good quality data that’s easy to understand.
10. “All the devolution discussion is about the deal, which is happening behind closed doors. It’s very difficult to get across to local people how this is going to make a difference to people’s lives.”
Ed Hammond made the point well in his session about just how abstract the devolution debate is for most people. Is it “almost an existential issue for local government”? It was really interesting to hear devolution discussed from the scrutiny angle, and it has echoes of some of the conversations going on in Yorkshire right now.
11. “Isn’t it because they want to have 8 conversations instead of 400?”
This is another comment from the devolution session that stuck with me. I think this elegantly sums up the back-to-front nature of how devolution is happening to us.
12. “If you’re going to have ‘people as needs’, I have to have ‘people as assets'”
I heard only the beginning and the end of the co-designing participatory processes session, but there were good things in both. I was really pleased to hear Catherine Howe speaking up about asset-based approaches when the conversation turned to focussing on people’s needs. You can’t talk about co-production without recognising that people have something to offer, and that’s where you should start.
13. “All democracy is local”
When Carl Whistlecraft asked people to give us one wish for redesigning local democracy in our session, the first question we were asked is: “What do you mean by local democracy?” This immediately brought out lots of different ideas about what local democracy means to people. Carl’s own comment is perhaps a wish in itself – if all democracy isn’t local, it should be.
14. “Am I allowed to be Notwestminster if I work in Westminster?”
This was the question that Ed asked on the way out of the redesigning democracy session. Of course the answer is yes, step this way sir 😉
From the in-between spaces
15. “What I’ve decided is that everybody should be able to find out where their polling station is, and everybody should be able to find out who their candidates are. So that’s what I’m working on. I’m going to do that, then I’ll move on to the next thing.”
This is what Sym Roe said at the Friday night curry, when faced with a comment about democracy being really difficult. I have huge respect from Sym’s complete focus and for the work of Democracy Club. They are just getting on with it, even if the first stage is more difficult than they thought, and I’ll be doing what I can to help. I encourage you to do the same. For starters, if you work at a council, read this blog post: Why doesn’t Google know where I should vote?
16. “Do the entire pitch in the style of Norman Collier – go on.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous. An utterly bizarre conversation in the bar with Nick Hill and Carl, in which we sat on a strange turquoise sofa and somehow all agreed that 1970s Stand Up Comedian Camp is a great idea.
17. “I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing then – but I know what I’m doing now”
The modest Mr Phil Rumens quietly did a huge amount towards making LocalGovCamp 2015 happen – and Phil, you really do know what you’re doing. You also took the time to involve me, encouraged others to listen to me and trusted me to get on with it. And I don’t think I’ve said this yet… thank you.
18. “I’m loving the LocalGovCamp comms”
I really appreciated these words of encouragement from Sarah Lay, and the understanding of the ‘it’s day two and I just want to lie down in a dark room’ expression on my face before we gathered around the grid on Saturday morning.
19. “I want to share your blogs”
This kind offer from Liz Copeland came with some useful tips about making blogs on Knowledge Hub easier to find and to share. I’m grateful to Liz for some practical advice that I’ll be sure to act on, and for taking the time to let me know.
20. “I used to read your blog in coffee shops”
It was really lovely to get a tweet from Lorna Prescott asking to say hello. We’ve never met in person before and it was so encouraging to hear how my blogs had meant something to her. We talked about lacking the confidence to write sometimes. She’s one of the reasons why I’m writing this.
21. “I once overheard two people looking at a LocalGovCamp session grid and saying ‘I wonder what N.A.P. stands for'”
I hereby make a public apology to Nick Booth for not designating an official nap room on the session grid. Sacrilege. I did, however, still have my nap (outside, on the 8th floor balcony, in the rain). I only found Nick late on in the day, but we had a good chat about local democracy, blockchain and napping on our way out of the building. Put those Notwestminster dates in your diary Nick – we need you.
22. “You can’t hide in a corner… I’ll kick you if I need to”
Thank you to Carl for saying the right things at the right moments to get me through the day and out of the shadows, and for being the only person who could get away with it.
I was meant to be there, and without a bit of help I wouldn’t have been.
I won’t forget that either.
You can read more blogs from LocalGovCamp 2015 on the LocalGovDigital site:
LocalGovCamp and fringe 2015 blogs