How can we improve local decision making?

two women sitting next to each other talking, at a table strewn with notes, pens and pads of paper. Behind them sit other people at tables, talking
Two people talking at the first Public Square event, in Manchester, November 2018

In November 2018, we invited people with an interest in local decision making to Manchester for Public Square’s first public event. We wanted to discuss with them how to improve local democracy. The attendees included people from community and voluntary organisations, active citizens, academics, and people working in local government.

What we talked about

Introducing Public Square

The project team from The Democratic Society and mySociety introduced Public Square, describing our vision for the programme. You can see an edited-down version of the slide pack that we showed on the day below. And you can read ‘What is Public Square‘ which will tell you more about the programme.

We then facilitated a series of conversations, working through a number of exercises to help us think about local decision making – our hopes for it, the things that aren’t working and the opportunities we have to improve it. This was broken down into a series of exercises…

Conversation one: Our collective aspiration

We started the facilitated conversations by asking people to tell us about their own personal visions for better participation in local government, asking: “What it is that made you care enough to spend your Monday at an event like this. What is the dream you want to achieve?”

Over the course of 15 minutes and and using large Post-it notes, participants shared their visions – sticking them up on a ‘vision wall’.

A brick wall peppered with multi-coloured post-its.
Post it notes created by participants at the Public Square, sharing their aspirations for local decision making. From the event on the 19 November 2018

Conversation two: Our realities

To help us think about a better reality, we asked people to consider what local democracy is like now. In pairs, we asked people to each spend 10 minutes telling their partner about their experience of local democracy, be it good and bad. There weren’t any outputs from this part of the conversation.

Conversation three: What is working?

Working in groups of about five, we asked people to think about what is working. What are the initiatives that are making a positive difference to local democracy. Within this we asked people to also think about who is doing interesting, promising stuff on this topic. Groups had thirty minutes to talk about this, with flip charts and post-its notes used to capture key points. After the discussion there was 15 minutes to share things back between groups.

Conversation four: What is getting in the way?

a flip chart with post it notes on it
A flip chart that people attending the Public Square meeting believed are holding back local decision making

Next we asked the same small groups to think about what’s getting in the way of a better local democracy. There was just under an hour to think about this, including exploring whether there were any commonalities amongst the different issues faced. Groups again had a chance to share back what they’d each talked about.

Conversation five: Exploring opportunities

Lastly we asked people to share their suggestions for how we can make local democracy better. Participants were encouraged to throw out ideas regardless of how left-field they are. After groups had recorded suggestions on flip charts there was a chance to use dot voting as a simple way of showing which ideas people liked the most.

The data

You can read the raw data we collected from the exercises on a Google Sheet document.

We’ve collected some of the flip charts and photographed them – see the photographs here:

What’s next?

The event was hugely valuable in helping us to change some of our thinking about Public Square and we’ll be sharing more about the event very soon. When we can, we’ll be publishing:

  1. Reflections about what our own thoughts were about what people said – and telling you how they have affected our thinking on the programme.
  2. We’ll also tell you about actions that relate directly from the event – that include how we’ve made direct changes to what we’re doing because of what we heard.

Tell us what you think

If you attended the event we’d love to hear your own thoughts and reflections on the day. You can comment below or contact us directly!