While early discourse on the internet was optimistic about the potential for technology to improve democratic life, what has since become clear, is that digital tools for democracy do not provide easy shortcuts to better quality democratic engagement or outcomes. The design, implementation and marketing of these tools is important in shaping their impact. This new report examines the role digital tools can have in helping democratic participation in local government – and the obstacles to success. As a companion paper to a review of current academic research in this area, this report examines how digital tools can be used
In the first year of Public Square, we’re working with a small set of councils to pilot approaches to increasing citizen participation in democracy, with the hope that the lessons learned will be useful in building a wider understanding of the barriers and opportunities in the field as a whole. One thing we need to understand about our pilot areas is to what extent lessons drawn from them can be applied to the rest of the country. Given this, we extended the Explorer minisite we use to analyse demographics of mySociety services to cover data for local authorities. You can
As part of our research, we’re planning a project to map the opinions and attitudes of local councillors about participatory democracy. One point that’s been reinforced through the early stages of Public Square is that piloting new local participatory exercises requires the buy-in of the elected councillors. The goal is a better understanding of how representative and participatory democracy fit together. What we mean by participatory democracy While there are many forms participatory democracy can take, broadly it can be understood as providing mechanisms for “[d]irect influence for citizens on the decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods”. As a
After all the build-up it’s time to introduce the first of Public Square’s council partners: Calderdale Council. What is happening in Calderdale? Over the years, the work of councils has changed. We live in very different societies today than we have in the past. Every council has an implicit ‘social contract’ with its residents – an unspoken understanding of what each other’s roles and responsibilities are. But as times have changed it’s time we looked more closely at what citizens and government can expect from each other, and thought about how both partners can best work together to create the
Introduction A challenge for Public Square is to understand how innovation in involving communities in decision making can go from isolated examples in different places – and with different labels – to a whole-system change. On Saturday 16 February Mel Stevens and I held a workshop at the Notwestminster event in Huddersfield where we posed this question to a wide group of people interested in local democracy. We introduced Public Square then asked a series of questions about decision-making. Here’s a quick download of the conversations we had and some reflection about what we can take forward to the programme.
To help build a knowledge base for Public Square’s work, mySociety’s Head of Research Rebecca Rumbul has written a literature review examining current academic research around the question of how digital tools can assist the creation of a meaningful, participative and collaborative environment. This review will help us to explore how digital tools are already addressing the barriers to citizen participation in decision making – helping us to think about how we use digital engagement as part of our work with our council partners. The key conclusions are: Bureaucratic and institutional structures will exert pressure upon new digital platforms that