After giving some thought to creating a problem solving culture in local communities (see this post by Dave Briggs which started it, and my reply on this blog) I came across an excellent how to guide for local leaders interested in going beyond civility (via @stephaniewojcik on Twitter).
As the report says “The term “governance” itself is meant to affirm an active role for residents, community organizations, business, the media, and others.” This moves away from the current state of UK passive citizenship – where people report an issue (or just moan about it to their friends) and often take little responsibility for identifying solutions, and helping to improve services.
“…the best examples of democratic governance are those that engage a diverse assortment of people and institutions in learning more about community issues and working together to arrive at solutions.”
The report identifies seven key principles to help build this spirit of involvement, all of which I think fit in very well with Dave’s open source communities idea:
1. Model civility – move away from democracy’s tendency for name calling and political posturing.
2. Sharpen Skills – not just of the elected representatives and local leaders, but of communities as well. Many community groups in my experience struggle with how to engage with local government effectively. The report cites the City of Scottsdale in Arizona, which has a Neighborhood College providing residents and community groups with information, resources and tools for solving local problems and engaging more effectively with government.
3. create opportunities for informed engagement – real two-way dialogue “Effective public engagement relies on people having good information about how government works, what the issues are, and the various options for addressing pressing community needs”
“All too often, they say, [public] meetings provide little opportunity for real, two-way dialogue on the issues.”
4. Support a culture of community involvement – from litter picking and watching a neighbour’s house when they are away, to active involvement in community meetings. It is about making the public aware that the public sector cannot do everything they want, without their help. There is a role for the media to play in this as well – moving away from ‘gotcha’ journalism such as the coverage yesterday of Lord Wei’s reduction in hours working on the Big Society.
5. Make the most of technology – regular readers of my blog, and those who know me will be aware that I am passionate about better use of technology to engage with the public. The report offers some good examples of this in use in America such as the City of Manor in Texas, which has “Manor Labs,” a dedicated website that allows residents to submit technology ideas to the city and rate the ideas submitted by others (sound familiar). The platform gives individuals the ability to engage, and suggest new ways of doing business. As a reward the suggestions are given a virtual currency that can be spent in real shops locally – thus providing an incentive and a boost for local businesses.
6. include everybody – it should be obvious, but engagement shouldn’t just involve ‘the usual suspects’ – young people, busy people, people without internet access, locals and those who may not live locally, but have a connection with the community should all have the opportunity to get involved.
7. Make it last – so many of these ideas become just a short lived idea that then dies. The challenge is to create the platform that captures the imagination and delivers real benefits to users, both public sector and the public.
The full report (which is an easy read) can be found here. Read it and pass me or Dave your comments. Could these ideas be used to improve communities in the UK?