A newish report from ResPublica entitled ‘Civic Limits – How much more involved can people get?‘ by Richard Wilson and Matt Leach with Oli Henman, Henry Tam & Jouna Ukkonen, spends 90 pages asking that very question. It is a very important question that has largely been ignored in the quest for the Big Society and other political utopias of recent history. As someone who, in their time away from computers has spent many actives years in the community attempting to work with them in various ways, involvement doesn’t come easy, nor does getting politicians or managers to relinquish power…
The report concludes with a series of principles –
- “Create conditions that support and allow transformative change
- Treat Participation as a Front Line Service
- Build and account for civic confidence
- Ensure public service contracts drive quality involvement
- Make use of the economically inactive as a valuable resource
- Channel civic energy from anti cuts campaigns into on-going conversational engagement
- Support creative disruptor approaches to involvement
- Account for and respond to participants’ values and motivations
- Prioritise social action over consultation
- Support conversational third generation engagement not one off processes
- Do not worry about involving everyone in everything
- Allow time to fail and succeed
- Be transparent, but not just with data.
- To be truly innovative, the changes required are too great to centrally control”
These are all rather vague and aspirational but the report admits in the concusion that there is”widespread recognition that consultation is often tokenistic and lacks links to real power”, something that thanks to many claims of pseudo-consultation, is not going to be overcome spontaneously. We not only have politicians who have entered the sphere of representation for that very purpose, which precludes involvement from their electorate, but also the many managers who cling to a style based on New Public Management as if it still had some validity. This combination elevates them above much consideration of mass engagement, and continues the alienation promulgated throughout the works of Marx.
Whilst the report does point out the failings in this area by various recent governments, largely due to the doctrinaire nature of politics, it is far from a chronicle of despair. Neither does it expect too much of ICT in its various forms. It does however present a major challenge to politicians and public servants, if something is actually to happen.