Tag Archives: democracy

Upside-down democracy

Our ‘All sorts of technology and democracy’ discussion on 16th September 2010 was a bit of exploration on our part, a bit of setting off on a journey without knowing quite where we were going, how long it might last, or who was coming along with us. We didn’t know what sort of a response we’d get on the day (not least due to our last-minute promotional efforts), or where the conversation might take us, but we’re grateful to The Media Centre (who hosted the event as part of their ‘Knowledge Sandwich’ series) for giving us the opportunity to find out.

For starters, we discovered that lots of people are interested in this subject – our discussion was over-subscribed, with some very welcome ‘gatecrashers’ (their word, not ours) and several other people sending their apologies. We had an interesting mix of participants, including members of charities and community projects, council officers and people who work with digital media.

Andrew valiantly led the expedition with a look at some different democratic models (which you can find out more about at: www.delicious.com/fisharepeopletoo/all_sorts). This got us thinking about what we mean by democracy. Some suggestions were that democracy is about representation, that it’s about choice, or that it’s maybe about everything. Most people seemed interested in very local action (or interaction), but we didn’t reach any consensus about what democracy means to us on a local level.

What quickly became apparent to me was that we were exploring two very different ways of looking at democratic engagement. Some people talked about how we might use technology to have a say about what (or where) services are provided – how to influence the existing system. Others talked about how we might turn the whole thing on its head by creating alternative ways of doing things that aren’t dependent on service providers at all – how to help people get things done for themselves.

The conversation made me realise that my own view of democracy is the upside-down version, because I’ve already seen alternative models working in my own neighbourhood. Timebanking is one such method of valuing what people have to offer and of building up community networks. Alan made the point that this is a very different approach from most service provision, which starts with looking at what people don’t have – with gaps and deficiencies – and fails to value those things which we have in abundance. I’m interested in finding out how we can use technology to do more things that build on the skills people already have and to make connections between them.

We also talked about the value of connectedness. As we were discussing ways of people getting things done for themselves, Steve asked the question of whether there are really enough people within our neighbourhoods who are willing to take on the responsibility of power. He quite rightly said that taking responsibility for doing something where you live is about far more than joining a social networking site – standing on your head can be quite a strain. So how can we use technology to grow those essential offline networks, to build confidence, strengthen our communities and find new ways of doing things?

It was a thought-provoking discussion, which could have gone on much longer, and which has kept us thinking (and doing) since. It was only afterwards that I realised how little we’d talked about councillors (I think councillors only got a mention once, with a comment that most people don’t know who their councillors are) and that we’d barely touched on issues of accessibility and inclusion. You can get a good sense of the full discussion by looking at our Tweets from ‘All sorts of technology and democracy’.

Most of all, this was a conversation about how to get things done, perhaps with some wildly differing views but also with a common will to use technology in a way that helps people to achieve things. So really we had to conclude our discussion by deciding to do something. And what we decided to do was to make a collection of places to listen, to find out what’s important to people, and to look for the people who can tell engaging stories about the places where they live.

And I decided to carry on standing on my head – who knows, I may eventually find my balance.

Andrew’s blog:

Any Plan Will Do. But We Came Up with a Good Plan

Summary of our discussion:

Tweets from ‘All sorts of technology and democracy’

Themes from All Sorts of Technology and Democracy

Models of democracy:


Notes from All Sorts of Technology and Democracy introduction

Example of a local Timebanking project:

Newsome Ward Timebanking

The ‘triple bottom line’ approach:

nef (new economics foundation) – Valuing what matters

Tweets from ‘All sorts of technology and democracy’

Messages that we posted on Twitter during our ‘All sorts of technology and democracy’ discussion on 16th September 2010, as an image:

& as plain text:

We’re at The Media Centre talking about different democratic models and how technolgy is being used in Kirklees at the moment.

How does participation happen and why? Do people only engage when they need services? Do we focus too much on what people don’t have?

If we focus too much on deficiencies, we fail to value people’s skills and what they can contribute – we under-value things in abundance.

Why don’t we approach neighbourhoods by asking what people can offer – start with what they have and their passions.

Consultations that ask what people want maybe less effective than asking what people do.

Conversations are different from a Q and A. Social media involves listening, not leading.

“There is a problem in Kirklees – the name”. People don’t identify with the name, online or offline.

People need to identify with the place they live in order to engage with their community.

We’ve been tied up with service delivery thinking so long that it’s difficult to change.

What if we made the whole thing a game? Farmville with the winner affecting change in their neighbourhood?

Lot of support here for working with neighbourhoods. Engagement = local.

Are there enough people in neighbourhoods who want to take on the responsibility of power, rather than be happy for someone else to do it?
We need to look at the triple bottom line – economic, social and environmental value. Cash isn’t going to solve all our problems.

Can we use techonolgy to create an asset base?

Do we know where / how to listen?

“I hear Facebook mentioned on the bus every day.” But the bus is a social platform too – people are talking about all sorts on the bus.

I think we’re talking about connectedness again.

Is democracy about representation? Is it about choice? Is it about everything?

People taking responsibility for doing things in their own neighbourhoods is about more than joining a social networking site.

Are we due a revolution?

We need to put the Social before the Media – we have to build up community networks. Do we have the right tools for that?

There is a bird’s nest community way of communicating that outside organisations tend to screw up.

Are reciprocal systems managed as well offline?

“Local communities don’t exist.” I beg to differ…

We’re going to make a collection of places to listen, to hear what’s important to people.

We’re also going to look for the people who can tell emotional, engaging stories about the places where they live.

We have a plan.

All sorts of technology and democracy

Thursday 16th September

12.30pm to 1.30pm

at The Media Centre

We’re organising a lunchtime discussion about local democracy and social media. We’ll be talking about technology as a way for people to get involved in the decisions that affect their lives – a way to empower communities and increase democratic involvement. We hope you will be able to come along and take part. 

“All sorts of technology and democracy” is at The Media Centre in Huddersfield on Thursday 16th September from 12.30pm to 1.30pm. The event is free but places are limited – to reserve your place, please contact the Customer Service team at The Media Centre on 01484 483010 or email info@the-media-centre.co.uk

We’ll start with a very brief introduction to three different ways of looking at democratic engagement that we think might be useful: conversational democracy, deliberative democracy and the Localopolis. This will just be a starting point and after that we’ll be stuck unless people help us out. If you have something to say (or something to ask) about technology and democracy, please come along to join the discussion.

Huddersfield is a good place to talk about this at the moment, with lots of relevant activities and projects happening here. Huddersfield has a popular independent social media surgery for community groups and arts organisations. Kirklees Council have led the way among local authorities in using social media (which has been recognised through The Young Foundation’s Local 2.0 research). Huddersfield-based artists and researchers have been experimenting with public participation, collaboration and digital technology for more than 10 years (The Media Centre’s Speaker’s Corner, installed in 2001, is one such example and the game “Spring Alpha” is another).

This event is being organised by The Media Centre and Huddersfield Social, a group of local volunteers who are committed to using all forms of media technology to connect people so that they can get things done for themselves in their neighbourhoods. Huddersfield Social founded and organise the independent social media surgeries in Huddersfield.

Part of The Media Centre’s “Knowledge Sandwich” series.