Co-design and policymaking – London event on 7th February

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen just how powerful a concept collaborative authoring is. Using little more than standard blogging tools and a creative use of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, campaigners Sue Marsh and Kaliya Franklin started an avalanche opposing proposed reforms to the UK’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

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You can read a fuller account (with links) of how they did this here. But, for the purposes of the second 2012 Political Innovation event in London – Co-Design & Policymaking (Tues 7th Feb) – perhaps the most interesting thing (aside from the strength of the arguments and the political victory that flowed from it) about this initiative was the way that it was received.

This was not a pressure-group funded mixture of ‘research’ and spin. It had received little attention from elected politicians and the media were largely indifferent to it until it came to dominate Twitter prior to a key vote in the House of Lords.

No-one could ignore the thousands who collaborated to examine the ignored responses to government consultations, adding their own arguments and research to create a report. Many of the participants were people who may have struggled to participate in conventional political campaigning because of the very nature of their disabilities. None of the cynicism that could apply to corporate spin or demagogic journalistic grandstanding could be applied to this. As Sue Marsh put it:

“We did everything possible to engage with politicians, lobbying MPs and Peers, writing articles, attending conferences, but at every turn we were brushed aside.

Despite serious concerns from campaigners, charities and disabled people themselves, the Government’s the recent Impact Assessment (October 2011) into the proposed reform of Disability Living Allowance is almost identical to the original. Nothing has changed, almost none of our concerns have been addressed and as the House of Lords return to vote on the final stages of the welfare reform bill, we felt that it was vital we presented our own evidence.

This is the Spartacus Report. We all own it, we all created it. It is yours, use it in any way you wish.”

The perceived legitimacy of this response can explained from this request from Sue to her collaborators:

“Do what we do best and make our case honestly. Re-post articles, write short statements, blog, contact friendly journalists and see if they will drop a little of the DWP spin angles. Contact supporters and let them know we won and what it means. Own the internet. It’s all we have.

… Trust in our case, trust in the evidence we have presented, but most of all trust yourselves. Governments are not defeated often in the way ours was yesterday and you did it. Without the TV news, without much of the printed news, without an opposition, whatever Labour MPs claim today.”

I hope you can come to the second Political Innovation event examining how collaborative authoring can enrich policymaking and overcome many of the problems with our think-tank driven model of policymaking.

At this event, Steph Gray will share his experiences of grappling with this problem from both within and without government, creating and using collaborative tools.

The Spartacus Report may have relied upon an ad-hoc use of free standard applications, but there are also significant possibilities open to collaborators who know how to design a web-interface to encourage participation.

Wikipedia, after all, is a huge collaborative document. The standard ‘Google Doc’ application now allows a number of users to work on the same document simultaneously. My personal favourite collaborative document is Writeboard, but there are plenty more on offer.

In the past, I’ve covered some of my favourite tools elsewhere, including Debategraph and Mixed Ink, both of which promote different game-based approaches to this problem.

And finally, there is another twist. Over recent years, I’ve had the privilege of working with Mick Fealty of Northern Ireland’s cross-communal political weblog Slugger O’Toole.

Mick has forgotten more than most people have learned about keeping a useful conversation going, and his site hosts civil – even genial – conversations between protagonists who may have been less gentle towards each other in his absence.

I’m hoping that a few bloggers will be on hand to reflect back at the end of the evening upon the ‘it’s not just about tools’ aspect of this argument.

All five events intend to cram the following features into them:

To be a translation layer. I pinched that idea from a speech by Ben Hammersley in which he identified the need to explain innovation more widely. Having worked for some time in the overlap between politics and innovative media, a breakdown in communication has always been evident. Innovators are often impatient with incumbents. They’re bed-blockers. They just don’t get it, man! On the other hand, the incumbents often have a very clear idea as to why the bright ideas of innovators just won’t work. Or sometimes, they adopt a very simplistic version of what innovators urge upon them (see e-petitions). These events are intended to open a discussion between those urging innovation upon politicos, and the politicos who already know what ideas just won’t work.

Brevity. These are evening events. We’re planning to have only one speaker at them, and we’re asking the speakers to prepare a short, high-impact talk. The aim is not to provide anything that is absolutely cutting-edge in terms of innovation. Instead, we’re looking for something that explains why the matter in hand could be more interesting to politicos than they may think.

A thought experiment. These five events will look at how some innovative concepts could change the way we use and see think tanks. Think tanks are problematic. Dr Andy Williamson has written a number of short posts here explaining why. They’ve not (yet) been hit by the demands for transparency that politicians, the media and government in general have had to to endure. But they may do so soon. Being more familiar with the concepts that these talks will cover may help to shape the next generation of think tanks.

A networking opportunity. Adam St is a great venue for networking events. We are aiming to attract an eclectic mix of people along, and we’re working with Elwood & Atfield to promote these evenings. Elwood & Atfield are very active in the CIPR Public Affairs Group and have a great database of people who work at the top of the politics and public affairs professions.

Along with the geeks, gamers and bloggers that have been to previous political innovation events, we’re aiming for a few politicians, policy-wonks and campaigners. Everyone should come away with the kind of contacts that they won’t meet anywhere else.

All events will feature a short session in which everyone in the room will be able to see who else is listening.

About Paul Evans

Living in London but working all over Britain and Ireland, Paul is the curator of the Political Innovation project. On twitter as @paul0evans1, blogging mainly at the Local Democracy blog and working mostly for Memeserver Ltd.
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