A confection of ideas – co-design & policymaking

The second in the 2012 Political Innovation ‘Translation Layer’ series – Co-Design & Policymaking – is happening tomorrow evening at 6.30pm. I hope to see you there.

In a separate post here, I’ve outlined some of the more interesting examples of collaborative authoring that I’ve noticed in recent years and Steph Gray will be elaborating on this theme.

The format for the evening will be similar (with a few modifications based on what we learned a few weeks ago) and you can see what to expect here.

Matt Ridley – The Rational Optimist – outlines why the ability exchange ideas is more important than the quality of brains in any policymaking circle – and why it’s important to have as wide a circle of people as you can. Have a look at his Ted Talk – it’s well worth a look if you have time.

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What to expect at Political Innovation’s London Events in 2012

We have five ‘Translation Layer’ events planned between 24th January and the 3rd April 2012. Full details can be seen here.

At each event, there will be a short-ish talk followed by a discussion among participants. Personal networking is at least as important as the talks and we will be asking everyone to provide a short introduction, saying who they are and why they are here.

We have a way of making this a little more efficient (these are political events, speechmakers may be present!), so we will be asking everyone in the room to prepare a tweet-sized introduction to themselves and their work.

Everyone will be given a slip of paper to compose this on – one that looks something like this:

Click to enlarge

We’ve got a good mix of people coming along – politicos, entrepreneurs, bloggers, campaigners etc. We asked all attendees to complete a survey as part of their signup – here are the results:

Click to enlarge

The main event should be finished by about 8.15pm but we hope you will be able to join us for dinner afterwards as well!

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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).

Event Sponsors: Repknight.com

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.

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Crowdsourcing analysis for policymakers? What could possibly go wrong?

I’m looking forward to the ‘Crowdsourcing Analysis for Policymakers‘ event next week, with Andrew Stott kicking the evening off with some of his experiences working on the Government’s Open Data and Transparency Programme. We’re expecting a packed house but there are still a handful of tickets left – get yours now and maybe join us for dinner afterwards?

One issue that I hope will come up is the democratic problem presented by all transparency initiatives, including this one. Transparency is, after all, A Good Thing, we are told. It’s a very fine political horse to ride, as Steve Bell observed a while ago.

But what can possibly go wrong? I’d suggest that, before the Internet was thought off, politicians privately had the same thoughts about the pressures that they face to consult as they do today. The perennial problem of the hard to reach and the hard to avoids. The two demographics that help to justify representative government so effectively.

There are all kinds of problems with self-appointed participants – too many to list, so I’ll just adapt my favourite one from something I wrote about referendums a while ago:

“Doubt and equivocation are a good thing. Instinctive certainty often isn’t. As Darwin put it, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Doubters and equivocators are more likely to [not grasp opportunities to participate] and – following the logic of the Dunning-Kruger effect, that’s a bad thing.”

There are plenty more reasons to worry about this and conventional wisdom has generally concluded that it’s better to elect people to do this for us most of the time.

Crowdsourcing, however, creates a chink in the solid armour of the arguments for representative democracy. Sure, if you value participation at £zero, you may only attract people with a stake in the game. If you find a way of making it easy to do, and converting quick light responses from a wide range of participants, then you can attract more of a counterweight to self-interested pressure groups or the social classes that are over-represented in public discourse already. and micro-participation offer a way of reducing the problems of participation.

Another approach is to find people who don’t have the kind of prejudices that self-appointed participants often have and see if you can find ways of encouraging them to do some of your analysis for you. This is one of the attractions of trying to capture what Clay Shirky calls The Cognitive Surplus.

The thing is, gamifying decisionmaking is, in itself, hard work. If you have the resources and creative capacity to do it, then that’s fantastic. But as a half-way house, I’m currently working on a project to encourage school pupils to start playing with data to see what they can find.

I hope to see you next Tuesday – I’m sure you have your own issues with ‘ Crowdsourcing Analysis for Policymakers’.

 

 

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Full list of the Political Innovation ‘Translation Layer’ 2012 events now confirmed

Just a quick short post to highlight the 2012 ‘Translation Layer’ events. All speakers and dates have now been finalised – full details here.

I’ve already written up a more detailed outline of the first event – Crowdsourcing Analysis for Policymakers – here.

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Crowdsourcing Analysis for Policymakers

Crowdsourcing Analysis for Policymakers is the first of five planned Political Innovation Translation Layer evening events in the new year. These free events are taking place and the Adam Street Club just off The Strand in London. Get your tickets now – places are limited. You may also decide to stick around for dinner afterwards?

We’ve got the perfect speaker for the first event: Andrew Stott retired recently from the post of Director of Digital Engagement. During his time at The Cabinet Office, Andrew oversaw the launch of Data.gov.uk – a pioneering project intended to create a new level of transparency and intellectual capital around government.

By making raw information widely available, all kinds of possibilities have been opened up to change the way policymaking is done. No-one working in politics can afford not to understand how this will happen.

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.

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The problem with think-tanks: An alternative model

I’ve described so far a number of fundamental problems that I believe prevent think-tanks being as effective as they could be, to be blunt, that prevent them being useful (in the big picture sense). There’s always a risk when you start saying what’s wrong that you’ll get accused of whinging.

So, to try and put some balance into the debate, I want to wrap up this short series of blogs with some thoughts on what an alternative model might look like.

The biggest problem I can see is monetising critical thought. And this remains a problem regardless of the model, so rather than wasting acres of real estate trying to solve this one right now I’m going to state the obvious. Continue reading

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The problem with think-tanks: Transparency

Running alongside issues of quality and independence discussed already here is transparency. This comes in to play at a number of levels for the think-tank but, in a broad sense, is the outside world’s way of establishing the veracity of the work.

It helps us to understand the contribution and usefulness of the work done and also the position taken in terms of independence and bias. It is important to be upfront and honest about why research is being undertaken; who commissioned it and why. Continue reading

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The problem with think-tanks: Independence

I’ve talked about the quality of the work produced, I now want to focus on the question of how independent a think-tank is – or isn’t (either in reality or perception). I don’t just mean the blatant ideological instrument of some lobbying group or other that we regularly see in the US and increasingly are appearing in the UK.

Where this is the case it’s usually obvious and their work can safely be dismissed by all (including journalists looking to spice up a story with an extreme position and who should know better). Continue reading

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The problem with think-tanks: Quality

My earlier discussion on the value of and necessity for different types of research brings me to the first problem that the current think-tank situation creates; quality. In academia there is a considerable amount of valueless, low quality research and subsequent publication produced simply because one has too; publish or perish, as they say.

Don’t for one minute believe that peer-review systems protect us from this, they don’t. Nor is academic research an open or level playing field. Journals are largely closed shops, tightly controlled, inaccessible to most. Continue reading

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