A politically cross-cutting demand for innovation?

We’re taking the political innovation project forward because there are people on all sides of the political dartboard who have a general belief in the positive potential of interactivity.

Max Weber anatomised bureaucracy. Who will map its interactive successor?

This project will demonstrate that there is a community of opinion that cuts across traditional ideological divides that would broadly agree with everything in this post. It’s a cross-cutting point that increased interactivity can, in itself, be a public good – one that helps back politics out of a few of the cul-de-sacs that it has reversed itself into.

Interactivity can enable better thinking, more fairness, higher standards and more inclusion all wrapped up in one neat package. This cross-cutting political constituency would hope to see all – or most – of the following:

  • Libel reform. Jack of Kent blogs regularly – among many others – about the way that corporate or quack-doctor interests abuse the necessity for a law protecting reputations to stifle free comment. The result benefits charlatans of both commercial and ethical varieties at the expense of medical science – and therefore, the public interest.
  • Copyright recallibration. Again, there is an optimal balance between the rights of the originators of content to be rewarded for their work, and the public interest benefit that arises from a high rate of exchange of intellectual property. Outdated inflexibilities in the various publishing markets mean that huge opportunities are being missed.
  • Open source evangelism. Too many IT projects are the product of a successful salesperson rather than a good public / commercial decision. As Dominic says, it’s time people started getting fired for buying IBM. We need a government that is more effective at demanding open standards and developing software that is supplier-independent. we need a less mechanistic and more human model of public procurement. It would save money and lead to a better outcome.
  • ‘Interactivity’ over ‘transparency’. In the perfect storm that has grown out of a combination of Freedom of Information legislation and a more interactive polity, the term ‘transparency’ has been almost fetishised. This creates some problems. It may be creating a less reflective polity that is open to attack from well-resourced pressure groups. In sort, a crude interpretation of the term ‘government transparency’ may not be in the public interest. If, however, all of the players in public life – politicians, civil servants, pressure groups, journalists, NGOs and QUANGOs, business interests, etc were encouraged to be more interactive – open, human, honest and conversational – this would undoubtedly lead to a more engaged and democratic polity.
  • Democracy. There is a high quality of intelligence and judgment outside any institution – of a quality that can usually beat the quality of thinking within that institution. We need to apply the growing understanding of how ‘crowdsourcing’ can be managed to ensure that the widest range of intelligence and judgment brought to bear on problems wherever possible. Elected representatives should be expected to understand how interactive tools can enable them to improve the quality of their thinking and deliberation.
  • Service design. For far too long, public policy, architecture and service design has been a narrow monopoly governed by experts, civil servants and suppliers, overseen by gatekeeping group-thinky QUANGOs. No school, hospital, housing scheme or major public service should ever again be developed without a high level of participation among the people who are expected to use the services.
  • Procurement and bureaucracy. Handing out government contracts has always been a fraught issue. On the one hand, there is a huge potential for graft and cronyism. On the other, highly process-driven blind processes often result in rigid dysfunctional contractual relationships that result in huge waste, bigger cock-ups and unfathomable audit-trails that make a nonsense of accountability. Does this still need to be the case in market that is being shaped by large-scale peer-recommendation, crowdsourced intelligence and reputation management?

So there you have my modest take on the potential for political innovation. I’m concious that I’ve not touched many issues that hold out greater potential for innovators than this list. The questions of hyperlocality, highly localised activities that build social capital, or the potential to redefine what journalism is, and so on.

The Political Innovation project is designed to smoke out more ideas like this and provide a space where they can be fleshed out. I hope you’ll be able to follow this project over the summer and perhaps participate either in person or using the various forums we’ll be using here?

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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