Posts Tagged Lambeth Labour

Deliberative Democracy, a beautiful echo and another appeal to Lambeth Labour

Image by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr

On 4th June I managed to string together a very brief post on the then much anticipated launch of Lambeth Labour’s white paper and citizens consultation on it’s much heralded “Co-operative Council” strategy.

My post was a very humble and basic set of hopes/recommendations for the good people at Lambeth Labour to guide them in their proposed “public consultation”. Sadly, though lets be honest, not unsurprisingly, no one at Lambeth Town Hall reads my blog.  As I’ll soon be posting, the much vaulted White Paper and ensuing consultation process has been quite a disappointment thus far.

However – while I am saddened by the rather haphazard approach being adopted here in SW2, I was heartened (really heartened) that Matthew Taylor  (Chief Executive of the RSA since November 2006 prior to which he was Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to the Prime Minister) posted an eerily similar piece to his RSA Blog on the challenges of Government run “public consultations”.  And he’s a man who knows having been responsible for “The Big Conversation”. Remember that?

Just four days after I made my entreaty to Lambeth Labour to place an exercise in deliberative democracy at the very heart of it’s “co-operative government” consultation, Matthew Taylor suggested this particular approach as possibly the only genuinely valuable strategy to engage and gain endorsement from the public on tough policy decisions.

It’s on the rare occasion like this that I feel genuinely a little better about myself. I know this is a inappropriate and misplaced vanity, but it reminds me that sometimes I do have something useful to say when I can stay my limited intellect long enough to craft an argument.

It’s just a shame he didn’t post a little sooner. I sense the words of the Chief Exec of the RSA carry more weight in the corridors of power in SW2 than those of a well meaning if ill qualified part time blogger and one time consultant from up Acre Lane.

So – deliberative democracy. Lambeth Labour – it’s not too late; but are you listening?

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Co-operatives, Consultations and Lambeth

Location of the London Borough of Lambeth in G...
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Back in February, The Guardian ran a front page story on Lambeth Council’s proposals to create a “co-operative council”.  Following much speculation and some additional explanation from @LambethLabour, tomorrow will see the publication of the Council’s detailed proposals for this new LG co-operative AND the establishment of a “Citizens Commission” made up of local people to consult on said proposals.

For anyone interested in participative democracy or indeed the “Big Society” this is all rather mouth watering.

There has been more than enough coverage on the merits of the “co-operative approach” proposed by Lambeth Labour and the “no frills” approach to Local Government to be trialled by the Conservatives in Barnet (including by me on this blog: here) so I’ll leave that for now and instead offer some humble suggestions on the “Citizens Commission” consultation which will – one trusts – guide Lambeth Council on it’s journey toward mutualisation.

Jason Cobb over at ONIONBAGBLOG asked the perinent question of Cllr Steve Reed when the date for proposals to be published and the associated consultation was announced: “How will citizens for this commission be selected?” The response from Cllr Reed:


 This is potentially exciting stuff – proper democratic engagement on proposals to change the very nature of Local Government service provision in our area. But it also has the potential to go the way of so many previous public consultations between Government and citizen. Errrm, nowhere.

So some humble suggestions for the team @Lambethabour to make this consultation count:

  • Be prepared – technically and operationally

If I am invited to consult on tomorrow’s proposals either Online, via wiki or in some other format, please be ready to process my comments. The internet in particular is littered with instances of failure to anticipate and handle the taffic that comes with an invitation to participate….and once bitten; twice shy. Make the channels for comentary available and accessible from Day 1 and be ready to respond to early technical or operational glitches to ensure immediate authority/integrity of the process.

  • Ensure a there is a representative sample of citizens consulted

It will not be enough to simply open a passive set of feedback channels to the general public in Lambeth on these areas. The matters at stake are too important. At least in part, the Council must ensure that a representative sample have been consulted and their views recorded. This is particularly important in the case of those members of our society (the elderly and the socially disadvantaged) who are least likely to either be online or informed of such a consultation but yet are often more likely to depend on local government services under debate

  • Is a Wiki the best approach to online consultation?

Wiki’s are useful but when badly set up they require excessive moderation to ensure focus and they can become unwieldy. It can also be resource intensive to draw out natural conclusions from contributions made – particularly important here. It is a true shame that does not have a mobile app plug-in that could be used to better facilitate an online conversation but maybe next time….for now, as a half-way house, why not simply use the model adopted today by the Government Coalition and its (eventually) comment enabled “Programme for Government” document: The interface is simple and comments are focussed on a particular area of Government, it also helps a little to mitigate against the “free-styling” that an open wiki can sometimes result in. However – and most importantly – neither exisiting wiki/online polling tools as yet support the ability to engage a ‘deliberate democratic discussion’…

  • How to ensure a deliberate discussion?

Successful public consultations typically rely on the participants having a shared and clear understanding of the context of the debate and are fully briefed on the various proposals being presented for their commentary – so they can make a more reasoned/informed contribution. How will those consulted be informed? Have you considered adopting the “deliberative democracy” model for this consultation? It might lead to a more considered, less populist outcome. This may be an additional overhead on the process but empirical evidence suggests that it could result in increased savings, improved service provision and higher voter satisfaction with their local councils.

  • Consistency across channels

Linked to the point above – without a broadly consistent set of questions across channels it will be very difficult to usefully collate and compare commentary/contribution. This is an important consideration to avoid complicating what is already likely to be a lengthy process of data analysis.

  • Be clear on how the consultation will work and keep your promises:

How long will it last? what channels are available to comment? who will moderate contributions and should they be moderated at all? how will comments be considered/actioned? what happens to ideas that are not actioned in this round of a consultation? The list of questions goes on. Crowd-sourcingis not an easy business – have you thought through how to identify and manage special interest groups? How will you ensure transparency even when commentary may be critical? And once you have asked for opinions – are you actually going to do something with them? A quick search on the recent ‘Your Ireland; Your Call’ crowd-sourcing initiative provides an insight into the challenges of running a consultation like this (albeit YIYC was on a national scale). The old Number Ten Downing Street petition site became something of a poster child for the failure of online feedback to generate online action (although interesting to note that the new coalition guarantee a formal debate on any isse attracting 100k signatures…interested to see how that works out)


I really don’t mean to be obstructive or negative – all these points are made in the spirit of someone who welcomes this attempt at public consultation. But I am also wary. For what we are being consulted on is in fact a strategy that will require individuals and groups across Lambeth’s civic society to take on responsibility for the delivery of public services. And that is a construct that requires an engaged population who trust in their elected officials to support them in their endeavors. How this consultation runs might well influence how engaged we are in the ‘co-operative Lambeth’ and certainly the trust we can place in our elected officials as part of a mutualised local government.

In a way then, this consultation is the first test of the Lambeth ‘co-operative model’ and so the stakes are high. I wish them well.

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