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Lambeth Co-operative Consultation: An Update

Coat of arms of Lambeth London Borough Council
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With June slipping past and an enforced blogging hiatus likely in the coming day(s), I thought I should provide an update on my post from early June in relation to the progress of Lambeth Council’s much vaulted ‘Co-Operative Council’ White Paper and associated Citizen Consultation.

An extremely heavy duty blog post had been planned on this, but thankfully the ever excellent @Jason_Cobb came up trumps yesterday morning with a really good interview with Sophia Looney, the Council Officer running the “co-operative consultation”. You can listen to the conversation via the power of Audioboo as part of another enjoyable and detailed blog post by @Jason_Cobb himself here.

While the interview reassures in parts (and saved me ranting too much!), I still feel there are many lessons that could be learned and more importantly changes/improvements that could yet be made to the planned co-operative consultation process.

So I’ve provided a quick update on progress (as I see it) based on the six recommendations I provided in my blog post prior to the publication of the White Paper.

Be warned – this is long. Very long. Almost as impenetrable as the White Paer in question in fact ;-). So unless you are Jason Cobb or maybe Sophia Looney I’ll be mightily impressed if you make it to the end.

 

 

Recommendation 1: Be prepared – technically and operationally

The good:

  • The White Paper was immediately available online and was easy to download
  • There is a consultation presence across all the main electronic/online channels: Council website, dedicated eMail address for all co-operative enquiries, Facebook, Twitter and even a well meaning Wiki
  • All entries – including critical comments submitted on both Facebook and the Wiki have been left, uncensored
  • Responses to questions on Facebook have been getting a more prompt response in the last day or so
  • The Council website is made up of three pages and although hard to locate and limited in content, what is there is reasonably clear. A useful FAQ page is also now in place and thankfully provides some guidance on what we mean by a co-operative Council and examples of where the co-operative model currently works in Lambeth.

The not so good:

  • The Wiki is pretty poor and as it stands promises to offer little to the council of value – more on that below 
  • While my eMail was answered in just a few days, others have had to wait much longer for a response. There is no auto-receipt confirmation/holding message which would be an easy fix and would pacify many
  • Twitter. As with the wiki and Facebook initiatives, it’s nice to see this being embraced but there is relatively little yet of real value from the LC team on the twitter hashtag with most traffic driven by observers/folks interested in co-operatives (many of whom seem to believe that the idea of a Lambeth co-operative is already in place and doing great things – does anyone read anything these days?). The high point of the Twitter feed was http://bit.ly/bpuFOe one person being asked to be part of the “commission” which turned out to be a false alarm because remember folks: there are no citizens on the commission!!
  • Facebook. Good to have as an info source but I haven’t seen any additional value apart from a minimal broadcast uplift. As with the website it’s a true shame and creates an unnecessary image of “secrecy” that the Facebook page didn’t have the 17th June “Citizens”/Council Commission meeting on as an “Event” so people on the group can be alerted and follow up. No future events are shown and there is nothing on the site to explain the purpose of the Facebook group in the context of the consultation or the other channels (website, eMail account, wiki etc). The Council could/should also provide more structure for discussions by setting up specific discussion threads on topics they wish to receive commentary/consult with the public on. This could be easily done. See comments on how the wiki might be revamped for inspiration
  • The Council webpage’s are ok but still no clarity on how the consultation will work, how citizens will be engaged or the timetable it will work upon – Sophia Looney’s useful responses in today’s interview should be written up into a digestible format (What? Who? Why? When? How?) and posted to avoid all this confusion. There are still no minutes from the first two Commission meetings in spite of promises to do so. These need to go up ASAP as promised as again, they are unnecessarily adding to a sense of secrecy around the process
  • It is clear (as confirmed in the eMail response I received from the Lambeth co-operative team) that there is no schedule or timetable for any of the planned consultation events – either those in the local community or the “public commission meeting” (I do hope there will be more than one!). I think this absence of any timetable is incredibly alarming given that this has been on the cards since February and the White Paper suggests that by September/October the “final commission report” (not sure what that will include) will be published. It’s summer, almost the end of June and I’m really now concerned that timetable makes such a wide ranging and important consultation possible. If the best we can do is to confirm that a public meeting of the commission will be held in “late July” then I do worry.
  • The White Paper. The White Paper itself caused me all sorts of concern. I’ve tried to limit the points below but I could have added several more…. 
    • White Paper Concern 1: The White Paper itself is a curious document. A mixture of general “principles” Lambeth believe will underpin a shift to a co-operative council which in turn they believe will realise a host of positive outcomes for Lambeth and its citizens. Which in itself is an interesting assumption given the admission Lambeth would be the first co-operative council..hence the lack of precedent to base either the principles or expected outcomes upon. The principles range from the general and sometimes banal e.g. “The Council as a strong community leader” to the very precise and often not at all related to any idea of a co-operative council. Principle 7 for example is a very clear and non-co-operative statement of intent on shared customer services: “Simple, joined up and easy access to services –location and transaction…providing visible value for money”.  So while there is a strong theme on co-operation as a ‘desired’ model of improvement, it appears that Lambeth are actually after a much broader discussion on how service delivery can be improved across the borough – otherwise why include sections on “shared services” as a means to improve local government by 2014?. If that is the case then why this disproportionate focus on “co-opting”. The only real clear questions being asked on the website, Facebook, Twitter and the Wiki relate to “which services could be co-opted” or “co-operative stories”.  Why such a narrow focus? The principles are not all related to a ‘co-operative’ model of Government so why has the “consultation” been so far? In the same way that the sexy “co-operative” headline could potentially narrow the discussion and blind us to other ways to improve Public Services by 2014, so too is the current invitation to citizens/partners.  So – let’s clarify what the ultimate aim of this consultation is (an exploration of all/any means to improve services or a pure and exclusive pursuit of mutualisation?), change the language of engagement, open up the debate and while by all means continue to recognise co-operation as one possible model of improvement, let’s not cut our noses off to spite our face….there are many ways to skin a cat. If we knew the true nature of the challenges Lambeth faced we might even determine that co-operation isn’t actually the best solution at all. That might be embarrassing for Guardian loving officials of course but…
    • White Paper Concern 2. For many of Lambeth’s citizens the language of “co-operatives” is meaningless and more needed/needs to be done up front to enable as many citizens as possible to engage in this consultation with a sure understanding of what exactly the desired end point is for Lambeth Council.  The useful summary description and examples in the FAQ section of the Council website should be added to an updated version of the White Paper, the Wiki site and the Facebook group to aid comprehension. A quick call to the IDeA or FutureGov or The New Economics could assist in this I am certain. It’s not too late for this – with a better social media approach a ‘body of evidence’ / case studies could be posted online/published as a supplement to the White Paper and made available to all citizens to guide and inspire.
    • White Paper Concern 3: Why is all this necessary and what is the nature of the challenge we are facing? All we are told is that the scale of the challenges ahead and our ideas which seek to address them, mean that our current approach to service delivery will not be fit-for purpose”. But what exactly is the scale of the challenge? How bad are things for Lambeth? What is at risk? Without some sense for the gap that needs to be closed it is surely impossible for interested citizens to engage deliberatively and in a productive manner in this exercise.  Ideally the council might have recognised that the first step in many of the most positive developments/examples of Public Sector/citizen co-production/mutualisation/co-operation are based on the availability of Council data which can be used by citizens to provide useful insights, tools and services.  So what about publishing the Council financials including a breakdown of revenues/receipts, spend by department/service and an assessment of what this might look like in the next 4-5 years so the scale of the challenge is clear and we can start to make some informed recommendations on the basis of the data rather than waste our (and LC’s) time in making uninformed if well meaning recommendations. This contextual information should be made available on the council webpage’s, on the Facebook Group and the Wiki to aid contributors in their deliberations/contributions
    • White Paper Concern 4: is this the right time to launch such a commitment to overhaul the way Lambeth deliver its services? Is there any genuine understanding as yet how the new “ConDem” coalition intend to engage with Local Government – what will the nature of that partnership be and how does that fit into this co-operative (aka Lambeth 2014 vision)? What impact on Lambeth Council budgets will initiatives already in flight such as the Free Schools and Academies Program have on the boroughs balance books and strategy? Is the council engaging with initiatives like The Big Society or groups like the IDeA to ensure that they benefit from thinking on co-production/citizen empowerment/co-operation at a national scale or are we at risk of setting off on our own course to prove we are “cutting edge”?
    • White Paper Concern 5: What does this mean for the extensive range of Government/Citizen/Social Enterprise partnerships that already exist in Lambeth? Where do they fit into this model? What services are currently supported and provided by them and do these offer the ideal starting point for any discussion on a full co-opting of service? As I will continue to stress, without any understanding of the current landscape of Local Government service provision then how can I even begin to make a valuable contribution to this debate. An understanding of current partnerships in this area might provide inspiration and guidance as a minimum. In her interview, Sophia Looney provides some useful insight on this – why it isn’t provided in both the White Paper and on the various online consultation channels I don’t know but it’s not too late to rectify
    • White Paper Concern 6: Are all Council Services “up for grabs”? If not, which ones? If so then are all up for grabs as far as potential “co-opting” goes? And for those members of the public, who may not have memorised the lot, why not provide a complete list of services with a short notation on whether they are open to consideration for co-opting.  While I understand the fad for listing sexy “principles”, in effect many of these are so banal and general that they border on meaningless. The other problem with using “principles” (aside from the fact it potentially constrains a creative discussion) is that it is not a good framework to engage the public in a discussion about Council improvement. Citizens’ experience Local Government not in terms of principles, but services and that is perhaps how the public consultation – both online and offline – should be re-structured (at least in addition to the principles listed). As above – this can still be easily added to various channels/points of contact to aid contributors.  An idea might be to produce a one stop “Additional Information/Briefing Pack” containing all the suggested contextual information outlined in the last few points.
    • White Paper Concern 7: As mentioned above, the paper itself is very dense and even this 10 year veteran of Public Sector policy documentation with a sad interest in the subject matter struggled to wade through it. This represents a real risk to the success of the consultation. I suggest that Lambeth Council produce an executive summary that can be made available both on and offline to those who either won’t have the time or the inclination to wade through the entire 50+ pages of the White Paper. Appropriate versions for young people and the physically impaired should be produced post haste and made available at Local Government and Community Hubs such as Youth Centres, Municipal Buildings, Customer Contact Centres, Volunteer and Social Enterprise organisation offices. I haven’t seen any hard copies of the report anywhere as yet. As mentioned earlier – if our agenda is truly to consult on how to improve local services by 2014 then wider the debate and how it is presented in these documents. As it stands I fear it appears we are on a mission to explore ‘co-operation’ to the exclusion of all else.

 

In short there is a lot of work here which ideally would have been done/in place at the launch of the consultation period so that the Council were prepared (technically and operationally). This consultation has clearly been in the pipeline since February and the period for consultation over the summer is short so every day counts. However it is not too late to put many of these points right and I hope Lambeth take the time to do so.

 

Recommendation 2: “Ensure a there is a representative sample of citizens consulted”

Rather than re-hash what Sophia Looney told the good @Jason_Cobb re plans to ensure a representative sample of citizens/interested parties I suggest you listen to the Audioboo interview itself.

I was reasonably reassured by what she said but I’d recommend two key action items:

  • Draw up another simple table which shows a breakdown of which groups are going to be consulted, why and what role they will be asked to play. This should be easily done based on what Sophia told Jason today and this in turn can be posted to the Council Website so that all interested parties understand the groupings who are being engaged (Commission, the mystery “500” who have been actively invited to participate etc). This will again help dispel this ongoing sense (hopefully misplaced) of secrecy that surrounds the process.
  • Related to the point below I don’t think there should be any data protection issues in publishing individual names and their capacity/expertise in this consultation.

If we are to have any confidence in the outcomes of this process then Lambeth’s citizens deserve to know who will be potentially influencing the future of the Public Services we depend on. Many of these are unelected officials and it is only right and proper that we should have complete visibility of who these potentially very powerful individuals/groups are. I cannot see a case to withhold that list.

I disagree slightly with Jason Cobb in his scepticism re the proposed 300 person “deliberation” focus groups. As per my previous post on this – empirical evidence suggests that when done properly, deliberative polling at this scale can actually work extremely well, resulting in both a representative and considered set of policy outcomes.

But more on that later.

 

Recommendation 3: Is a Wiki the best approach to online consultation?

I hate to say “I told you so” but….It’s a mess

  • There is no ‘Beginners Guide’ for those who haven’t used this sort of tool before. That’s poor if we are to ensure all voices are heard and people are to be encouraged and enabled to participate

 

  • There is no ‘How this wiki will be maintained/monitored/used’ for those who do engage so there really is no sense of direction for how to contribute in the most efficient way. What is the desired output of this wiki for the Lambeth co-op team? Is it actually set up to support that (or any) specific outcome? Certainly at the moment there is no clear sense for that desired outcome and therefore how the wiki should be used/structured. That’s a shame and should be rectified

 

  • I’d assumed that the wiki might be first and foremost focussed on asking citizens to collaborate and provide potential answers to the key questions the White Paper poses. Instead we are only offered the chance to edit/amend the incredibly bland/general and ultimately less relevant (to citizens at least) element of the White Paper – the set of “principles”.  Get the questions on there as a minimum if we are to continue with this limited tool.

 

  • Even therein – in some of the principles, the text in the wiki is actually different from the text in the White Paper! Honestly! Get it fixed…

 

  • Having the focus of the wiki on the principles raises an interesting question re the White Paper and the timing of this wiki consultation in its current scope – to “edit” the principles and submit ideas on services that could be co-opted. For if the wiki project fundamentally changes the proposed “principles” then are the questions associated with those principles – as posed in the White Paper – still valid and if not then how can the Commission be undertaking its consideration of these questions with any confidence before the consultation on principles is complete? The questions in the white paper actually – in the main – had some relevance. Surely the prize here is to answer those questions in tandem with the commission considering the same so the two groups might inform one another? This is another missed opportunity for the “wiki”. Even better would have been to have had a page set up for each question with the commission’s opening attempt to respond/outline ideas/suggestions which the public could then add to/comment on

 

  • A page has been set up entitled “What services should become a co-op”? As outlined in my previous post and in my concerns on the White Paper above this is truly inadequate as a question. On what basis are we to respond to this question? What services are “in scope” for consideration? What is the scale of the challenge? What will the co-op model be? What is the objective of co-opting a service: improved delivery; cost savings etc – that will influence which services should be considered. If Lambeth want this question answered properly – not just online, but offline as well then they need to do the hard yards and put in place the contextual briefing documentation that characterises a true deliberate democratic consultation

 

  • If we accept how the Wiki has been set up – however limited – it’s very difficult to make sense of already and that’s from someone who is reasonably tech savvy and interested in the content. The Wikispaces software is limited and not sure well set up for this purpose. The editable principle pages are fine re editing but the other two open pages (outwith the” ideas for co-opting” page)  seem to be dumping grounds for commentary related to some aspects of the co-operative council or commission but in no particular order or with any clear delineation between submissions/authors. 

The page titled “Local Leadership” contains (what I assume to be) commentary/questions on about 10 different subject areas related in part to the White Paper. Some great points of course but by the time I got to the bottom of the page I really hadn’t a clue what on earth was going on – who had added it, why it had all been lumped under “Local Leadership” (or what the local leadership page was set up to capture), where one post ended and another began and in some instances what on earth it had to do with a cooperative council or consultation thereof.

The page titled “Co-operative Council Commission or citizen’s commission” was much the same with no clear delineation of who was asking/responding to what or on whose behalf. This is where a wiki falls down – if you have too many disparate voices without a shared understanding of the desired outcome and no context/content to work with the wiki is no longer a wiki and just a set of comments, questions and occasionally ideas left floating in space

 

  • The wiki has no editorial leadership. Apart from a well meaning administrator clearly working behind the scenes at a technical level there seems to be no one from the Council team engaged on the wiki at all. This is entirely evident on the Discussion page – not a single question posted on the Discussion section has been answered by LC. That’s just rubbish and will dissuade visitors for engaging. I decided it wasn’t worth posting anything on there as it seems to have been left to run its own course by the consultation team. But maybe that’s the point – sexy story using a wiki……

A good wiki works when there a clearly understood expected outcome, the structure of the wiki is set up to support that and there is someone with overall editorial control who understands what the desired output needs/should be (I mean – I’m assuming someone decided to set up a wiki because they hoped that the public would collaborate ad create something of value?) and therefore can provide structure, guidance, prompts etc to keep content and contributors moving in that direction. That “guiding hand” isn’t here and beyond getting some comments on the generic principles I’m not sure what on earth the current objective is. I think it’s a misuse/misunderstanding of how to use a wiki.

I suggested in my pre consultation post that a wiki was not appropriate or valuable for this consultation effort. I am now certain that is the case. Surely the value here is to create an online resource where:

1) Citizens and interested parties can review, comment on and ask for clarification on the entire White Paper – with the paper divided up into clear sections and each comment/question posted publicly so that others can follow (just in the same way as the ConDem coalition posted it’s “Programme for Government” document. Ideally people could vote for an idea or a comment or question to be included or responded to in the way Virtual Parliament or Yoosk enable

2) Citizens and interested parties can provide ideas/submissions on how the council can improve its services and their delivery by 2014. As with the review of the White Paper, all submissions would be public, documents could be posted as attachments and those visiting the site could vote/add commentary on the submissions and connect with fellow participants to discuss/collaborate on ideas. Much in the same way Your Country Your Call worked or the new US Education Innovation portal is set up. This would also help ensure that all potentially valuable ideas are captured for critical analysis and posterity. The current Wikispaces is just too limited to support all of this – certainly based on the limited structure/support currently in place

3) The council can post supporting documentation (guidance on what they mean by a “co-operative council”, lists of all services currently delivered and associated outcomes that would have to be maintained in any future co-op model and data sets that allow visitors to understand the current allocation of spend/resources across services to establish opportunities for consultation which are suitable/valuable in this context).

That feels to me like something more considered than a Wikispace with the best will in the world. That might have required more up front effort but then we had our front page headlines in February so surely not too long to get something in place. As the links I provide above demonstrate, it’s not as if this hasn’t been done before. And given the importance Lambeth Council seem to be putting on this I would have thought a much more important use of resources. Again – it’s not too late if the team leading this want to truly support the best possible online consultation.

 

Recommendation 4: How to ensure a deliberate discussion?

This is my biggest concern for the Lambeth Co-op consultation.

As I wrote in my last post on this topic, 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 in this instance?

I asked if Lambeth have 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.

Following my original post, none other than 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? He confirms this particular approach as possibly the only genuinely valuable strategy to engage and gain endorsement from the public on tough policy decisions.

And so another plea to Lambeth Council – how are you going to ensure this is a truly deliberative consultation? Just in case you don’t have the time, I’ve provided 5 invaluable (IMHO) links to resources that not only provide evidence of the power of this approach but provide advice and tools to actually undertake such an exercise here. Other than this I can’t do much more than suggest you just get on the blower to James Fishkin himself:

 

Recommendation 5: Consistency across channels

My fifth piece of advice in the original post was to ensure consistency across consultative channels.

It’s early days on this but not promising thus far given, for example, that not all of the White Paper is on the wiki, some of the wiki text differs from the original paper text and there are no clear structures set up on either the Wiki or Facebook to ensure a consistent set of outputs.

The lack of sight on questions/suggestions posted via eMail means there is a possibility that duplicate questions/suggestions are being made.

Ideally all this would have been managed in a single portal so that some measure of consistency and transparency could have been supported.

 

Recommendation 6: Be clear on how the consultation will work and keep your promises:

This was my final piece of advice and I think I’ve said enough already. There is work to be done but it is not too late to put those things right. It is obvious to anyone browsing the wiki page or Facebook Group or reading Jason Cobb’s blog/twitter updates that there is frustration with the process.

 

All of us want only the very best for this consultation. Our future life experiences in Lambeth are intrinsically tied to it. And so I simply repeat the closing lines of my initial post on this topic…

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 endeavours. 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 (continue to) wish them well.

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Co-operatives, Consultations and Lambeth

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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:

Wiki

 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 www.yomoot.com 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: http://programmeforgovernment.hmg.gov.uk/. 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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