Participation not polarisation

Bringing politics (small 'p') back to the community was perhaps the intention of the Community Empowerment Act, partly by setting up Community Planning Partnerships.  Sadly the result is the same conversations are held by the same people without the authority or the resources to implement the paper plans.  There are good community councils that really take the word "community" seriously and put it into practice, but these are outnumbered by those that operate on a feudal basis.  Where does the "man at the bus stop" have an opportunity to have a conversation about the bus service provided?  There is immediately a conflict between the perceived "right" of the service provider to manage the service, even if the solution fails to meet the needs of the community, and those who use the service - so the question is how to ensure that services (not just bus services!) meet the needs of the service user rather than the needs of the service provider?  A successful service is one where the service user is included from the outset in the design of the service.  This has to be from the top of the management pyramid down to the service user.  The question that has to be left open is how many layers should the pyramid have.

A local authority in Scotland has discontinued its Citizens Panel, where membership was limited to roughly 1% of its population.  The size of the panel was statistically insignificant but it was an attempt to gather opinion from a wider group of people than its elected members and staff.  However there is no benefit in the exercise if the consensus opinion is then disregarded.

Market research has developed tools in an attempt to ensure those included in any survey are a representative cross section of the community, but the results of any survey will always be open to error.  As a first step towards improving decision making within a community or a local authority a similar Panel should be established with a statistically significant membership.  Apart from the the administration of such a panel there are a number of democratic challenges such as the assurance from Panel members to respond to a minimum number of surveys, involvement of Panel members in question setting (to remove bias), and to implement the outcome of surveys.

It is essential that the time line for any policy or decisions involves the community from the outset, not in the form of a consultation where the options have already been formulated.

Why the contribution is important

Too often the opinions of decision makers are influenced by lobbying groups to the detriment of the community as a whole.  There are instances where lobbying groups reflect the individual opinions of a strong leadership rather than those of the membership.  Research has shown that there are many instances where "the minority monopolise the conversations" and other voices fail to be heard.  This is to suggest that all voices are valid, not merely those that are the loudest.

This is simply why conversation must have priority over confrontation and participation must have priority over polarisation.


by Fleuch on November 29, 2018 at 11:02AM

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