Friday, 07 December 2007

Discovering local democracy: local people design their own consultation plan Last night I ran a workshop with residents in Manningham, Bradford, to help them design a public consultation process. Bradford Libraries have won funding to refurbish and extend Manningham library; and to their great credit, rather than specify how the consultation process would be run, the authority wanted to help local people to design it. A key starting point was for us all to appreciate that what we were doing wasn't about the new library, it was about designing a local democratic process. Once we'd worked through a couple of warm-up exercises to help us clarify this, I was struck by two things: the sense of fresh excitement that people brought to the process, having never before had the chance to participate in a public issue in such a way; and the sense that it's not at all straightforward. I had asked that recruitment for the group did not result in domination by people who are particularly experienced in community activity, and we had a refreshing bunch of folk with an age range from 19 to 86 years, none of them bruised or made cynical by over-exposure to community and civic politics. And once you start talking to people about their general experience of democracy it can be surprising how strange the notion seems to them, while at the same time seeming to be perfectly natural if only they could get some of it. Of course we tried to make sure we had a bit of fun, which included using children's bricks to design a 'public building' while simultaneously inventing a character who has to visit and use the place. I'm not sure how come these young women decided they would create a night club (the other group showed less imagination by coming up with, oh dear, a library), but we used the process to tease out some decision-making issues and areas of potential conflict. The hard work hits next week, when the group starts filling in a matrix of themes and consultation issues. No-one said democracy is easy: perhaps we'll find out at the end of the process whether they think it's worthwhile.

Recent Comments