An influential digital democracy pressure group is praising government trials of creative ways of increasing local people’s participation local decision-making.
The government’s Innovation in Democracy Programme encourages councils to increase so-called “deliberative democracy”, where key policy decisions are put in the hands of “citizen’s assemblies” of local people who don’t usually get involved in local politics.
Citizens’ assemblies – supported by wider online digital engagement – are designed to reflect the gender, age, ethnicity, geographical location and social background of the local population, bringing together people who might not usually engage in the local political process to make recommendations to a council.
The panels are supported by digital platforms to increase participation and transparency.
Three local authority areas are currently involved in trials:
- Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council: Improving Dudley and Brierley Hill town centres.
- Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership (Cambridgeshire County Council, Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council): Improving air quality and public transport and reducing traffic congestion.
- Test Valley Borough Council: Improving the area around Crosfield Hall and the Bus Station.
At least 11 other local authorities are known to be operating citizen’s assemblies, often aimed at informing the local response to the challenges posed by climate change.
The council’s efforts have been welcomed by the Digital Democracy project, which aims to use everyday technology to connect politicians and the people they serve.
The Digital Democracy project was established to use bridge the gulf between people and their elected representatives using their phones and other handheld devices – whilst blocking malicious or offensive communication in a way that other social media platforms do not.
The project’s Rate Your Leader allows confirmed voters in specific electoral divisions to communicate directly with the elected representatives, as well as rating them for responsiveness.
Joel Popoola from the project said:
“When councils traditionally hold public meetings or public consultations, the same people tend to get involved and they can often be politically-motivated, have axes to grind or only represent a very narrow section of the community. With citizens’ assemblies, you don’t just the usual opinions of the usual suspects, and that can lead to better decision making.
“Citizen’s assemblies also get more people engaged in the local political process. Even in the areas where local election turnout is highest, less than half of the electorate tend to vote in council elections and in most areas turnout is even lower. But these panels help local people see the real impact they personally can have on improving where they live.
“These two issues are key to what we’re trying to achieve, in particular with our free Rate Your Leader app. Helping local representatives build a more comprehensive and profound picture of what local people think their communities need, and connecting local people and local representatives constructively and courteously using phones or tablets.”
The Rate Your Leader app is available from the Apple and Google Marketplaces. The app has a five star rating on the Google market, with one reviewer writing “This is the new level of politics…better communication of leaders with the electorates and accountability”.
An ever-increasing number of MPs, councillors, MEPs and Police & Crime Commissioners have already taken advantage of the free democracy app to stay in touch with the people who elect them and to get their message out to confirmed voters in their constituencies, helping them truly understand what matters most to the people who elect them