Since I work in the public sector I have a strange relationship with politics. Of course, I have political views on specific issues and I do my civic duty by voting every once in a while but at the same time I’m involved in a small way with implementing policy, most of which I didn’t vote for or agree with. I have to detach from my political opinion and do a professional job, and in the process of doing that I find that my original views get challenged, sometimes strongly, and so my opinions change over time.
I consider myself fortunate that I get to experience the effects of policy from this sort of vantage point. The people on the sharp end often don’t get the opportunity to go on such a “journey”. People in receipt of public services are often (but not always) the most vulnerable and the least able to advocate for themselves.
But nevertheless it’s important to realise that our ideologies are often disconnected from reality. Policies that are demonised by some occasionally turn out ok: stuff that seemed like a great idea to everyone often goes completely wrong. This is because “policy” in a political sense is heuristic: it’s a mental shortcut to help build consensus around the effect of a principle. This is “fast” thinking and is optimised for communication, pithy soundbites, 140-character tweets and for broad brush statements on complex topics.
I’m no expert on political theory and I don’t have much time for party politics, so let’s cut to the chase. The link above suggests we do one or more of three things:
- Share a link to a good project that delivers a public service outside the State.
- Share a thought about how we could deliver a public service outside the State (maybe write a blog post about it).
- Share a thought about how democracy could be redesigned.
The first should be easy: any social enterprise should be able to demonstrate social impact and simultaneously have a sustainable business model. A great example is Pluss (http://www.pluss.org.uk/), a social enterprise that helps people find work. I’ve chosen them because they used to be run by the local council and now they are owned by a consortium but independent. In the digital arena, microfinance organisations such as Kiva (http://www.kiva.org/start) or Grameen (http://www.grameenfoundation.org/) probably do more for local economic growth than the governments in the areas they operate (and driving growth and wellbeing are the two main pillars of government policy).
As for services that could be run from outside the state apparatus, I think that we need to distinguish between things that might just be privatised (and for example we have private health care) and things that can be genuinely run by citizens for citizens. Social care is an example of services for the most vulnerable that could be run at least partly outside the state system if we could find the reserves of skill, time and compassion that are needed and I think it would be cynical to think that those reserves aren’t actually there.
Finally, I think democracy could use a refresh for the networked age. We could easily participate in decision-making for our street or local community on a much more regular basis than we currently do and this would drive engagement at a larger level – for towns, cities, counties, or regions. Making this happen could be as straightforward as writing an app and creating ways that the digitally excluded could participate.