Crowd Empowerment Can Strengthen Local Democracy
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Last week the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy published its report called Effective Democracy: Reconnecting with Communities. It makes a strong case for reinvigorating local democracy and the reasons why this is important. We would suggest that crowd empowered approaches can significantly contribute to that process.
The report, which we highly recommend you download and read, is the result of an extended research process examining the state of local democratic engagement and making comparisons between the Scottish experience and other countries.
It makes a strong case for reinvigorating local democracy and the reasons why this is important noting how increasing centralisation has failed to resolve significant social issues and is progressively eroding trust and enthusiasm for involvement in the democratic process.
As David O’Neill puts it in his introduction “We have tried taking power to the centre and it has just not delivered. It is time for a much more local approach.” …..“Up and down the country, people and organisations are recognising that the top down approach has had its time.”
We would argue that crowd empowering activities like crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are emergent activities that are direct responses to the failures of centralised and exclusive processes. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding deliver much more than innovation, insight and funding. They succeed because the embrace a collaborative and inclusive approach that values broad contribution and engagement. They are empowering and provide legitimacy and validation when done well. We would go further and say that these represent great examples of how the move to reconnect with communities can benefit by linking into and harnessing crowd empowerment.
The report sets sets out 7 principles to underpin any approach towards achieving the aim of reconnecting communities to the democratic process.
1. The principle of sovereignty: democratic power lies with people and communities who give some of that power to governments and local governments, not the other way round
2. The principle of subsidiarity: decisions should be taken as close to communities as possible, and the shape and form of local governance has to be right for the people and the places it serves
3. The principle of transparency: democratic governance should be clear and understandable to communities, with clean lines of accountability
4. The principle of participation: all communities must be able to participate in the decision making that affects their lives and their communities
5. The principle of spheres not tiers of governance: different spheres of democratic governance should have distinct jobs to do that are set out in ‘competencies’, rather than depend on powers being handed down from ‘higher’ levels of governance
6. The principle of interdependency: every sphere of governance has to support the others, and none can be, or should seek to be, self-contained and self-sufficient
7. The principle of wellbeing: the purpose of all democratic governance is to improve opportunities and outcomes for the individuals and communities that empower it
Many of these principles find common cause with crowd based approaches and in fact crowd based approaches underpin them. Transparency, interdependence, participation and subsidiarity are all delivered by well designed crowd based approaches.
With that in mind we would encourage the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy to actively consider how they can build crowd empowerment in to their proposals for developing their aims.
At one point in the report they point out that those who seek to challenge engrained thinking can often be condemned as hopeless idealism or even dangerous heresy.
We agree but believe anything is possible as the evidence is that the once heretical ideas of crowd based activities, like crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, as people led and people owned ways of resolving difficult issues, are now becoming mainstream
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