mysociety created fixmystreet, a link between people and their councils which did actually fix my street (well, Deptford High Street which was a near impasse on my morning bike ride to work), and also theyworkforyou , which is a channel for the public to identify and contact their MPs and officials. And their code is open source. Nice chaps.
They’ve made dozens of simple tools in collaboration with councils and charities that work primarily through their transparency – they could publish which MPs reply to or ignore emails, who are the best and worst performing councils from the public’s perspective, which forces councils to act from a user-centred perspective.
With people taking such direct action to change their local environment, is this eroding democratic processes or empowering members of the public to overcome the UK’s world-renowned bureaucracy? Is it right that the active minority should be the ones to shape their streets, parks and local amenities?
I believe that these tools are not undermining or bypassing democracy, but making the interface between politics and the public more dynamic and personal.
Electing a government and MP is a small part of a citizen’s potential. Culturally, we are focused on the few big, general decisions and how they will affect everyone and not the small, myriad personal ones. A top-down operation can lack understanding of it’s end users’ needs – our everyday experiences can be much better affected with a ground-up approach. The majority of eligible people in the UK vote, but many people never contact their councils to say a streetlight’s broken or to inquire what happened to the plans to clean up our local park or even to propose improvements.
Cultural issues aside, one thing keeping us from contacting our councils was the feeling of the hopelessness of bureaucracy. Now that the barriers are being removed to allow for a more fluid, user-friendly and frequent dialogue, we shall see with time whether the majority becomes more active, and how governments can utilise this vital feedback to inform more responsive, robust and relevant policies.