Tag Archives: power

Opening Space To Talk Power & Politics Before the General Election

Open space gorgeousness #DDiii

TL;DR – I’m going to open as much space as I can, all around the UK, before the General Election to talk about power and politics and us at a much deeper and more practical level than is available online.  There’s a Loomio Group Facebook Group to join if you want to help make it happen but there will be other ways of getting involved emerging quickly.  As usual, this won’t be for everybody, but it should be for anybody who wants it.

Whether we like it or not, we are going to have another national vote on who should be in charge of whatever we want to do next as a country. It will be on the 8th June, which is soon, it’s fifty days time. Fifty days ago was February 28th – do you remember Pancake Day this year? That was fifty days ago today, that’s how long we’ve got.

Yesterday it became clear to me that this was the time to do a thing I’ve had on the back burner for some time. Ever since the surprises of the 2015 general election and even more so after last year’s referendum result, I’ve been thinking about how to get people together for a better sort of political conversation.

My Facebook feed yesterday was full of extremes – glee and despair, hatred and derision of each of the major party leaders. Lots of people saying “This is the only sensible way to vote” and “This is what I’m going to do and I expect you to do so too”. I saw calls for reasonable, collegiate debate (by smug, privileged bastards!) and calls to erect the barricades (by loonies!).

How did it get like this? My simplistic answer is that it’s only really like this when we talk to each other online and face to face we have a different experience – it’s less comfortable, sometimes more confronting and it’s not straightforward to just turn the other person off in the way that you might close down a Facebook tab in your browser, but it actually moves things on somewhat.

I’ve been really reviving my Open Space Technology practice over the last couple of years. It’s the sort of minimal organisation for productive, creative conversations that makes most sense to me. It is a very different experience from other face-to-face gatherings let alone any online argument or the sort of analysis you see in mainstream media. And, of highest importance, it is a form that gives power back to participants to decide what they want to talk about and work on – pretty much every other kind of political event has an agenda set by a party or is about a niche subject or has an angle and there are people in charge and people who mostly sit and listen. That’s not the sort of conversation I want to have either. So this is what I want to spend my time doing for the next seven weeks:

  • Organise and facilitate as many day-long Open Spaces as I can up to Wednesday June 7th.
  • The long form title I’ve got so far is “Having said all that, what are we going to do about the place that we find ourselves in today?” – to break it down:
    • Having said all that – by which I mean all the things that have been said again and again on Facebook, Twitter and social media and regurgitated in mainstream media. So, putting all that aside…
    • What are we going to do about [this] place – I want to do these in large cities all around the UK and I want to root the conversation in a local-ish context – So what are we going to do about Birmingham or Aberdeen or Plymouth or Brighton?
    • [This] Place that we find ourselves in today – So not only is this the physical place but it’s also the political, economic, social or technological place and, even more subtly, it’s the place we find ourselves in metaphorically, we find ourselves by looking at our environment – how do you find yourself, what to you see of yourself reflected in the environment of York or Belfast?
    • So that’s quite rich, I think. A wide and deep field in which to ponder power and how we might change the way power is used and distributed in our society.
    • Or we might just go for “Oh yeah Politics – WTF, right?!?!?”
  • In private conversations I’ve had about this so far, the most audacious target has been thirty events. I think that might be the end of me if I did every one, but it’s a nice juicy target isn’t it?
  • I’m aiming for gatherings of around 100 people (though more if we can get large enough venues – and free/cheap ones at that)
  • I’d like to be able to pay myself for full-time work on this – a minimum of London Living Wage.
  • I’d like to be able to pay others to help, probably 1 full-time equivalent, not necessarily one person perhaps one person per location or whatever.
  • The other main expense will be travel (by train wherever possible) – let’s have fun tweaking the timetable to minimise these costs!
  • I will be looking for accommodation when needed with local friendly folks wherever possible (it’s always possible)
  • We should raise money for this and other costs through a mix of sponsorship, crowdfunding and donations on the door. If there’s a surplus at the end we’ll have a democratic way of deciding what to do with it.
  • There should be an easy to use blog/CMS for people to write reports of their sessions.
  • And the whole process should be specced simply but tightly enough for others to be able to pick up the format and do it locally if I can’t get to where they are or need to work on a smaller scale.

I need your help with organising: crafting an invitation; working out a timetable; sourcing free venues; getting sponsors; thinking about the money and other logistics. I’m giving myself a few days to work on things before doing the first event before the Bank Holiday on May Day (yes, the next couple of weeks).

Although comments here are welcome, there’s a Facebook Group to join, come and join in, please and thankyou.

Working quickly and alone for now so please forgive (but alert me to) any clumsiness, excessive vagueness or gross mistakes, thankyou.

[bds] It’s about us not about them

Another important idea in this project is looking at how popular culture really played out from the point of view of ordinary people, rather than from those making mass media.  I’ve come to believe that we need to start telling our own stories in our own ways about our own lives, rather than relying on the established media to rehash itself.

I’m thinking mostly of television programmes that purport to tell us what life was like in the Seventies by stringing together clips of television programmes made in the Seventies.

There are two problems with this approach:

1. That by condensing material made for a mass medium all you’re doing is reinforcing an already partial view of society and what we were like.

2. That it is subject to censorship for reasons of political sensitivity (no more TOTP if it contains footage of Jimmy Savile) or the complexity of gaining licensing rights.

3. We all, legitimately, have our own view of what happened in the past and none of us know the whole truth.

My belief is that television was no more representative of what was really happening then than it is now.  Except now we can make and share our own media cheaply and easily and then it was hard and expensive.

I’m not just interested in collecting and sharing  this material because of the nostalgic fuzz, as delightful as that can be.

This project is also about allowing us to say: “This is how we were, we had a life and a point of view that was influenced by dominant pop cultures and media but was also something we made ourselves.”

Go on, chuck something in the pot.

What’s the point of Earth Hour?

earth hour at oxford stIt’s Earth Hour here – but by the time I finish this post it will be over. From 8.30 local time people across the world we’re told that people have been turning their lights off to show their support for action on climate change – it’s being presented as a chance to vote and the organisers intend to take some count of the people who participated to the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.

Why would you do this? Will it make a difference to what “world leaders” decide in Copenhagen whether 1,000,000 people do it, or 10,000,000? Probably not, at least the numbers don’t really matter. Some action will be promised, some suggested action will be refused. I can’t imagine anyone in power saying “Well because several hundred thousand people sat in the dark for an hour in my country, I’m going to make sure something gets done”.

So will the switching off of lights have a big effect in itself? Especially with compulsory low power light bulbs, switching off the lights for an hour in this house represents a reduction of much less than .5kwh. In our total monthly consumption that’s nothing. And anyway, it looks like shops in the West End weren’t doing much.

Is it an empty gesture then? In a world where stuff is only achieved if it is done by “world leaders” then yes, probably. But we don’t live in that world, we never have and we’re just realising that we can do an awful lot for ourselves – both as individuals and members of corporations and organisations. (I plan to write about this more over the next week in the run up to the G-20 summit)

So what use is it? Well of course we social media types like to point to the fact that it’s part of a conversation. Those of us even further up our own arses will point out that earthhour is a “social object” something around which many of us have come together whether you said “Yes, I’m part of this” or “God, this is a waste of time” doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we’ve taken part.

But surely that’s still an empty gesture? Does talking about it make it any more useful? Do any fewer polar bears die? Does the economy get any better at all? No, it depends on some action. I won’t tell you what to do, but here’s a suggestion for people who are on twitter.

Take a look at some tweets marked #earthhour among people you already follow and who live nearby. Get in touch with them and arrange to have a coffee in the next week and talk about earth hour properly, about what you did, about what you think about climate change, about what you’re doing for the environment, what you’d like to do, maybe what you can do together or with other people – and then do it. Even better if you write about it on your blog. A bonus suggestion for the brave: find someone on twitter who lives locally whom you don’t already know or follow (easier in smaller places than in large ones – use Advanced Search on search.twitter.com) and do the same.

Or not.

If it ain’t broke

Thanks to Tim Davies in the comments of “No to Quotas” for helping me see why I’m getting worked up about this one.

Where is the problem that we’re trying to solve here?

The problem with Innovation Edge wasn’t that the wrong people turned up. It wasn’t that certain groups or parts of society weren’t represented in the whole. It was that hundreds of super smart people did turn up and then were strapped into their seats and lectured to by a very small group of super smart people. It wasn’t a diversity problem – it was a power problem.

No matter which event we’re talking about, what I’m interested in participating in is a shift in designing gatherings in terms of the form and the rules of engagement, the way that a wide multiplicity of views and opinion can be expressed and worked through in conversation rather than meddling with the composition of the group.

Too late on a Sunday to be writing any more, but there is more to say.