The Bristol Cable needs to define what it is, work in the open and get an editor

Last week, I went to the monthly members’ meeting of The Bristol Cable. This is the newspaper* that is co-operatively owned; anyone can become an owner, from £1/month. I wrote about the AGM here. The aim is to come up with a sustainable model of quality, independent local journalism in the service of the people, not shareholders, advertisers or Rupert Murdoch. (Hackney Citizen is similar, but is privately owned by one individual — and seems to run on fumes.)

I find myself getting fired up about the concept — and wanting to raise plenty of critique and ideas — because I want this thing to succeed. Strong, vital local journalism could make such a difference to the quality of local political debates on housing, the environment, schooling — basically everything. If we’ve reached ‘peak centralisation’ in the UK and local/regional government is going to increase in importance, then we’re going to need high quality, independent local media and journalism. And if knowledge is power, and you believe in political equality (the idea that we should all have equal political power) then it seems logical that the people should own the means of the production of knowledge.

Makes sense to me, anyway. And as I get excited about the concept and its potential, I worry that The Bristol Cable isn’t good enough. Of course it takes time and resources to build the thing, and it’s not always helpful to have co-owners being a nuisance. But I’ve written some things, meant with the best intent, and hopefully useful to someone — whether the Cable or another media co-operative somewhere. I think the big risk is that the Cable fails because of execution and then the co-op model takes the blame.  Continue reading The Bristol Cable needs to define what it is, work in the open and get an editor

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Why I own a local newspaper (and thoughts on their AGM)

The Bristol Cable is a newspaper, mostly. (Free-to-access, as they wisely print on the front.) It’s also a website and probably an instagram or something too.

And it’s a member-owned cooperative. There are 1,600+ members. I’m delighted to be one, because I worry about the quality of democracy in the UK and I suspect the UK’s media situation isn’t terribly good for us. And it seems fairly obvious that a newspaper owned by its readers is going to serve its readers. A newspaper owned by some tax exile living on an island somewhere is going to serve… well, you get the idea.  Continue reading Why I own a local newspaper (and thoughts on their AGM)

It’s who you know.

On the Fridays before the main Saturday events, #NotWestminster is an opportunity to spend a few hours working on a single idea, proposal, hack, whatever. The day starts with people pitching ideas for stuff they want to work on — all on theme of making local democracy better.

I joined a group of people discussing those occasions where small groups of people get together to do something for where they live. Those motivated individuals who, without any kind of top-down urging or instruction, Just Do It.

The group didn’t get to the point of creating or building anything — instead we spent our time trying to define the problem.

I wrote loads of notes, and hopefully there’s something useful or thought-provoking here: Continue reading It’s who you know.

How to stop some people dying in 2017.

In 2016, dead people were in the news a lot. It’s likely that some people will also die in 2017. Some of these people will be famous. But many of them won’t be. Many of them will suffer from easily preventable causes. Let’s focus on those folks for a minute. Continue reading How to stop some people dying in 2017.

Change the system: civic tech lessons from Amsterdam, and a wrap-up from across Europe

I think Amsterdam might be (whisper it) more beautiful than Paris. It’s the canals. And the architecture, particularly the social housing — which has been cutting-edge since about 1910.

Apart from wandering around thinking “I’d really like to live here”, I also met up with two democracy-focused organisations. One that I would call classic civic tech, and one that takes a wider democratic engagement role, but that has helped deliver some interesting digital products. With a general election approaching in March 2017, it’s an exciting time for Dutch civic tech.

Amsterdam was also, alas, the last stop on EuroCivicTechTour2016 — so I round off this post with some reflections of the State of Europe’s Civic Tech.  Continue reading Change the system: civic tech lessons from Amsterdam, and a wrap-up from across Europe

Berlin does civic tech. Großartig!

I’m back in the UK (is that still a thing?) now — but I have two more EuroTrip stops to blog about. 

First, Berlin. As you may know, Berlin is excellent. It also has a bit of a reputation for tech startups. And for doing interesting political things with tech.

It seems a long time ago that there was excitement about ‘Liquid Democracy’ — the German Pirate Party software that was going to revolutionise representative democracy. It allowed constant ‘delegative democracy’: you could choose to delegate your vote to someone on a certain topic, but take it away from them again or choose a different delegate at any time. In addition, your delegate could delegate your vote, and so on. Hence the ‘liquid’ bit — power would flow as voters chose and changed their representatives at will. The software made this practically feasible for the first time. There were some excitable blogs about it. But the revolution never came. I wondered what became of it — my trip to Berlin revealed the answer.

And there’s much more happening in Berlin today — in a way that is perhaps more realistic and more understanding of how most people want to engage.  Continue reading Berlin does civic tech. Großartig!