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!

Germany has a publicly funded agency with a mission to strengthen democracy. The UK needs one too.

Halfway down the Adenauerallee in Bonn, the city that was home to the West German government from 1949 to 1990, there’s an anonymous modern office building, notable only for some sort of bookshop on the ground floor.

The building is home to a fascinating public body, the kind of which has no equivalent in the UK. It’s called the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. The BpB for short. In English: the Federal Agency for Civic Education. On a rainy Thursday afternoon in July, I met Daniel Kraft, Director of Comms at BpB, who kindly took time out to explain the institution to me.

In this blogpost, I try to capture some of what it is and what it does. I then suggest that we need something similar in the UK, and I’m keen to hear ideas for bringing this about. Continue reading Germany has a publicly funded agency with a mission to strengthen democracy. The UK needs one too.