Towards the end of last year I ran a couple of Networked Councillor sessions at a brilliantly well organised Scrutiny conference in Wales. One of the things that keeps impressing me when I visit Wales is the very real commitment to learning and exploring good practice that you find within both national and local government and one of the ways in which this conference manifested this was in asking each of the facilitators to contribute a follow up blog post. Here, rather belatedly is mine.
I suppose the first thing to note is the, to my mind at least, incredibly strong link between the thinking behind Networked Councillor and opportunities which the scrutiny function offers to really explore ways of doing things differently. This is additionally true in Wales where the Local Government Act (Wales) of 2011 has further opened up access to the scrutiny function within local government. As a result there is a lot of work being done in Wales to explore ways in which we can better involve the public in the process of accountability.
What I appreciated about the conference – and which has stayed with me – was the emphasis on the need to create a culture of accountability. One of the most powerful sessions for me was on the Mid-Staffs review and the fact that the failings there were as much down to organisational behaviours as they were down to process or data.
The Networked Councillor is intended to explore ways to bring about behaviour change as much as it is a way of providing participants with practical views. The starting point for the programme is the need for networked, open, co-productive and digitally native representatives and these are deliberately presented as behaviours rather than a checklist of technical skills. If we apply these same cultural facets to the democratic process then we can see very strong alignment with the way in which we might offer the public an immediate and engaging opportunity to engage through the scrutiny process. Imagine a scrutiny process which is truly open, exists as part of a network of conversations and participation, and makes sense to an increasingly digital and networked society.
Wales is already very well networked, and though the Williams report and resulting reorganisation is going to disrupt the nature of those networks it is not going to change this fact. Because of this I think it’s a place where we could consider what happens after we have a critical mass of networked councillors, and where we can start to open up questions about what a networked democracy might look like. Wales is actively experimenting with the way in which it makes decisions, the way in which government works with the public and in a very real way the way in which it organises the infrastructure of government – why not think about how we might design a democratic system for the networked society?