Last Saturday, whilst my other half was competing at a dog agility show and I dare say my colleagues and friends were having a typical Saturday watching football or visiting Swedish furniture stores, I had decided to visit Huddersfield to partake in an event discussing democracy.
The event in question was #notwestminster 2017.
An annual unconference to discuss the joys of local democracy and how we could improve things in our communities.
Sounds cool right? Well it was.
So cool in fact, way back in October, I obtained one of the early bird tickets to ensure I would be part of it. With the ticket being free and it being only a short train ride away I figured giving up my Saturday to discuss governmental topics would be totally worth it.
After a short walk from Huddersfield station to The Media Centre it started like most other conferences; with us all signing in, marking an owl on a map to show where we’ve travelled in from to attend (ok so this isn’t normal, but did make an amazing visual), then mingling with folk you recognise from Twitter (but have never actually spoken to) before it all officially starts.
There was a wee welcome and introduction, a catch up as to what had occurred during the Democracy Experiments Day the previous day, then we commenced with the first set of lightning talks.
First we heard from Jacqui Gedman who was days away from becoming the new Chief Executive at Kirklees Council.
She spoke highly of the Democracy Commission and how citizens (not customers…) can feel empowered to do more themselves to improve their local democracy.
As a side note it’s interesting to see yet another female leader up here in the North.
Next up was Catherine Needham who used beautiful visuals in her presentation to share some of the wonderful points she’d highlighted from the 21st Century Public Servant report. A recent documentation she’d been involved in about what is expected from a modern councillor in this modern age.
Then came the last talk before the morning workshops from Emily Warrillow from the Kirklees Youth Council. Talking about how she got interested in politics and how Jo Cox was an inspiration and a friend.
I’m not going to lie, much like everyone else in the room, I was completely unprepared for just how emotional and powerful this story would be.
Seriously. What sort of event would, a mere half an hour in, have the speaker talking through tears about how her local MP guided and motivated her to get involved in politics before cruelly having her taken away from us all?
A deeply passionate and empathetic event that’s what, and one I’m proud to have been part of!
Truly amazing, and because these talks were streamed live you can watch these talks here:
Once we’d all wiped our eyes and regained our composure it was time for the workshops.
There was a wide selection of them all happening at the same time so you simply bobbed in to whichever sounded most interesting.
The first I attended was ‘The Great British By-Election’ hosted by Joe Mitchell.
Where we were exploring how we could improve elections via a whole host of different methods (from the sublime, nominating folks from the community to stand, to the ridiculous, renaming polling stations to Votey McVoteplace) and how we’d measure success.
Here’s the sketchnote I made of the workshop:
The second was ‘Design Thinking for Open Reporting’ hosted by Rajesh Bhardwaj.
This one focussed on how we could collate better local government reports and the tools we’d need to ensure these are open and that citizens remain the focus of why we’re capturing and releasing this information.
Here’s my sketchnote from this session:
We then broke for lunch, where I had more interesting chats with folk, whilst also trying to convince myself that the couple of small sandwiches and fistful of chocolate biscuits was a perfectly healthy choice.
Lightning strikes again
Post lunch we were then served up with four more lightning talks;
Anthony Zacharzewski treated us to why local decisions are neither local nor decisions.
S’true, citizens think in streets and neighbourhoods rather than their ward boundary, and decisions are made before they’ve been voted on.
Although local issues are ‘corks bobbing on the ocean of world politics’ we can fix what’s happening in our community right here. So let’s get on it eh.
Kajal Odedra explained why we should care about ‘clicktivism’ and why online petitions can give people a voice. If decision makers respond to and acknowledge petitions it can cast out the perception that politicians are all bad.
Is there still a tax on tampons? No, exactly. These things can work.
Colin Copus shared what preliminary findings the Councillor Commission had so far discovered.
Councillors are well placed to act as kind of network facilitators to ensure that the constituencies they represent are served appropriately, they just need information.
Oh and they still enjoy being photographed looking glum next to potholes and bins.
Then finally Edward Molloy discussed ‘Building a Grassroots Democracy’.
Explaining the work the Electoral Reform Society are doing by involving citizens to become more engaged in developing a democracy fit for the 21st century. It’ll take time but it’s reassuring that these conversations and experiments are taking place.
After these talks we then all sauntered off to our third and final workshop.
As tempting as the ‘nap room’ was I chose to attend ‘Designing user-centred approaches for public engagement’ hosted by Elli Panagopoulos.
As a group we planned our public engagement approach for an imaginary situation. Discussing the needs, scope, constraints and what tools we could explore to maximise and get best value from the research.
As I anticipated it being a very hands-on and interactive session (correctly I may add) I’m afraid I didn’t capture it in sketchnote form.
To close the event we all reconvened for an ‘Ideas bazaar’. This involved the host of each workshop having a few minutes to talk about what steps they’ll now be taking with the information from their workshop and how to get involved.
That was #Notwestminster
Post event the debate continued raging at a nearby pub. As I don’t drink, and had a train to catch, I declined the invitation and promptly made my way back to the station.
Overall a great day.
I met some cool people, was involved in some epic workshops, and was present for arguably the most passionate and emotional lightning talk I dare say I’ll ever bare witness to.
Matt Stroud, Technical Project Manager, @matticusstroud