UsNow film – opinionV1.2

I watched Ivo Gormley’s film UsNow (again) today at its launch – watch it here. (I posted about this after watching it in Brussels and wanted to revisit my thoughts, as I believe I still hold the same opinions 🙂 (you never know!).).

I have a couple of updated thoughts, but pretty much what I wrote then is what I think now; for your viewing pleasure I have managed to copy and paste the old post below my updated stuff.

New points:

  • unfair Miliband editing (or not) but still as funny/uncomfortable today as it was when I first winced at it
  • it confuses public service and Politics, so much so that I cannot unpick it really; but I suggest you watch the film twice:
  1. with a Politics and politician head on
  2. with a public service/community head on
  • it still scares me: what are we actually inviting here? I would ask that anyone who reads this blog, and watches the film, has a really good *think* about the battle this film seems to wage. Before you take up arms and demand crowdsourced e-democracy, think
  • I agree and want crowdsourced public services, and proper consultation on policies that matter to me; Politics, politicking, catching Ministers out? I would rather leave that to the Press (as pointed out today, politicians are their staple diet) – this does not mean that it does not matter to me or you, but I don’t think I should be the one to monitor them this closely (I have a day job and a life)

As was reiterated today: don’t assume the electorate is thick, don’t assume everyone to be criminals… but, if we seriously want this to be the case, then we too must stop assuming that all Politicians are corrupt. (Hard, I know in the current expenses scandal – whole other post, that I will not be writing (not my bag)).

I know this may not be popular (and actually this is almost a direct copy from someone who commented in the Daily Mail on a post about MP expenses – and the comment was given a *boo* vote of at least -300 🙂 ) but: I would like to think that the country is run by people who know what they are doing, are paid well to know what they are doing and are given the relative trappings of success that come with being the most fervent in their field. I don’t like paying them; especially when I am absolutely terrified about mine and my children’s next ten years – but I seriously do not want to take on the country’s woes and debt too. I DO want to make my local community better, and I do still want to do stuff for charity (sponsor me here 🙂 sorry) and I want to get involved in the stuff that I am passionate about – when government is debating/consulting on it.

I stand by my twitter update: @hubmum Crowdsourced public service management/delivery yes. Crowdsourced politics: No

Now… the old post, the stuff I wrote when I first watched the film:

Here’s the blurb:

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
Us Now is a documentary film project about the power of mass
collaboration, government and the Internet.
Us Now tells the stories of online networks that are challenging the
existing notion of hierarchy. For the first time, it brings together
the fore-most thinkers in the field of participative governance to
describe the future of government.

Now, aside from the fact that he is officially my new geek crush, Ivo has created an extraordinarily powerful and compelling film that leaves you pretty speechless and perhaps a little bit disturbed. Here’s why…

Take it as read that the best are interviewed in the film, Clay Shirky has much to say, as does Paul Miller, whom I rate highly, Tom Steinberg, George Osborne, Ed Miliband, Matthew Taylor and so on, really, all the greats (although the decision to interview Ed Miliband over Tom Watson confuses me slightly, but hey ho).

So… we have about an hour’s worth of superb dialogue and compelling argument that leads the audience to a clapping crescendo, nodding and chuckling to themselves about how right they were to believe in this stuff. But… I am left a bit disturbed.

To reduce the whole film to the comparison between the crowdsourced management of the football team: Ebbsfleet United and democratic government would not do it justice; yet it is what sticks, and disturbs.

Without you being able to see the film I know I am being a bit annoying, but let me try to explain. At one point in the film, for a disproportionately long time it has to be said, Ivo follows the success of Ebbsfleet United: a football team managed by its fans; the fans decide who plays, and where… and this ‘citizen-management’ has got them to Wembley (I think, am not a football bird but that seemed to be the gist). There are many clips of over-excited and dedicated fans ‘planning’ the match, deciding who plays where, and when. Great for ticket sales and garments, I presume… also engagement and enthusiasm in a woeful world, granted.

Where this all goes, which is a bit disturbing, is when Ivo transcribes the football playing field onto the Cabinet table, and starts showing us how we could be choosing who sits in what position, where on the table, what part they play. Cabinet Ministers becoming as suggestible/manageable as Ebbsfield United.

Visually compelling stuff indeed. But can you imagine what Sir Alex Ferguson would say? Let alone the rather confused Government of today?
I am not going to get into party politics here, but I absolutely believe that all Ministers sitting in Parliament, whether in power or opposition, are there because they are fundamentally driven to *do* something.

What scares me about Ivo’s film, or just this Ebbsfield bit, is that there is no way I would ever sign up to a society governed by crowdsourced decisions and I am terrified that the digital revolution might, if not managed properly, tip the balance of lively debate into anarchy.


Because I expect the government voted in democratically by the citizens of this country, to do their job. I don’t want it, I don’t have the time nor the where-with-all to do their job. I don’t want or need the responsibility of running the country, from central to local government, every morning when I wake up. It is enough for me to keep my family going. I *want* to trust the people my country decides are fit to run the country (every four years) to do their job so that I can do mine.

Yes, there will always be dissent, and there will be challenges to the decisions taken by those in power. However, I rely on the Press to keep on the case on this one. I *believe* that if there is a travesty, the Press will pick it up and expose it, I will read about it and believe that if there has truly been an abomination against democracy, that the person/party/people involved will be brought to justice. I do not want to be the person to do that, I want those in the know to do that.

At this point I can feel the groundswell of outrage at my naivety, but I am being a generalist on purpose here… I am really scared abut what *we* are trying to do with our digital enablement of government.

Running a country is a tortuous business, I imagine/assume. It is greater than running a consultancy, a bank, a hedge fund, a football club… all of which we accept requires skill that we do not question. The fact that I belong to a democratic country means that I cannot just sit on my backside and wait to be told what to do, I am allowed to affect the decisions taken, should I care to. The problem is that I don’t always know what these decisions are, where to find them and how to engage/influence.

Surely, the digital revolution is more about a release of shared responsibility for the governing of a country. It is not an abdication of responsibility for those we vote in: please let’s not propose governance that relies on crowdsourcing decision-making on a macro, mesa or micro level. What it is is a new channel for the decision makers (who are busy dealing with enormous stuff, like war for example) to understand what is concerning the citizens of the country, enabling them to address these without relying on expensive ‘citizen insight’.

It also should mean that us citizens will stumble upon apt policies in the making, that we can affect, engage with and potentially influence – because our government is able to understand our concerns and will act accordingly. (Effective consultation.)

That is what I want to achieve by working in this space in the UK government departments. To make sure that those needing to know what we, citizens, think, can do so without too much effort (monitoring of social space); assist engagement where appropriate and be a guiding hand in what is *frankly* a daily explosion of information and data.


So that they can do their job and we can do ours.

8 responses

  1. And this is my point really. This has nothing to do with making public services better. YouTube is very good at letting us watch stuff… this makes no odds to me in my home and life here (unless those thousands are headed my way :))

    Let’s get on with the good stuff please, we have much work to do, and Politics has nothing to do with it; the work is there regardless of the party in power, the local or European elections. Every Minister/councillor in charge will have to address this, whichever party they represent.

  2. All societies that have any kind of democracy at all sit somewhere on a scale between absolute direct democracy (where all citizens have a direct vote on every decision) and absolute representative democracy (where the only input citizens have is to elect people to make decisions on their behalf). As individuals, some of us want society to shift further one way or another on this scale than it currently stands. Some of us are also happy with the broad social settlement but want a greater or lesser degree of involvement for ourselves. The most extreme examples of this would be cynics who don’t vote and isolate themselves from meaningful political engagement on the grounds that “they’re all as bad as each other”, and those that actually seek political office for themselves.

    Your desire to delegate the everyday business of government to politicians is reasonable and pragmatic given the implicit expectation that those entrusted with the task are both competent and honest enough to discharge it. Dishonesty is a fairly binary matter and its exposure usually plain and damning. Evaluating competence is a very different matter, laden with nuanced value judgements often demanding expert-level knowledge of the matters at hand. As society becomes ever more complex, the risk is that political power falls not into the hands of venal or stupid politicians that are at least visible and to a degree accountable, but to expert technocrats behind the scenes (and often not even in public employ) who are the only people sufficiently well qualified to understand the mechanics of public life.

    While I would like to see greater participation in all levels of public life, it’s becoming increasingly clear that even full-time politicians need vastly improved decision support systems. What hope is there for anyone else? The individual citizen may have an opinion on a matter, but how informed is it? In a direct democracy, where is the accountability? Where are the safeguards against tyrannical majorities? How do citizens organise and mobilise opinion around even a single issue let alone a broader political programme without replicating the political parties and systems of representatives that they seek to replace?

    I think most of all I’d like to focus on the real political questions of ends rather than means. Show me your vision of the good society and let’s find practical ways of achieving it, rather than assuming that with the right decision-making system such things will take care of themselves. They won’t.

  3. Hmmm… good point and challenges. I am struggling with the ‘social conscience’ good stuff I want to support and help make happen, vs the high regard I have for the strategists who 1. have degrees in things I would never hope to understand and 2. do this as a full time job, at all levels of government/Government.

    Time out, please, for consideration…

  4. Crowdsourced Politics?
    We’ve all seen programmes like “Strictly Come Dancing” and the urge for those with voting *power* to keep in the competition the underdog / the clown / the person-we-can-laugh-at-whilst-tucking-into-Saturday-night-cheap-lager.
    I’m with you. Use the power of the community voice to show feeling, collaborate on ideas, have conversations and campaign for change to make this a fair society, but we must stop short of the triple “X” Britain’s Got Talent way of selection for those who run the country.

  5. Paul got in there first with my exact sentiments. The model is thought provoking and innovative and elements should be looked at to integrate parts.

    (Apologies Em, my comment sort of goes of on a tangents from here on in…)

    Part of all of this reminds me of some of the essences of thoughts that have been raised with regard to the third sector that traditional charities/membership orgs may no longer exist in the future but will be replaced by networks. Traditional charities will still exist as they were established to fulfil and meet a need and on a very local grassroots level especially that need will always be there, but to survive many will need to widen, evolve their being and share more of their knowledge – oh, and there is plenty of room also for the new networks to shape our communities too. One doesn’t need to replace the other. Some people choose to participate in one model, and others will choose to participate in another.

    There’s room for everyone. (- maybe Mr Shirky should have added that as a strapline to the title of Here Come’s Everybody)

    After all it’s about inclusion and participation. Why totally change a model that has historically enabled those that want to participate from participating in the manner which they see fit, why not broaden it, rather than look to replace.

    With the current drive and emphasis on our new digital era that will do everything and so much more for us, I really do wonder at times, with us evangalising what it can do, my concerns are that it has the power to cause more displacement and exclude those that do not feel connected.
    I’m not mocking innovation by a long shot, since becoming very interested in the subject over the last few years with the change of some of the organisations that I worked with, I’m amazed at the potential and the outcomes of people power and totally endorse a new way of working from the ground up. But also probably from experience of working directly with the above and grassroots ‘traditional’ organisations and communities and local gov (and acting in my role at the time as a bridge between the sectors) especially those in a rural area over many years, sometimes it can work, and others not – it can divide communities too.

    So my main outcome of my rambling comment is, how do we get participation to really work? In politics, our every day civil society, and our own communities, whether it is in a large city through to cascading successfully down to a small rural village? Is there a really a one size fits all model, or will there ever be? Andrew’s last paragraph in his comment above wraps it up well.

  6. I really agree with Laura Whitehead when she speaks about broadening voluntary modes of participation rather than replacing existing models.

    But this does beg for something that’s already required in a democracy, and will continue to gain importance as the modes of participation expand — an education system that will prepare people for to find and filter the information required for good decision-making.

    Can we model this in K-12 education? in colleges and universities? Can our learning environments be dynamically constructed with our learners and include the greater public to become engaging and collaborative places of ongoing formal and informal personalized learning, preparing citizens for their larger participatory roles in the future?

    I hope to hear many conversations in the near future about how to rise to this challenge.

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