Democracy means nothing if people are not able to work the democracy for the common good. ~ Chandra Bhushan ~
State of the Commons
Democracy is breaking everywhere. The growth of technology and knowledge has propelled us into levels of complexity beyond our ability to understand and manage. This happens at both the individual and societal level. Where we fail to understand this, we continue to depend on existing systems to drive us forward, when in fact no one’s piloting the train.
At the local level, complexity means that many roles that could once be competently staffed can no longer be so, as the operating environment becomes increasingly more sophisticated. Structured rotation HR programs do well to promote accountability and cross-functional knowledge, but also create a short-term management perspective and a deficit of the long-term leadership that is needed to own a vision of the future. That now belongs to the in-house specialist, or consultant.
At the systemic level, this phenomena of a complex environment outstripping our latent ability to learn and manage probably has the greatest impact on the quality of decision making. Here, we find human resources stretched beyond their core expertise and experience, amid a thickening layer of guidelines and measures, such as in media and finance, set up to control burgeoning risks created by technology, policy gaps and creeping incompetence.
Even the best learning organisations find it difficult to cope, more so any government. The evidence of breakdown shows up in disconnected policies, workflow gaps, media crises, and more defensive red tape. Once, it just took great leadership and character to steer a government, yet now it seems we need more than that when even the best teams fall short. What’s possibly missing is You.
We can build this city together. Let’s do it.
Information is the currency of Democracy. ~ Thomas Jefferson ~
Building our Commons
A government for the people, by the people needs an active citizenry that is committed to:
- Build an environment of trust to establish a language of understanding
- Develop constructive models for representing feedback and opinions
- Engage as citizen public in collaboratively managing and building a learning city
Hallmarks of a Learning City are a shared ethic of (i) Empathy, (ii) Trust, and a (iii) Duty of Care.
Now to the question of how we can all engage. Here’s an app idea we’re toying around with, a ‘Waze’ style app that maps a City’s physical, institutional and service infrastructure, allowing citizens to contribute a range of useful pre-determined signals (i.e. reports with shorthand comments) as we experience or observe issues or ideas arising from our interactions with the City’s infrastructure. Data points aggregate into useful actionable feedback and alerts for City administrators, organising them as a form of policy review input on policy planning, design, implementation, and communications.
A Learning City approach could change the texture of national conversation, and present a ‘third’ way out of politicising the activity of government, to create a means where citizens can engage public services constructively, with a common focus on improving City systems for the benefit of all. If we can manage to get around our cultural reluctance to clear our own trays at the cafeteria, we could certainly lend a hand in growing our commonwealth.
There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship. ~ Ralph Nader ~