The Hansard Society published its latest Audit of Political Engagement on April 1st. Makes for a fascinating read considering how much energy has gone into meeting NI4.
(NI4: National Indicator4 is a benchmark by which local authorities are judged on how empowered people feel at a local level.)
I have highlighted some of the most interesting parts from a public engagement perspective here below in green.
Perceived influence over decision-making at the local and national levels
An overwhelming majority of the public feel they have ‘not very much influence’ or ‘no influence at all’ over decision-making in both their local area (73%) and the country as a whole (85%). However, more people feel they have an influence in their local area than in the country as a whole (25% versus 14%).
So it seems as if there is a swing towards local influence rather than national, yet still the positive results are very low overall showing that the public at large still feel disengaged from the policy decisions that affect their lives.
Reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making
The most commonly cited reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making point to a belief that politicians and the political system overlook the public’s views. The top two answers, ‘nobody listens to what I have to say’ (29%) and ‘decisions are made without talking to the people’ (20%) convey a strong feeling among the public that they are ignored by decision-makers. Other popularly cited reasons include ‘the system doesn’t allow for me to have an influence’ (19%) and ‘politicians are just out for themselves’ (17%).
So, we have more opportunties than ever before to be listened to through a variety of initiatives at local and national levels – yet still people feel as if their input is not taken into account, that decisions will be made without them.
Desire to be involved in decision-making
Half the public do not actually want to be involved in decision-making in their local area. Even more – 55% – do not wish to be involved in decision-making in the country as a whole.
This is really the most interesting one for me – about half of us just don’t want to be involved… why is this – I have a number of ideas:
1) because we feel like we’re not being listened to by those in power as mentioned above.
2) We’re too busy and tired to get involved anyway, we have better things to do with our time (see below.)
3) The formats for engagement that exist require alot of time and effort for people to participate in them effectively-in other words, traditional methods are still letting us down.
4) The effects of ‘consultation fatigue’ or cynicism increase owing to many meaningless consultation tickbox exercises. These create a vicious circle, bringing down the standards and reputation of public involvement across the board, and reaffirming people’s feelings of not being listened to.
Barriers to participation among potential participants
People who do not currently feel that they have an influence in decision-making – but who say they would like to be involved – were asked what factors, if any, prevent them from doing so. Nearly half (40%) cite lack of time as the main reason.
Let’s have a quick dose of realism to finish off – it seems like we basically have better things to do with our time! The experience of public involvement at national or local level should be a pleasure, not a pain – it is just one of many activities and commitments that competes for attention in people’s lives. Too often, still, it is an uninspiring experience for those who do actually turn up at the town hall.
The Duty to Involve (which requires local government to involve citizens in decision making as a matter of course) has just come into play as of April 1st. I just hope that it leads to higher quality, more considered consultation and involvement – not just MORE consultation and involvement. If this is the case, then we should expect to see even worse results in these areas in next year’s audit.
So – if we want people to engage with services, with local decision making and with policy formulation then we are going to have to try a damn sight harder to make those processess better; making them more
2) Open and Inviting
4) Responsive (ie. tell people what happened afterwards.)
I am sure there are a few more to add to this… any ideas?