Monthly Archives: December 2014

Decisions Decisions…….

Decision making is a hot topic, in Government, in Business, in our personal relationships. Politicians like to be seen as “decisive”, strong leaders, capable. Their decision making can speak clearly about who they are and who they represent. We make decisions every day from the moment our eyes open, mostly not challenging decisions (which cereal to have…..) but the process will be similar to any decision making: reduce and select the options, weigh them up, obtain corroboration as required, risk assess, choose.  Some decisions then have to be verified – not the cereal decision, but pubic-impact decisions! They have to be demonstrated as good and in the public interest. Doctors, for example, can be held to account in a very public and structured way for their decisions, and quite right too.

In this modern, vibrant savvy age of entrepreneurship, business, public relations and increasingly rapid development of products and policies it has been fascinating to attend local council meetings and watch the archaic and frankly absurd methods used to reach and share decisions. I can recommend it as a means to explore power and how it moves around people and traps them.

Well-intentioned people of all sorts run for government, local and otherwise – and some less well intentioned people too. To be elected all we need is a bit of cash and some voter apathy – produce the right words on the leaflets, smile and kiss babies (or promise toilets in the town centre), get your name known so it is familiar on the ballot sheet and Bob’s your uncle. With voter turn out at its lowest in decades you only need a handful of people to recognise you, a sockful of cash and favours to distribute as required, and not have too much visible mud sticking to you and you can lever your way in. Once in, there are a multitude of ancient processes designed specifically to protect you from scrutiny and consequence. Public council meetings, for example, are run by a Town Clerk who positions him/herself, like the Presidents Bodyguards, ready to take a bullet for the people authorising her/his salary and apparently relevant education, rottweiling away any pertinent and grown up conversation behind the smoke and mirrors of process and protocol. Understatement of the day at my last meeting was “this is not a conversation, not interactive” barked at a member of the public daring to supplement her already submitted, then scrutinised and whitewashed questions with a mild query after the tepid and qualified response from the council.  Not interactive indeed, not there, not anywhere.

One wonderful example of the antithesis of voter engagement was at the last meeting I attended after which a councillor (famous for audibly addressing a colleague with whom she disagreed as a prat, in front of a variety of members of the public including children after the Remembrance Day Ceremony) cantered over to the group  of the public attendees specifically to make a point of her own, and then when someone asked her a question backed off so quickly she almost fell over herself arriving saying “I don’t answer questions”. If not then, when? A gold plated gift wrapped opportunity to engage with voters about a hot local topic. I know – let’s ignore it. Maybe they were all prats? Sadly that is not  an isolated councillor behaving inexplicably but a realtime indicator of some local government attitude.

If I were in that elite group of elected officials who have the privilege to serve their community at the communities expense (and that has Precious Little chance of happening I hardly need to add) I think I might start to question those processes. Yes, they have been there for centuries (as have Scarlet Fever and Plague, both thankfully almost eradicated with universal approval) and yes, they are traditional, but until recently so was sending kids up chimneys and wife-beating. We have civilised ourselves past that. Those protocols, processes, trip-wires, smoke and mirrors, call them what we will, are man-made – like nylon, like poverty – and we can un-make them and create a better, more accountable, more engaged, more people friendly way of making decisions that will, ultimately, impact the entire community. It is probably about time we did so, and in the process expose some of the decisions made on our behalf and their consequences. Good people get elected all the time – as do the less good and the downright dreadful. It is probably time we freed the good ones up to do what they want to do – a bit of good for the community and a bit of proper public engagement. Some of those good ones who sit around, and at the head of, that local council table are becoming stained with their colleagues fallout and grime – how lovely it would be to liberate them.

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