Public Sphere Model: Local issues must be next

Senator Kate Lundy's innovative approach to citizen engagement using social networking tools and new media is proving very successful in enabling citizens to have a voice in policy development. So far, the model has focused on giving citizens a voice in Government 2.0.

The obvious next step is to see the model used to engage with citizens on local issues. I have been arguing for some time that we need a balance between centralisation and decentralisation.

To borrow Roger Clarke's concept (from Public Sphere #1), centralisation leads to systemic failure, whereas decentralisation leads to sporadic failure. It would seem a balance between the two is appropriate for a connected world.

The trouble I see at this point is that Australia's approach is highly centralised, and we are lacking in capabilities (infrastructure and culture) to engage in a decentralised environment.

That is not to say that centralisation is all bad. The idea of 'centrality' (as opposed to 'centralisation'), particularly leadership from federal politicians (such as Senator Lundy), is crucial to enabling local communities to take advantage of the benefits of new media (leading to decentralisation).

As I argued in my presentation at Public Sphere #2 (see video below), we need to develop decentralised research and learning facilities at the local level to overcome the problems of our deep-seated tradition of central control.

Feedback from some of the 'tweeters' at Public Sphere #2 suggested that my idea of 'centres' for social innovation went against my approach of avoiding 'centralisation' (and I agree).

After discussions today with an emerging community of online collaborators at the University of Canberra, I mentioned this feedback and we came up with the label 'Social Innovation Exchanges'. Stay tuned for some online initiatives in this regard soon.

So where to next? I think the Public Sphere model of short presentations - video recorded, live blogged, tweeted and then followed up with blog comments and a briefing paper (with wikis to be added soon) - would work well for citizen engagement on local issues.

For example, activities such as the recent consultation on the future of the Scullin shops would have been a great issue to experiment with the Public Sphere model on a local problem.

Starting off with a fairly innocuous issue is important to get the model right for local communities, as it would enable interested parties to present their views - even if they could not attend a particular public meeting - about the issue for public review without being too controversial.

There are many opportunities and challenges ahead in the digital future. What we do now in the quasi-digital present will be an important step in the evolution of new media models for citizen engagement.

I have conceptualised where we are at now using the 'forming, storming, norming, performing' process (outlined in much of the project management literature) in the presentation below.

Keep your ears to the ground about current developments at the University of Canberra. We have a proud and strong community which lends itself to an actively engaged and online 'Community 2.0'. But more on this in a future post!

Public Sphere: Government 2.0 - Michael De Percy from Kate Lundy on Vimeo.