Introducing digital democracy – for police and crime commissioners and beyond

As police and crime commissioners settle down to work it’s worth remembering that they are the first major elected office to arrive in the UK since Facebook was founded in February 2004. PCCs will be charged with bringing about a new relationship between the police and the public at a time when social media, and more widely digital communication, offer new ways of engaging with citizens.

PCC Welsh campaign poster - mugger

PCC Welsh campaign poster – mugger – from the Home Office

So it is fitting that the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has just published its guide to this, entitled ‘Digital Democracy, building new relationships with the public‘. Of course, it’s even more fitting that the APCC commissioned Catherine Howe of Public-i to produce it for them, but then we would say that wouldn’t we?

The guide sets out the case for using digital communication and social media to transform the relationship elected politicians have with the people they represent, before moving on to detail the routes they could take to do this. (Making it of interest to a wider audience than just PCCs – including police, councillors and a wide range of local government folk.)

Here’s the bullet points from the executive summary, which lays out the beginnings of that case and gives you a flavour of the publication:-

  • Police and crime commissioners offer an unprecedented opportunity to develop a different kind of local democracy that reflects the way in which people live in the 21st century, rather than the 19th century principles on which much of our local democratic practice is based.
  • The public is increasingly active online. With the take-up of mobile devices we are seeing greater use of social and content-creation technologies.
  • There is every indication that the public wants a direct relationship with elected politicians and that, for many people, this will be online.
  • A new kind of political relationship with the public is needed if we are to overcome rising levels of voter apathy and disengagement with politics.
  • We propose that this relationship should be open by default, digital by default, networked and agile.
  • Every politician should take responsibility for their digital footprint and actively curate an online presence.
  • The extent to which this is done can be described across three models: communicative, collaborative and co-productive.

As those who have read Public-i blog (or Catherine’s own blog) before may have noticed, there’s mention here of the Open Network argument that sets out the four guiding principles of a new relationship – networked, open by default, digital by default and agile – which we have already talked about here .

It also mentions three models for building a new relationship – communicative, collaborative and co-productive. These set out three levels of ambition for PCCs, from those that that may be best placed framing their engagement along more traditional ‘communicative’ lines, to those who are willing to go further, ultimately looking to establish a co-productive relationship with the public.

You can read the report here, learn more about the APCC here and if you’d like to speak to us about this please contact us here.

Photo credit: Home Office, on Flickr, available on a creative commons licence.

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  1. Tom Phillips says:

    OK – the bullet points: this much we know/knew already, even if we didn’t express it as eloquently as Catherine has in the report. But what next? Who will hold the PCCs to account to do these things, and who will tell us if/when they’re not doing them? Furthermore, is there anything much we the electorate can do this side of the next (probably heavilly rigged) elections?

  2. Tom, thanks for the comment. I think the point you raise about holding PCCs to account is an important one – even if I don’t think I’d go as far as you about the election (surely, they’d have rigged themselves a higher turnout?). The legislation sets out that it’ll be the job of police and crime panels to scrutinise PCCs, but the real test will come at the ballot box, as you infer.

    I’d argue that for both PCCs and PCPs understanding and representing the electorate (as I think both should concentrate on, at the expense of pursuing a political agenda) will be absolutely essential if this reform is going to work at all. And I’d say the best way of ensuring this happens – and that the public is properly involved in developing the PCC’s agenda – will be by embracing digital technology to have a much richer, discursive relationship. I know that isn’t the straightest of answers, but there you go!

  3. Patrick says:

    I hope that the failed PCC experiment will be ended as a direct result of activity on the net. Most people are unconvinced that the elected commissioners represent local views or are answerable to them. There’s a petition representing the majority view at:
    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/41806

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