Friday, 27 March 2015

Mini Public in Scotland on Windfarms

You may be wondering if anyone has ever used a "mini-public" in Scotland.  So here is a great example:

Citizens’ juries on wind farm development in Scotland, Interim report, June 2014
Dr. Jennifer Roberts and Dr. Oliver Escobar.

In this report they say:

"The citizens’ jury is the smallest and most commonly used type of mini-public. It typically involves a group of 15-25 citizens who are assembled for 3-5 days to learn about and discuss an issue, and then produce a collective recommendation to address that issue. Due to their small group size, citizens’ juries are intended to be demographically diverse rather than statistically representative of the population.

Like all mini-publics, once a citizens’ jury is assembled it goes through a deliberative process. Deliberation is a form of communication that enables people to reach informed and public-spirited decisions on an issue after having considered and discussed existing evidence, perspectives and arguments. To enable effective deliberation, mini-publics usually feature two phases:

Phase one is a learning stage in which participants are supported to become more knowledgeable about the topic under consideration. This can be done by combining time for individual learning(e.g. information packages), with time for group learning where participants are exposed to a range of evidence, opinions and testimonies covering the issue from various points of view. Depending on the topic, this may include experts, officials, politicians, activists, and various stakeholders (e.g. business, community and voluntary sectors). During the process, participants work together to interrogate these ‘witnesses’. The preparation of information packages and the selection of witnesses are typically overseen by a Stewarding Board to ensure that the mini-public is exposed to a balanced range of evidence and views.

Phase two is a decision-making stage in which participants deliberate in small groups aided by impartial facilitators. Here they reconsider their initial ideas on the topic in light of the evidence and testimonies from the learning phase, but also with respect to the arguments and experiences of their fellow deliberators. Depending on the topic, and the type and purpose of the mini-public, this may lead to a particular recommendation or decision which must be articulated through reasoned arguments in the final report or statement. Once this is achieved, the mini-public is dissolved. Together, the learning and deliberative work in these two phases is intended to enable participants to engage in considered judgement as a basis for informed decision making. Participating in a mini-public takes considerable effort, and citizens are usually compensated for their work. This helps to make the process more inclusive by removing barriers to participation – for instance, for those who may need to make arrangements in order to attend (e.g. carers, parents). Hundreds of mini-publics have been held around the world since the 1970s to deal with a range of complex policy issues  (e.g. science and technology, health, justice, planning, and sectarianism). The latest research on mini-publics seeks to assess whether, and how, these methods may be institutionalised as part of a more deliberative form of democracy at the large scale."

We have had a flawed public consultation that has very little detail, no data on who has responded (and so no idea if it is truly representative of the population) and uses leading questions.

Lets run a mini public on the Aberdeen city centre masterplan so that we get a REAL idea of what the great public of Aberdeen want.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

First steps to Improving Local democracy

You might think that Aberdeen is the only council having issues with projects it has delivered, that is far from the truth.  
In April 2012 the Jimmy Reid foundation produced a report entitled : The Silent Crisis, Failure and Revival in Local Democracy in Scotland. In it they said:
There is a clear democratic deficit in Scotland at the local level and to resolve this the Scottish Government should set up a Commission” All the evidence suggests that democratic representation is failing badly.
 You see the thing is although we have Audit Scotland who oversee council activities, they do not get involved in how the people see the projects that are delivered.  In effect there is no oversight of any council body in Scotland when it come to "customer satisfaction".
The Commission on strengthening local democracy,setup by the president of COSLA, was established in autumn 2013, and operates independently of any organisation. It brings together key figures from across civic Scotland including senior councillors and specific experts with a common resolve to understand why local services and local accountability matter. The Commission has based all of its work on an open conversation about Scotland’s democracy and how it might change. Its call for evidence from across Scotland and Europe resulted in over 200 written submissions, telephone surveys with 1000 representative Scottish households, 13 evidence panel sessions involving 70 expert witnesses, and 5 public listening events.
On page 28 of their August 2014 final report they wrote:

We therefore recommend that all Community Planning Partnerships develop an approach to community scrutiny to complement their existing scrutiny approaches. While the specific format of how this is done will need to fit local circumstances, we would expect that this would result in a regular (potentially biennial) citizen review being undertaken that is focused on how effectively community planning is working for its local communities. Working alongside local elected representatives, we suggest that this would need to be undertaken in a highly participative way, potentially by bringing together a local ‘mini-public’ or similar approach.”

The idea of mini-publics was first proposed in 1989 by political scientist Robert Dahl. Inspired by democratic ideals and social science principles, Dahl envisioned an innovative mechanism for involving citizens in dealing with public issues. The purpose is to assemble a microcosm of ‘the public’, a mini-public, with each citizen having an equal chance of being selected. Mini-publics seek to answer a fundamental question: How would ‘the public’ deal with an issue if they had the time and resources to learn and deliberate about it in order to reach an informed decision? As a method, it counters the criticism that survey research only provides snapshots of uninformed opinion by members of the public who may know little about an issue, or may not have even thought about it. It is basically informed due diligence by a subset of the electorate for the electorate.

Here are a couple of ways a mini public can be carried out:

Planning Cells
A number of cells of 25 randomly-selected citizens meet over a few days and are provided with information on a policy issue. They deliberate and prioritise potential courses of action. Moderators prepare a final report for the commissioning body.

Citizens’ juries –
Similar to a single planning cell, 12 to 24 citizens, typically selected using quotas or stratified sampling, deliberate over 2 to 4 days and produce a report of recommendations

Is public participation in Aberdeen being seen as an obstacle to be overcome, through restricting those able to participate or by some other means, rather than as a valid part of the process?

This is what a consultant based in London had to say on Mini publics:

Over the years I've done Juries and then larger scale events around big, complex planning project in a major city in England. This had been turned down twice and had gone to a Public Inquiry. We then ran a Citizens' Jury to develop the brief for the masterplan and then evaluated the emerging masterplan against those criteria. When it went to planning it was unanimously approved - and the atmosphere in the city had changed substantially. The area has now been built and is very popular."

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

How are ordinary people supposed to attend Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan (CCM) consultations?

I went to attend the meeting advertised (In the citizen) at Inchgarth community centre at 11am on Monday 16th March.  When I got there I asked Paul O'Connor MBE where the meeting was and he said "not today Bob".  Strange I went home and phoned the council,"Oh yes that was an error see the website".  I heared from Paul later and he said 30 other people showed up for the none existent display on Monday 16th March. 

Nobody in the council thought to tell anyone that the date was wrong in the newspaper.  Anyhow I went the next day to Inchgarth community centre and there were 2 council officers manning a display and handing out the brochure.  My questions about the CCM mainly met with a redirection to the display in the centre of Aberdeen at the Academy where I could talk to the consultants that had some more detail.

I got to thinking then about how the demographic of Aberdeen would be represented by these displays.  Most of the consultation are scheduled in the daytime making it very difficult for most ordinary working people to attend.   So I then decided to attend the Academy and I talked to a council officer and two consultants.  I asked about who attended and was told that mostly it was elderly people in the weekday as they had the time. It has to be said some students were at the Academy that day.  At the weekends a different demographic attended.  Attending the Academy was definitely better as there were more experts on hand and there were displays mirroring the contents of the brochure.  However the questionnaire in the brochure does not attempt to ask for any demographics data e.g. respondents age, income range, education, ethnicity etc.  So the survey that is being done has no data on it's relevance to the demographic living in the city.

Is this more evidence that the consultation is "just spin and hot air" with no desire to actually ask a representative cross section of the people of Aberdeen what it is they actually want to see in their city centre?  Where is the science here?

How on earth are people supposed to take in the complexity of  any of the projects presented in the brochure?  

I asked what projects would be delivered when?  Sorry that information is not available yet.  How then are people supposed to know which projects to look at in more detail.  Why is this information not in the public domain.

I will talk more tomorrow about Improving Local Democracy but it is clear to me that the public are not being engaged in a fair and comprehensive manner by ACC on this CCM.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Aberdeen city centre masterplan

The current Aberdeen city centre masterplan brochure contains a questionnaire that is wholly biased towards driving a YES for the projects. Many thousands of these questionnaires have been issued at great expense.

Here is the killer punch though, the questionnaire was designed by an experienced consultant in partnership with BDP.  Did the consultant merely want a white wash? 

The language used in this questionnaire is complex with leading questions.  There is not enough room for comprehensive feedback. There are so many projects described at a very high level but no detail with which to make a considered evaluation. 

Judge for yourself.... 

"Make sure the questions are unbiased When developing your survey questionnaire, you want to make certain that you are asking the questions in a neutral way, ie that you are not leading them toward a particular answer. This may seem simple, but when you are writing questions you will often find that the way you phrase the question may reflect your underlying opinion.

Here is an example of a leading question: 

Example of a Leading Question and How to Correct it 

Bad Question: Leading
Do you think that the new cafeteria lunch menu offers a better variety of healthy foods than the old one?
( ) Yes
( ) No
( ) No Opinion

Good Question: Neutral

How do you feel about the new cafeteria lunch menu compared to the old one?

( ) The new menu offers a better variety of healthy foods
( ) The old menu offers a better variety of healthy foods
( ) The selections are similar
( ) No opinion

The Aberdeen city centre masterplan questionnaire only contains the choice YES, no and don't know  ...classic leading questions then...

I have written to Audit Scotland about this copying Kevin Stewart MSP  and Maureen Watt MSP.