Anyone working in public service in Scotland could not fail to be aware of the energy and enthusiasm for people in Scotland to be involved in the decisions that affect them, their families and their communities. This is a growing global trend, but here reached a crescendo as we all, as citizens, considered the question of Scotland’s future through the lens of the independence referendum. Nor could they fail to spot the government’s commitment to respond to this energy. The First Minister’s vision for her Government is to be “the most open and accessible that Scotland has ever had”; to deliver this the Programme for Government set out her expectation that public service will work differently and will put people at the heart of their thinking. http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/11/6336/1)
This thinking on participation and engagement is not entirely new to the Scottish Government, the development of policy and delivery increasingly involves a wide range of partners. So how does the 21st century public servant ready themselves to transform? What needs to change, what can people do individually and what can organisations do to support the change? In order to better understand these questions the Scottish Government hosted a week of Participation events.
These were principally about the organisation listening to the hopes and fears of people in public service talking about the potential for working with people rather than doing things to them. The series of events were more than just an opportunity to think about the tools and techniques to work differently, but were also an opportunity to test out ways to ensure effective and meaningful participation with the public is a core part of their work. Most of the week’s events were accessible to anyone so that public servants can learn and share experiences with others interested in delivering public service.
The week was making space for democracy and citizen participation in the working lives of public servants, but one of the events recognised the challenge is often to find places to test this out for real. So on 11th June 50 creative people came together to take part in a high octane event, run by Lancaster University to identify where and how we can make space for deliberative democracy, finding real places and ways for citizens to work with policy makers, experts to reimagine public services. The event looked at examples from Netherlands, other parts of the UK and backwards a 1,000 years into our own history of citizen assemblies (Tings) to see what we can learn. Participants took the learning from these examples to design new space for democracy to flourish.