Aside from a few adventures getting there which served to reinforce my Hate/Hate relationship with
the rail services I made my way to Somerset house where I met and had a brief chance to chat with people
from a diverse range of backgrounds and organisation.
The first meeting was attended by:
Steve Clift from “E-Democracy” who was presenting the seminar.
Alistair Stoddard and Susie Latta of “The Democracy Society”.
David Bovil of “Lobbi,org”.
Dan Jellinek from “Headstart.org”who is also an author on democracy.
Andrew Macias-Diaz of the “Open University Internet Institute”.
Angus Fox of “Multizone limited”.
We had a brief contact with Vivian from” Lumia” via a video link.
The initial meeting before the seminar was to cover what these groups are doing and how they could
This included the development of DEM.O.S, the Democracy Operating System which is to be an
open source tool to support mobile APs and software tools to allow groups to communicate, co-operate
and organise in support of democracy.
Crowd funding and kick starting to produce funds to bring together developers from a number of
different organisations and nations to co-operate on this project and on others.
The use of tools such as digital radio to allow groups to both reach larger audiences and to share
ideas and aims between groups.
To bring the next generation into democracy by expanding on existing organisations such as student
Bring together expert advice and consultation services to bring democracy sites to a higher standard.
To look at social media and at games companies to see how they attract people and keep people
interested by being both informative and entertaining.
I am not going to go into great detail, this blog is my thoughts and impressions of events rather
than repeating the words of others verbatim but please visit the web sites and read for yourself
what they are trying to achieve.
One thing I did note was a reference by David to a meeting in the EU. An event hosted by the EU
costing hundreds of thousands of Euro’s to organise where the attendees’ voted to allocate a few
thousand Euros in funding to a few worthy democracy organisations.
This does rather sum up the failings of the system, when more is spent on the event than is spent
to support the aims of that event and groups stand cap in hand to beg for what amounts to crumbs
from the table.
The seminar itself was in a different part of the building which consisted of couches facing a screen
rather than chairs round a table. A nice room for a seminar.
But it was somewhat difficult to find and get into given that it was a staff only area behind security
doors which caused some initial amusement.
Again rather than repeat what was said I refer you to the Lobbi.Org site where there is a video of the
seminar. The sound is not good and the video quality is likewise somewhat lacking but I cover that in
more detail latter on.
Meeting the 25 or so people attending I found a mixed group, just about everyone else was active in
democracy or worked for organisations that are politically involved. Such as the RSA, English Heritage,
one lady who is now in charge of outreach for the department of skills and industry and one lady who
wasn’t sure why she was there.
Many of them knew others there and had attended other events so for most people present it was not
something new to them.
We had the opportunity to chat while the organisers tried to get the tech working and I found that the
people attending had all come looking for something different. Some were passionate about forms of
democracy, about putting people back into the systems of power or just giving them voices, some were
interested in organisational ideas or technology or 21st century communications or ways of reaching
people with new ideas.
But regardless of what they were seeking at the seminar all seemed dedicated to their own aims and
many were passionate about what they believed was wrong and what could be done to fix it.
Once the projector was working Steve Clift of E-Democracy gave the presentation about the work he is doing
in the US with diverse ethnic and cultural groups in his home city.
The video is at Lobbi.Org, you can get an idea of what he was talking about there.
Much of what he said was very American, his statistics were all from the US and much of his work is there
though he has done work with communities here in the UK, I would be interested to hear more about
his UK work since it is more relevant to this country and its people who are fairly different to our
American cousins across the Atlantic.
One thing that struck me was how much he had done and over so many years to bring neighbourhood
democracy and E-Democracy to part of one city, in one state of the US.
As Obama says, there are 58 or so US states which makes everything that Chris has achieved in his many
years of hard work a drop in the ocean.
He is very positive about what he has done and what he is doing which is great. But it needs to be done on
a scale a thousand times larger to have meaningful impact in peoples lifetimes which is the scale of the
problem facing Democracy campaigners.
It is a very big mountain to knock down and a few people with little hammers are not going to do it.
As an outsider I did not know anyone there, I have not attended one of these events before and had no
pre-conceived ideas about what was going on. But looking at the entire thing from the perspective of an
outsider I see problems.
I had high expectations, the sort of expectations that members of the public would have if they were
attending such an event for the first time having been persuaded to visit due to concerns or fears they
hope can be resolved by 21st century Democracy.
This blog is my thoughts, my ideas, my opinions.
I stand in the darkness and look around me. The truth is a light that grows brighter with telling which is
why I may be somewhat less than polite or diplomatic about what I say.
While I support what is being done I also see that this is too important to sugar coat. As much as
possible I will be constructive with my criticisms but I will not deny that there are problems.
Two that were most apparent were language and organisation.
English is a wonderful language, it is flexible and adaptable. It allows for extremely technical and
scientific discourse while at the same time is fairly easy to learn and both adopts foreign words and
loans a large number of English words and phrases to foreign languages creating communication
between many peoples.
However this ability to handle specialised topics leads to specialisation of English within professions
almost to the extent that new Dialects are being created.
How often do we hear people saying “I don’t talk computer” or “What does that mean in English” when
they have just heard a mouthful of tech speak or business speak.
In business many business types have picked up a dialect of English called Business speak, they learn
it at business schools or from early jobs where everyone else in the management speaks the same way
and since they tend to talk to others who talk the same way they understand each other.
However when a group of people with the stated intention of increasing democracy by using communication
both online and offline talk with a dialect of English that is going to be difficult to understand for a
significant number of people there is going to be a problem.
To be fair I doubt most of them even realise what they are doing since the circles they travel in talk that way.
But when you are putting on presentations, giving speeches and trying to communicate with the person in
the street the last thing you want is to have them not understand what you are talking about.
If the people you want to get involved cannot simply talk with you since they don’t understand the way that
you are talking then you have failed before you even start.
Democratic deficit, engagement, outreach, synergy. These are not things that significant parts of the
population talk about and by using phrases such as this you are isolating yourselves from the very people
you should be talking to.
As I said I doubt most of them even realise they are doing this because everyone else in their circles talks
the same way so it is not noticeable. But looking in from the outside, if they went out into the world and
tried to talk this way to the majority of the population they would run into problems.
There is no point talking to those only in your social or career circles but if you cannot talk in a way that
people outside of those circles understand then you have cut yourself off from the very Democracy you
seek since people cannot or will not understand you.
This is something that will take work to improve I think it will be worth the effort.
The second problem is one of organisation.
I have spoken before of Hard Power and Soft Power, the situation where you can have influence because
people know that you are powerful or because they think you are.
For small groups trying to punch above their weight and have influence at a national or global level they
need to be using soft power to a significant degree. This means they must look the part, they must talk the
part, they must act the part of organisations able to bring about real change at a national or global level.
Soft power takes skill; it takes work and it takes planning and organisation.
It is not a matter of faking things but rather it is a matter of being seen as a powerful voice at a national
level and being treated as such which in fact leads to becoming a genuinely powerful national voice.
Again I look at this as an outsider but one with long years of experience dealing with all levels of
management at a range of companies and organisations from blue chip fortune 500 boardrooms down.
If an organisation or company looks poorly organised and amateur they will be treated as such. If they
look sharp, well organised, carefully planned and able to handle any problems in a professional manner then
it doesn’t matter how amateur or new they may be. The perception is that here is a group of people or a
company that knows what it is doing, they should be treated seriously, they should be listened to because
they look as if they know what they are talking about.
This is the classic “you talk the talk but can you walk the walk”.
For an organisation that wants to appeal at a national and global level, for a company that wants to have
influence with councils and governments and major power blocks, for people who want to have their
voices heard, they must be seen as worth listening to.
The venue had a number of problems, planning ahead would have solved these problems and made the
organisers look professional and organised.
Yes the venue room was nice but it was in a part of the building not accessible to the public meaning it was
impossible to get into without a Somerset house staff ID. Having one of the staff crewing the lift for the period
when everyone was arriving would look organised and professional. It says we have anticipated this problem
and we have dealt with it like the professionals that we are.
I like exploring strange old buildings and sending people to scout up old, cramped, dark, spiral staircases
looking for monsters or an exit but that is a hobby, doing it while trying to get to the meeting room for a
meeting I travelled three hours to reach is less impressive.
On the Lobbi.org page the event recording is available to see. Sadly this opportunity to produce a sharp
professional looking piece was also missed.
What is being done here is important and opportunities like this cannot be missed.
Prior planning is critical, inspecting and setting out a venue well before start time looks professional and
avoids the situation where people are left waiting while staff try to get the projector working.
Getting lost in your own building.
The sound on the video is hard to hear, the entire thing looks amateur and makes the organisation look
I understand small company, limited resources and restricted budget. But people are interested in
democracy and E-democracy and communications.
Is it possible to find someone who would volunteer some time to produce sharp and professional
looking video and sound.
Is it possible to arrange the next seminar ahead of time so people walk in to find everything set up and
waiting on them, everything looking well organised.
What other organisational skills could be found in local volunteers. People do not need to know the
profesional quality of an event came from a few people who offered to help the week before. What they
need to see is a well organised event that reflects well on the profesional quality of the organisers.
I am trying to be as constructive as possible here because I do not want to see this fall by the way side as
so many others have failed beforehand.
But these problems must be addressed.
For members of the public who visit the website and see a link to a “Headline” event to then struggle to
hear what is being said and to have the video constantly showing the wrong thing or someone’s legs and
not their faces leaves a very bad first impression. Yes my coughing in the background did not help for
which I appolgise but I was just one of many sound problems affecting the video.
That first impression will cause many people to walk away and will make it much harder to persuade
those who are still listening that you know what you are doing.
To be taken seriously as a national or global influence you “Must” be seen as sharp, organised and
We both as a nation and globally are looking at a steady erosion of democracy and accountability.
There are riots and demonstrations happening in a dozen nations right now because the people of
those countries are afraid that they are being denied freedom, democracy or simple rights.
The mother of all parliaments acts much of the time like an elected oligarchy (which it is), global and
regional human rights councils are giving places to nations with very limited human rights or steady
abuse of the same.
People are afraid. They are no longer in control of their own lives. Jobs, food, heating, all are out of
peoples control. Governments set policies that suit a select few politicians or pour yet more wealth into
corrupt leaders while people go hungry in the streets.
Democracy, the expression of the will and intend of the majority over the whole, has become a tattered
flag rolled out every few years to elect the next batch of oligarchs.
Either this changes or we must accept that our society, everyone’s society, is no longer free or fair.
One persons voice is easy to miss, a group of a thousand peoples voices are heard but are easy to ignore.
A thousand people all calling different things or demanding different answers is a noise. A thousand
groups all calling different things or demanding different answers is a loud noise.
But when one million voices all ask the same question or demand the same answer will they be heard
because it is very hard for any nation that retains even the tattered shreds of a democracy to ignore them.
When five million or ten million or twenty million all speak together then governments fall.
This is democracy. This is governments having no choice but to listen to the will of the majority and act on
that will. This is what is missing and this is what must be bought into being.
This is what makes fledgling organisations like this important, the hope that they can achieve the impossible
and bring all those voices together. Not once but again and again.
Not in a single community or in a single town or city but in entire nations.
I do not want to see power being maintained by the gun or the secret police. I do not want to see mobs in
the streets because riot and destruction have become the only way they think they can be heard.
As I said at the event, I see much that is negative, I see cruelty and suffering and inhumanity, I see governments
and politicians deliberately harming the weak and the helpless in the name of the greater good. I see shadow
and darkness across our society and hope fading away in far too many people.
What I would like to see is hope, to see the positive to match the overwhelming negative. I want to see light in
the darkness of people’s lives. I want to see people regaining control of their own lives.
Not drones or resources but living beings who have the ability to change things through an actual democratic
process. Would 51% of the electorate vote to allow ATOS to continue its cruel and inhuman treatment of the sick
and the weak. I certainly hope not but at present they have no voice to say “Stop”.
Can Digital democracy and E-democracy and modern technology give people a voice in their own lives and
the running of their own nations?
Can MPs and governments be made to “Serve” the people rather than “Rule” the people?
Can groups such as Lobbi make a difference?
I don’t know. But I am prepared to help them try.