RED health ageing democracy Energy citizenship transformation design
The low road to reform
October 11, 2006, Matthew Horne

Over the summer RED ran a short design project to reconnect politicians with voters. We did not concentrate on the high road to democratic reform: Lords Reform, Electoral reform, devolution, or constitutional reform. But, focused instead on the low road to democratic renewal. We looked at how voters experience their local constituency MP.

Click here for the publications and film relating to the project RED/democracy

Read on for a copy of a talk given by RED at Labour Party Conference 2006.

We did 3 things. Firstly, we talked to the public to get a better understanding of the problem. We ran a design workshop for 15 MPs and their staff to get them to put themselves in the shoes of the public. And finally we developed some prototyped practical solutions working for a week in an MP's constituency office in Doncaster.

We viewed MPs as a provider of a service to a local community, and tried to develop a new 'service offering' for them. This included some familiar and unfamiliar ideas. The familiar ideas, included services like newsletters websites and surgeries. The unfamiliar included group surgeries, street surgeries, clusters, reverse invitations, the new local Hansard and a constitupedia. To find out more about our designs visit

What does all this mean? We think to renew our democracy and public realm we have to renew our vision of what it means to be a citizen in a healthy democracy. This vision is about how individuals participate in the creation of public goods such as democracy but also including health, education, safety, wellbeing, community, prosperity and so on.

RED has become critical of the government vision of the citizen. We think it is unnecessarily narrow.

We think they view the citizen as an individualised consumer of public goods, acting selfishly, choosing between rival providers (whether it is schools hospitals or care providers). They expect citizens to vote their feet when dissatisfied or to complain loudly when they do not get what they want. Citizens are invited to take part in our institutions by becoming school governors or trustees of hospitals or by getting involved in party politics.

RED's vision of a citizen is of the individual as producers and not just consumer of public goods. We see citizens acting collectively as well as individually. We see them participating in the creation of their own health, education, care, wellbeing and safety. We see citizens taking responsiblity for their own behaviours and lifestyles, choosing to engage and get involved rather than leave. Citizen can expect to be challenged to take more responsibility in their lives, and at the same time they can expect to seek support from public services with making difficult changes to their lifestyle and behaviour.

On the basis of this vision RED tries to create future services with and for the public that start with the individual, prevent problems rather than cure them, support people to change their behaviours, distribute resources rather than centralise them and enable the public and professionals to co-create better outcomes for themselves. This vision is how we believe we can renew our democracy and our public realm.

This is a copy of a talk given by RED at Labour Party Conference 2006.


Bob Jacobson, October 15, 2006

I'm totally sympathetic with RED's goals and think its means are on target. But citizen self-awareness and activation also depends on factors outside the potitical arena, in the larger public sphere, including media coverage of matters of citizen concern, communication channels uniting citizens, the negative as well as positive consequences of geographical and ethnic/religious/class divisions and representation, and on and on....

Where does one draw the line regarding the designer's participation? Or conversely, how does one create such a powerful social algorithm or meme that the citizens can begin to deal with these determinative factors in the first place, before getting on with actual democratic governance?

Thanks for continuing this important conversation on your website, blog, and in public presentations. I intend to cover them all on our blog, Total Experience:

Angus Bearn, October 16, 2006

I still think the principle reason low voter turn-out is perceived as a 'problem' is politicians' vanity! Millions vote on X-factor etc, and millions turned out against the Iraq War, but now that Government has become more management strategy than Big Issues, it is too detailed, too complex to feel a vote is significant. More local involvement? Save the planet? Why are we just told to use our new recycling bins (in Greenwich) but not given feedback - by the dustmen - every so often on how it is going? Why don't we have more bins that we need? Why can't we speak to the people who provide the service, and know that it will get into the system for change?

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