How can community organising and decision making in Portobello be enlivening and effective? How can we organise in a way that is inclusive, energising and manages differences? How can we collectively respond to the rapidly increasing challenges we face now and in the years ahead where community is likely to become far more critical to ensuring our needs are met and our responsibilities enabled.
Some Key points from the ‘Community decision making’ conversation
People have to be helped to step forward. People feel they don’t matter so you need to connect with them personally to help people realise that what they think matters. Make it possible for them to attend..
If we move more towards direct democracy (where we don’t hand politics to others to do for us, and then complain about them not doing what we want) then there is a difference between Citizens Assemblies (CA) and Peoples Assemblies (PA). PAs consist of anyone passionate about an issue or a place, CAs are a representative sample of a population. Need to make it worthwhile to attend. Need immediate aim/ win as well as long term relationship building.
Governments know how to put off decisions by getting reports. On the other hand there is the need to analyse the problem to make the right recommendation. Understanding other people’s perception of the problem. Use other meeting methods, e.g. Story telling: someone speaks for 3 minutes, uninterrupted, then there’s a minute’s silence to reflect, then next person.
Need to relearn the skill of listening to one another as peers. Silence is massively important and overlooked. I often don’t know what I think until I’ve left unless we have a moment’s silence first, so start with a minute’s silence. There’s lots of little things you can do to make meetings inclusive and effective: rounds, silence, listening, reflexivity (what do I do when I hear something I disagree with: some will move in, others back off – get the chance to reflect and have suggestions on how we do things differently).
Maybe draw on all the conversations to see what people want to focus on, then try and take these forward differently. Local Authorities in Scotland are huge. Portobello would be a normal sized LA in the rest of Europe. Pilot a bottom-up community decision-making process in Porty that tries to reach out and include everyone, rather than having representatives ‘doing politics’ for us? Could start with initiatives coming out of these conversations, but also help link initiatives, and help create decision making processes that are enlivening not alienating.
Notes of some of the discussion (Apart from Eva, David and Justin, folk are represented by letters. I’ll add names if people say they’re ok with that)
A – People who are too busy are missing. How to include them
B – Use many different ways of listening to people
C – People who don’t normally go to meetings. Lots of people need support to get here. (e.g. people with learning difficulties – when you ask them their opinion they’d look at you to see what you wanted, or say no one has asked them. So we asked them their dreams, then went backwards until we came to a possible step – e.g. we helped someone who wanted to be an airline pilot to visit to the airport)
D – What is it we want (rather than what’s the decision we need to make). How to identify trigger points, points we have to revisit to assess what is being achieved.
D – Language is crucial. I’ve heard words here most people won’t understand.
E – People have to be helped to step forward to an assembly. People feel they don’t matter. Connect personally. Make connections that help bring people in a bit, to realise what they think matters (e.g. on streets in covid)
F – Quality of relationships. Tuning in to people’s needs
G – Hard to get people involved in community. People with families don’t have time.
H – Work with two community groups of ten each. Lots of difference and debate. Takes a huge amount of time.
J – From this afternoon session: supporting a young parent to hold a conversation on supporting young parents after lock down. No one came. She’ll take the discussion to a parent and toddler group. Need to meet immediate needs.
K – Make it possible to attend, learn from difference. Diff between Citizens Assemblies and Peoples Assemblies (PAs consist of as anyone passionate about an issue or a place, CAs as a representative sample of a population). Need to make it worthwhile to attend. Need immediate aim/ win as well as long term relationship building
David – Opposition between rep democracy and assemblies. Govts know how to put off decisions by getting reports. On the other hand need to analyse the problem to make right recommendation. Understanding other people’s perception of the problem. Story telling: someone speak for 3 minutes, uninterrupted, then minutes silence to reflect, then next person.
- skill of listening to one another as peers
- silence is massively important and overlooked. I often don’t know what I think until I’ve left unless we have a moments silence.
N – Start with a minute’s silence
Eva: lots of little things you can do: rounds, silence, listening, reflexivity (what do I do when I hear something I disagree with: some will move in, others back off – get the chance to reflect and have suggestions on how we do things differently).
A – Have a meeting to just put the problem out there, then come back for your actual meeting, and the extroverts have a chance to realise others have points of view
Eva: how hard it is to get people in the room.
B – Why get them in the room when we could get out to them, reaching outwards
C – East Lothian – so difficult for councilors to slow down, explain what they were doing
David – Book festival folk asked folk in Galleon etc. what books they liked reading
D – The way those in power talk about those not in power – Instead of saying ‘marginalised people’ we could say ‘people who are not often heard’. Participatory budgeting – so include everyone
A – ‘You decide’ does that already
D – but it doesn’t go out to people
Eva: Participatory budgeting always feels like lots of good causes fighting over peanuts
D – It should be what we spend all the money on rather than tiny slivers
Eva: start from dreams, from what people need, that’s what makes decision making meaningful. It’s why people get involved. Prove the concept of why you make decisions
J – Start from something specific
B – Collective advocacy – we can all try together even if it won’t work. Balance of being ambitious
Justin: maybe draw on all the 14 conversations to see what people want to focus on, then try and do it differently
A – Community Council (CC) involves people who want up have a say, so you have to outreach e.g. through online, but that has its limits. Very important to reflect. CC isn’t making a decision but reflecting communities views on something
Eva: Ten to fifteen thousand people in this community. Idea of participatory budgeting (did it in Leith)
A – Same process here as in Leith. First time people had to come to a meeting and make a presentation (networking)
D – Prom is unique to Porty. Somewhere deep down in the council there must be budget for the Prom, so start with that.
J – A lot of experience here with advocacy. Deciding on the council budget (D) or small funds (A). Where are we at?
Justin: Maybe pass conversations back to all from weekend to decide what to move forward on? Maybe be very ambitious: take back power over decisions to Porty. [Proposal] Local Authorities in Scotland are huge. Portobello would be a normal sized LA in the rest of Europe. Pilot a bottom-up community decision-making process in Porty that tries to reach out and include everyone, rather than having representatives ‘doing politics’ for us? Could start with initiatives coming out of these conversations, but also help link initiatives, and help create decision making processes that are enlivening not alienating.
Flip chart notes
|What decisions get made about Portobello|
|Traffic – planning, permits, parking|
|Development planning – zoning, house building|
|Local projects, new businesses|
|Sea level defences/mitigation|
|Who represents the public, how hard do they try|
|Waste collection, street lighting, parking, new schools, bins, housing developments|
|Social security. NHS/health services|
|Traffic and transportation|
|Who makes them and where?|
|Council, elected members, officials|
|National agencies and organisations|
|Market, businesses, commercial interests|
|Corporations, developers, businesses and local business lobbies|
|Entrepreneurs, ‘do gooders’ innovators|
|Whatsapp, social medial groups, positive and negative|
|How are they made?|
|Community campaigns, pressure on MSPs|
|Sub-committees -> full council|
|Balancing inclusivity with taking action|
|Privately behind closed doors – by rich people with the time|
|Money speaks! And expert terminology|
|Cost effective, regulation, legislation|
|Fragmented nature of social media/information|