The Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce - the RSA who is also responsible for the delightful and thought-provoking series of RSAnimates - has an interesting post from their Executive Director on Accountability and Public Scrutiny. Although Matthew Taylor is referring directly to the current situation of "hung Parliament" in the UK, some of his ideas apply equally well to a reconsidered analysis of how the G20 weekend in Toronto went horribly wrong (at least from the perspectives of preventing vandalism, enabling legitimate protest, and quelling some brutish police officers overstepping their legal authority). Taylor lists four elements of what he calls "post-bureaucratic" public scrutiny:
First, a much deeper and more imaginative commitment to public and user engagement in scrutiny. Like for example the award winning panel in Cheshire West and Chester which put huge efforts into engaging young people themselves in an assessment of services for ‘looked after children’.
Second, scrutiny has to offer a different order of evaluation – more rounded and in depth – than can come from other forms of performance assessment. Local government Secretary of State Eric Pickles has talked about ‘armchair auditors’ using new data sets like those now available on central and local public spending. Scrutiny has to show it can complement these forms of DIY accountability.
Third, scrutiny needs to spend less time on exploring whether policy solutions work and more on whether agencies are defining the problem adequately. A focus on problems inherently leads to a viewpoint which is both more ‘joined up’ and which sees the vital importance of public mobilisation.
Fourth, this focus on problems builds a bridge from scrutiny about the past to deliberation about the future. If scrutiny is going to be seen as relevant and worth funding it has to as much about getting policies right for the future as about reflecting on performance in the past.
I think the key for Canadian public policy - especially with respect to future engagements between the forces of authority and the forces of the public - lie in items three and four. ensure that the right questions are being asked, and deliberate about the future of policy rather than on defending or justifying past performance (which, one must emphasize, cannot be sloughed under the proverbial carpet). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in authority who held a primary focus on control (rather than enablement). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in the public who held a primary focus on speaking out (rather than being heard).
The result was clear: those who wanted to speak out were effectively, if brutally in many cases, controlled. No one was enabled to be heard. Sadly, the powers that be are not only unwilling to engage - in the attributed words of Police Chief Bill Blair, "I couldn't care less" - they are unable to engage. Equally sad, those who need to be heard have only learned to shout into the air; they too are unable to truly engage those with whom they disagree (largely because of their learned behaviours of confrontation and dialectical revolution, coming as they do from Marxist epistemology and ontology).
These are 20th century (and earlier) behaviours. It is long past time for all constituencies to come into the contemporary world and start to learn how to be effective today.
[Technorati tags: public scrutiny | protest | confronting authority | speak truth to power]