Friday, August 11, 2006

What Will Participatory Democracy Look Like in Britain?

The context for setting up this evening was: since a Community Forum will be set up by Camden Council sometime next year, how can it be set up to aspire beyond the dog poo agenda?? Can Latin America offer solutions? Where has the London Peoples Assembly idea got to? I was relaxed and just totally curious as to how it would turn out.

Held on 25th July, the title was: "What would (will?) participatory democracy look like in Britain?"

The venue was a hidden gem, the sweet and lovely Candid Cafe at Torrens St, nr Angel Tube.

The event was inspired by the work of Roy Madron, who participated in the cafe.
Read extracts from his book "Gaian Democracies: Re-defining Globalisation & People-power" co-authored with John Jopling and a synopsis of his latest book: "Can Latin America Save the World?"

Our shared intention was to explore democratic participation with a view to taking practical action. Contrary to previous events, it was an invitees evening with the head of New Economics Foundation Democracy team, a representative from the Cogers society , an Agent of Awareness, the London Social Forum, a democracy student and of course "kitchen conversations".

The contributions were varied - including a drawing of 2 crocodiles that shared the same stomach as a metaphor for wise society, the use of some great words you hardly ever get to use in everyday language, like "pluralist" and the fact that unbenownst to most other participants, there were actually 3 events taking place that week on a similar theme. Seems the desire for democracy is alive and well in London. What it really is, and the implications of it were still keeping us intrigued and engaged 2 hours into the conversation.

We'll definitely hold some more events on the topic, starting with a bigger, open event in September or October to really catalyse the debate for a Community Forum in Camden. If you want to be involved, please keep 14th September free in your diary, and contact me on

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pointless Picnics

Venue: A Picnic Spot In Your Local Town, City Or Village.
>>  Time: Midday Every Sunday
>>  Place: Everywhere Picnickable on Our Planet
>>  Pointless Picnics are to be held every Sunday at Midday, providing
>>  the weather is fine. They offer an opportunity to get away from the
>>  consumer work ethic.
>>  Tell your friends to tell their friends and come along to share your
>>  food, play music and games or just relax.
>>  There is no reason for the picnics they're just something you don't
>>  have to think about, enjoy them, they're fun.
>>  The time of 12 noon (local) has been arranged to avoid the need for
>>  organisation. Everyone is welcome and don't forget..... it's just a
>>  Global Picnic!
>>  The idea behind the picnics is to give us the
>>  opportunity to meet up with like minded people and
>>  feel less isolated. If all goes well, one day you may
>>  be able to walk into any town at noon on a Sunday, go
>>  to the local picnic spot and meet up with a lot of
>>  folk with ideas for a peaceful future!
>>  Yes... And
>>  relax a while too.
>>  This is a movement that has no vertebrae - because of this it is
>>  powerful and effective,  
>>  there is no structure other than what YOU are motivated to do.
>>  Its is an idea that is carried in the wind, trusting the process of
>>  life. Like the oak tree sleeping inside of every acorn, just waiting
>>  for the environment to be amenable to its awakening.
>>  Our lifetimes are very short in the face of existence - we will not
>>  see all the fruits of our actions, but we are witnessing  the
>>  fruits of the seeds planted by those who came before us - relax,
>>  serve life and trust in the universal wisdom - step back take a ten
>>  thousand year view and see how quickly we are evolving
>>  :)
>>  Quotes by John Harding initiator of "pointless picnics"
>>  "Yes the picnic idea is still very close to my heart and on
>>  Sundays if the weather is fine you may find me picnicking somewhere."
>>  "Hopefully picnics will be worldwide
>>  and easy to find just by talking to friends."
>>  "The picnics are also pointless, not in one place and with no
>>  agenda apart from sharing food in peace. I like pointlessness,
>>  constantly searching for reasons and solutions is tiresome and
>>  unrewarding."
>>  "The idea of having no agenda, no speeches, no fixed meeting
>>  point, no organisational structure and no money involved does prevent
>>  this type of event being usurped by political groups with hidden
>>  agendas, it also keeps things understandable, if someone tells you
>>  the
>>  picnic is for any purpose other than sharing ones food in peace they
>>  do not understand the picnic concept."
>>  "We need to be constantly monitoring our environment and adopting
>>  the most
>>  efficient responses in order to conserve our energies and retain our
>>  freedom to think."
>>  "The weekly Sunday picnics could prove to be very
>>  strong, they provide a method of networking which does
>>  not rely on technology".  
>>  "People NEED to talk, to discuss, to communicate face to face,
>>  allow our 'auras' to mix,  create  new philosophy"  
>>  We don't wear labels  Its called the pointless picnic.
>>  Spread the word!
>>   "there is nothing wrong with our world,
>>  we are just having a weird conversation"

Friday, May 26, 2006

A fancy name for what we've been doing

Someone emailed me the mail below.

Seems someone has put a name to what we did at the third conversation. and wrapped it up in a book and is selling consultancy services based on it! Seems like common sense to me...


12 nodes ( 12 topics to discuss)
30 people linking each node.

A small group of 5 people can efficiently discuss one major and specific topic
each is represented by an individual strut it creates a 5 pointed star around a node (topic)
2 groups discuss 2 topics simultaneously
2 other groups discuss 2 other topics
Until 30 people have exchanged and integrated their knowledge on all 12 topics

As participants move into different groups there are strong resonances from the different topics, groups.
It is difficult to explain but very powerful to experience. Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity ... :
Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity: Books: Stafford Beer by Stafford Beer.

Team Syntegrity® facilitates planning, decision making and information sharing in a non-hierarchical context and supports collaborative development and implementation.

A Syntegration® leverages the existing, yet dispersed knowledge of your people and stakeholders to develop a shared understanding based on diverse perspectives. A group of between 10 and 42 key people from your organization develop sustainable solutions to your most pressing challenges while at the same time forming strong commitment for implementation, all in record time of 2 to 3 days.

The most powerful way to find right solutions to complex problems and to put them into action!

Team Syntegrity Welcome Team Syntegrity® facilitates planning, decision making and information sharing in a non-hierarchical context and supports collaborative development and ...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

30th May - Host Your Own Cafe: an Evening with the New Economics Foundation

Having good conversations with interesting open minded people that stretch your mind and enable you to learn what your own opinions are and have them moulded and grow into bigger ideas...its quite addictive. And so simple to organise, as Andy and I have found out.

There has been lots of interest in holding more cafes following the 3 Kitchen Conversations we've run this year.... SO we've been talking about this to Perry Walker, who runs the Democracy and Participation activities of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and he would love to spend an evening with some would-be Cafe Hosts and inspire some more talking around the capital. As added incentive, there is still Electoral Commission sponsorship for other cafes that take place before the end of June - not that there needs to be any outlay. I know most of us are happy to pay for our own cups of tea and lots of good cafes are happy to have conversations happening.

We'll also look at the 'Democs' game that Perry has devised and have a chance to see the short video from our last cafe.

Date: Tuesday 30th. Time: 7pm. Venue: Central London. Please contact us if you wish to come and we'll arrange the venue according to the size of our group.

Conversation 3: Climate Change AND Liberty

"As a society, we accept our liberty as a right, until our actions impinge upon others' ability to enjoy their own life. What changes are necessary to our notion of liberty in this era of climate change?"

25 people came together for a World Café style discussion (3 rounds of half hour conversations in small groups, changing tables between rounds: talking stick optional…). We had a good number of active environmental campaigners and environmental professionals. The rest certainly saw it as an issue of concern (or why else would they have given up their Saturday? Its true – free coffee, a great local food dinner and engaging company may also have been a little bit attractive).

But this topic pushed us out of our comfort zone (climate change bad, Government should “make” people behave better). Where to start? Is there any point talking about liberty in the face of such an urgent crisis? Isn’t it a luxury we can’t afford – let’s just press on with the solutions? But hang on, I do feel a bit guilty flying to South Africa to visit my family. But I still want to be able to go. Its my family. Its important. How would I feel if my freedom to fly was restricted?

Western society today is like a tribe of small children whose parents have gone away – we collectively don’t feel obliged to take responsibility. Can we be trusted with rights when we don’t feel responsibility?

The long established rights of the citizen are up for grabs right now. Can we trust our leaders when they tell us we can’t do something for our own good? Is there a streak of rebelliousness in every campaigner – once our environmental aims are translated into mainstream society – by laws or cultural norms – does it become yet something else to rail against? Do we simply resent authority? And how did authority become so remote? If it were closer to the people, more accountable, more inclusive, because more of us took an active interest or even (!) were involved, could we be more trusting and establish collective action without fear of manipulation and exploitation?

Aren’t there a million things that can be done first that don’t curtail our liberty – our freedom, anonymity, autonomy….

Several conversations set off a digging deeper behind the posed question: what has brought us to this point of insanity? When did happiness become equated with material possession? Are we conditioned to keep up with the Joneses? (we didn’t think we were personally, so why should anyone else be. It may be prevalent, but is it inevitable?). Economic madness. Leisure time is shopping time. Rest of time is work time. To pay for shopping time.

Instead of looking at what we have to give up (as the environmentalists tell us) is there a different and positive/inspiring approach to both lift us out of the crisis and also harness the best of our human spirit as well as ingenuity? Cradle to Cradle gives one such direction, but are there others?
We also spoke of the question of liberty itself, and recognised how narcisistic our culture has become. Some of us felt we have become so preoccupied with ourselves, while at the same time really waiting for someone else to tell us what to do. How can we transcend our self concerns and face climate change head on?

There were some practical suggestions too: How about National Service – conscription into working on organic farms, on well projects in Africa, to ensure we got a more rounded awareness of the world and a better taste of global responsibility? Or making companies responsible for the commons too (air, water, soil) so they cared about their wider impacts too? And (appealed someone) what is being done to harness the energy benefits of gravity? [ed: see hydroelectric power - that's basically gravity at work I think, or try this article in Time Magazine ]

Is part of the answer to work for a more civil society, where we know each other, and spend time together – spending time together talking and listening over good food? Creating the space where we can generate new ideas and find out our opinions? Actually think for ourselves. Well, it worked on Saturday. We tasted it and liked what we got. We’re going to do it again!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Third Conversation This Saturday

On Saturday April 29th, at 4.30pm, we'll be having the third in this series of conversations. The topic we'll be using as a starting point is:

"As a society, we accept our liberty as a right, until our actions impinge
upon others’ ability to enjoy their own life. What changes are necessary to our notion of liberty in this era of climate change?"

As usual - this could lead wherever anyone wants it to go.

Afterwards, from 6.30-8.30, we'll be eating dinner, prepared by the wonderful Venezuelan chef, Bea. After that, anyone who wants to come is welcome to an intriguing looking party in Harlesden, involving music, dancing, puppetry, poetry, and more eating and drinking. Email for more details, with 'Kitchen Conversation' in the subject.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Kitchen Conversation No 2

If politicians are leaders not followers and corporations are more powerful than nations, what are our personal responsibilities in an era of climate change?

12 assorted people gathered for the second Kilburn conversation, and this time – there was cake. Oh yes.

To prove there is no gender bias toward big conversation we had 7 men and 5 women. One older person joined us – everyone else late twenties to early forties. A pretty tight age demographic! One parent. One crazy cardigan, no doubt a vintage from 1971.

If politicians are leaders not followers…isn’t this how it has been forever? And what do we want from them anyway? Our message is confused: If they tell us what to do, a la Tony Blair and recent education and anti-terrorism bills – they are divorced from reality and power has gone to their head. If they seek to find out what we want, they are weak and at risk of bowing to the lowest Daily Mail/Sun denominator. Unfortunately, all too often, the populist choice is completely opposite to the direction that is of most benefit in the long term.

If corporations are more powerful than nations: well, since the industrial revolution and before, we could see a history of companies motivated by profit, and from the East India Company to Orange phones, it is companies that invest in countries and bring what people want, in a way that governments can’t. Business is no doubt in charge: in Syriana (go see it!), in a subtle statement, George Clooney doesn’t even mention the politicians as the oil industry is analysed. Don’t overlook benefits: in Nigeria, mass takup of mobile phones is reducing traffic jams (anecdotally - From Our Own Correspondent' BBC Radio 4, 18 March 2006).

Should companies have the rights of citizenship? If we knew our company was directly voting in our elections, would it enhance our sense of responsibility about who we gave our time and energies to? Would we do more to influence them to align with our own values? This issue has been at the root of argument in the US where big companies have tried to argue that they are constitutionally entitled as a corporate entity to human rights and free speech. Corporations are fed by us and our consumer choices, and by our labour. Do we have any choice but to work for companies that are caring too little for our planet, when there is so much economic pressure and the cost of living and expectations for our standard of living are so high? Perhaps we can support each other in living lower-cost lifestyles so we can afford to work less and be more active citizens.

Responsibilities in an era of climate change:
To teach ourselves to use video conferencing technology - just like we expect ourselves to be able to perform basic typing and thus reduce the need to fly around the world for business meetings.
To think of future generations. Are we all climate criminals who will be around to witness our crimes on society in our twilight years and who can expect the impacted generation to try us and condemn us for our earlier oil-guzzling lives? Is a woman dropping her child at school in a 4x4 a selfish thief of today’s children's future or …a suffering person who deserves our love, who feels so insecure about herself that she will cut herself off from any connection to the world and her impact to enable her to indulge in the status symbol of the day?
To find lives that can sustain us – an eco-friendly life in which we are miserable serves no-one.
To beware of taking comfort in the world surviving without humans: our presence maybe ecologically essential.
To refuse the madness that is consumer trends that lead us into black holes of continuous costs and resource depletion, instead processing resources through us and keeping them available for healthy use.
To believe in the possibility of a red-green parliament that serves people and planet.
To believe in the possibility of a world where we have woken up and look after each other and our planet.
To recognise our mutual passion and inspiration and realise we can do anything! Climate change CAN be a conversation of the past.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Next Conversation - 18 March

The title for our second conversation on 18 March is:

If politicians are followers, not leaders and companies are now more powerful than nations, what are our personal responsibilities in an era of climate change?

We've heard from someone who is planning to organise the same conversation simultaneously in Amsterdam, while we're talking in London - look forward to see what comes up!

Feel free to add your suggestions as comments below.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What is Freedom? Civic Responsibility, the Government’s Right to Know and the Right to Remain Anonymous.

The first Kilburn Kitchen Conversation took place at Café Mangobita, the Venezuelan café in the Kingsgate Community Centre, Kilburn/West Hampstead,18th Feb. There were 10 of us present: a children’s youth worker/climate change activist, a software marketeer/poet, a DJ/gardener, a theatre designer, an Egyptian businessman/freedom podcaster, a representative from the London Islamic Network for Environment, a novelist/puppeteer, a sustainable fisheries expert, a jazz musician/new media specialist and a freelance environmental consultant/activist.

We were British, Anglo-Italian, Scottish-American, Egyptian and Australian.

An inspiring and engaging conversation took place. Its flavour was:

Freedom is …
Saying things we believe to be true, not self-censorship to agree to an unstated norm or allowing McCarthy-esque censorship to enter by the back door.
Not having ID cards imposed on us… And recognising that they are the tip of the iceberg of new laws coming through that curtail our freedom.
Anarchy? –exposing us to things we don’t want as much as those we do.
Full self expression to each be all we can be.

Our Civic Responsibility is…
Not letting ourselves be manipulated into being afraid.
To be aware, informed, outspoken.
Shop according to our principles. Support those who provide us with alternatives for freedom from the corporate stranglehold.
If biometric id. is coming, should we at least use it to be able to instantly vote out politicians who cease to serve us and serve corporations and their own interests?

The Government’s Right to Know is …
Over-rated as a new thing: Isn’t Big Brother already watching?
Over-stated: Nothing we have seen of new technologies convinces us it would make us safer. Madrid had ID cards in place at the time its bombs went off.
Terror is simply the latest “common enemy” used to manipulate us to offer up our freedom.

The right to remain anonymous is…
Something we all wanted.
To protect the right to be someone else, when its in a good cause and allows you to obtain information being disclosed to you that can lead to a better world.
Complicated!: the media often choose to portray a one-sided view: if we are not allowed to be anonymous, do we at least want the full facts behind our story to be known or freely available?

What can we do?
Inform ourselves and obtain news from as many sources as possible.
Switch off our TVs, throw away our Heat and OK! Magazine and free our minds.
Dare to engage in conversations with people about subjects that matter…leaving behind the old fashioned notions we were brought up with to be “nice” and “always happy”
Be loving in our outspoken-ness: if you can see through the sham of celebrity-led consumerism, you’re part of a privileged elite and our responsibility as aware citizens is to share our perspective generously - whilst respecting and having compassion for people caught in the endless and draining cycle of working to earn to consume to feel better about our lives that are empty because we work all the time…
Recognise the hypocrisies present in our own lives and not be stopped by them or be too ashamed to admit to them.

Recognise the different levels of spiritual development that people are at and understand their actions accordingly.

Stick together: there are more of us committed to freedom than we dare imagine…

The coffee was free courtesy of sponsorship from the Electoral Commission via the New Economics Foundation.