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Agenda: e-campaigns are not the answer

Although I spend my life promoting Glasgow City Council and sometimes defending what we do, I'm not blind to reality. Like all big organisations we're sometimes not as good at consulting people as we should be; but we're actually not as bad at it as we're made out to be.

 

To be fair, the nature of representative democracy is such that every decision can't be subject to a referendum. But I'd be the first to admit that we haven't yet found a consistently effective way of hearing everyone's opinions at the start of a process. And while we do listen, and we do change, we can't give everyone what they want all of the time. 

Which takes us to the debate around our draft park management regulations. Frankly, when people rub along together the rules are moot. If you're behaving sensibly on your bike; if your well-behaved dog gets away from you and doesn't bother anyone; or if you and a few mates have a kick about, no-one's going to bother you. And they're certainly not going to throw the rule book at you.

But some people cycle dangerously, some have big dogs they don't control, and sometimes big groups do get out of hand. None of these might be illegal but they shouldn't be happening in a park where other people are trying to enjoy themselves.

So I think most people would agree we need rules. But what should they be? Well, we're having a consultation. And I know people can be cynical, but this is a genuine consultation. It's all up for grabs and if you feel strongly about something, and explain why to us, we'll take it into account. 

I can't promise we'll give you what you want. It may not be practical; other people may have a strong opposing view; or we may just have an honest disagreement. But I can promise we'll listen.

At least, I can promise we'll listen if you tell us what you want. Go on to the council's website, drop us an email, tell us what you agree with and what you disagree with, and why. I cannot promise we'll listen if you simply  sign a petition on change.org, join a Facebook group or retweet an angry comment. Often, there's simply no useful information in any of those methods of communication.

A petition at present attracting signatures on change.org doesn't like, amongst other things, the proposal that all vehicles in parks need written consent. That doesn't tell us anything useful. If you sign the petition, does that mean you want all parks to be open to all vehicles at all times? 

Obviously, that's a non-starter. Or does it mean you want people to be able to drive into parks in appropriate numbers for specific reasons? Well, perhaps. Let's have a think about it.

The problem is, the petition tells us neither of these things.

The petitioner is also outraged at the proposal that all dogs must be kept on a lead. Fair enough but nobody's suggesting that they should be. The proposal is that, off the lead, the dog should be "able to respond to commands". If people tell us they want to be able to let their dog off the lead, and they think their dog is well enough behaved to run out of earshot and back again, that gives us something to think about. Just telling us you don't like a proposal that doesn't even exist doesn't allow us to effectively listen to you.

I understand why e-campaigns are attractive. They're easy to join and you can feel like you've done something. Sadly, you might not have done anything at all.

When it comes to things which are even slightly complex or nuanced, this kind of easy e-campaigning is telling you a lie.

It's telling you that real-life democracy is no more complex than the X Factor or that changing the world is as easy as deciding who's the best dancer or singer on this week's TV talent contest. In truth, it's more complex than that. It's not  difficult. It just requires a little time and thought, and a little more effort than it takes to click "like". 

We want to listen. But, for us to listen, you have to tell us what you want us to hear.

 

Colin Edgar is head of communication and service development at Glasgow City Council

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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