Posts tagged ‘Politics’
“Rather than focusing on how participation can work (or be made to work) for people, [the Big Society debate] has instead focused on how participation can work for government.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about how the public can run local services as part of the Big Society. Libraries are the main focus, but public toilets are creeping into the mix.
It’s presented as an opportunity!
“*cough* we’re going to close your public toilets *cough* but HERE’S THIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO RUN A TOILET FOR YOURSELVES!!!!“
It won’t come as a shock that people are not signing up in their droves to such an idea.
It will also not come as a shock that this is seen as a cover for making cuts: “We can’t afford to run the toilets, and if you really wanted them you’d be offering to run them for us”
Indeed this message is already confused since it’s not the man-on-the-street that the council are asking to take over facilities; it’s the smaller parish council or other legal entities. Whether the parish councils can afford to run public toilets when the district council cannot is a whole other story, though these guys are pretty chipper.
The problem that I have with this whole approach to the Big Society is exactly what the opening quote from the Involve blog hits on – it’s all about how the public can help the government out of a fix, not about how the government can help the public to create the society that they want (and that they want to get involved in).
I like the Big Society.
I like it because of how I’ve chosen to interpret it: as an opportunity to involve the public in the design of public services. Ideas around co-design (or co-participation) or Transformation Design (or service design, there’s a lot of overlapping terminology) have been bubbling away for years and through the Big Society there’s an opportunity to mainstream this approach in order to create people-centred public services.
What does this mean?
I’m making this up a bit so feel free to disagree with me, but here are some thoughts on how to go about it, using public toilets as the obvious example!
Too often in the public sector a policy or strategy is thought up, drawn up, then put out to public consultation in order to
tick a box get public approval. The designer’s approach would be to do… the exact opposite.
In 2006 the Greater London Authority (GLA) had an investigation into The State of London’s Public Toilets (pdf).
4 years later the Health & Public Services Committee are holding a review.
As part of our research project Out-of-Order we responded to their call for evidence into changes since 2006. You can download our response here. It’s a cracker. (a cracker that takes a moment to load. Like, 10 seconds. It’s worth it, trust me)
Yesterday (12th January) the Committee met to discuss current provision with a range of guests. I watched it this morning via the webcast, got far too into it, and started taking minutes.
It goes on a bit too long for a blog post, so check it out via this link to an entirely paraphrased version of the committee meeting, which includes, as it goes along, my comments and answers to their rhetorical questions.
No really, do.
It was interesting, if personally a bit disappointing. But there are some seeds of ideas and I’m sure (well I’m not, but I’m hopeful) that the GLA will do lots more good things to follow on from this.
Everyone knows you can’t change a man, but if you’re trying to win arguments then the ones you have with your partner are the easiest. There are only two views to consider and everyone has their say.
Anything larger, like a group of friends deciding where to go, and yours becomes one voice amongst many. Your powers have diminished! Better form some alliances if you want to have final say.
As the size of the group grows, the ability to consult everyone goes down. Levels of government are introduced so that a few can represent the whole. Schools have PTAs, Housing developments have a Resident’s Association. Everyone knows who those representatives are and how to contact them, so wider consultation is possible.
An official response from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on public toilets!
This is the new government’s position, in response to my long (and in hindsight, slightly insane) email to my local MP, which, being 5 pages, none of you are going to read, so I’ll just say that the recommendations that the response refers to as ‘Ms Knight’s proposals’ were actually the recommendations of the 2008 DCLG Select Committee that I just happen to agree with.
I thought maybe, just maybe, the new government would reconsider the previous rejection of the Select Committee recommendations (actually I didn’t, but figured that I shouldn’t leave any stone unturned).
The planned Localism Bill will “devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions,” which must mean that local people will be asked (or will offer) to get more involved.
Meanwhile the British Toilet Association are encouraging locals to fight for better public toilets through their ‘Where Can I Go?’ campaign; a ‘bottom up’ approach – getting locals to demand things from their local government. They’ve already tried the alternative top down version when they spoke as witnesses at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) 2008 Select Committee into public toilets. But despite the committee’s recommendations, the DCLG refused to impose any statutory duty or national demands relating to public toilets: a new approach was needed.
So local governments make the decisions on public toilets and local people should get involved.
But how do local governments make decisions? and how do we get involved?
Planning seems like a big issue here. Local authority toilets must be designed into town regeneration or urban planning processes.
On Tuesday night I went to People’s Question Time, a twice yearly free event for about 1000 Londoners to pose questions to the Mayor and the London Assembly.
It wasn’t my idea – it was my friend Laura, but once I’d agreed I knew in the back of my mind that I’d have to ask about public toilets *sigh*
It might seem strange but I don’t always like talking about public toilets (actually it would be stranger if I did). Their image is dirty and seedy, and they’re associated with poo. Sometimes this gets to you. However I do love thinking about design and the urban environment and safety and social equality and gender equality and fairness, and all of these things are found in spades with regard to public toilets, which is why I love my job. Plus they’re So essential yet so full of flaws that for a designer it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
But I digress. Laura booked a holiday to Marrakech instead so I went off the whole idea, but due to the enthusiasm of the lovely ladies from the Women’s Design Service that I’d met with on Wednesday (their amazing 1990 publication At Women’s Convenience is available here) I recruited my brother instead and we went to the Camden Centre determined to get my question in!
People’s Question Time is divided into 5 sections – Police, Transport, Environment, London 2012 and Other. I waited for Other, stuck my hand up, and 5 questions and a dead arm later got picked. I was handed the mic just as my brain exploded, but luckily my mouth was on autopilot.
Here’s how it went:
Me: Hello. My name’s Gail and I’d like to ask about public toilet provision. A few years ago the GLA looked into the provision of public toilets in London and found out about the shortcomings, however the initiatives such as Open London that were put in place have all but fizzled out, so I’d like to know what more the Assembly can and will do.
Chair: Joanne McCartney led a very successful piece of work on public toilets, and has become something of an expert on the subject… spoken all over the country… Joanne, where’s the work of your Committee going on that subject?