Our future together: Birmingham — meeting 1

In the very raw aftermath of last month’s vote, I wrote a personal manifesto for navigating the ensuing turbulence. And I’m so glad I did. Since then, we’ve felt the consistent rumble of seismic shifts in politics, within families and throughout our communities across the entire UK.

In these little pockets of chaos, I was really moved to hear that my words had done their job, going some way to helping and healing. In particular, I was pleased that it was the quiet, and the less confident among my network who found cause for action in my post, and felt compelled to speak up and to share where they wouldn’t necessarily have before.

With no end in sight, it felt more important than ever to hold myself to the promises I made in the wee hours of Friday morning. In the spirit of this then, I worked with my old friend Kathryn Corrick to convene a meeting to try to begin the grieving process, and try in whatever little way possible to move us from anger and wallowing into a space of positive and progressive action.

Kathryn, through her work at Represent Me, scheduled a post-Brexit meeting in London called ‘Our Future Together’. It was this use of the word together that sold her event as the positive, non-partisan agenda I wanted for my next step. As was the idea behind ‘Our Future Together’, we set out to recreate the meetup in Birmingham, replicating the format and rallying cry in the hope of spreading agenda of kindness from London, to Birmingham and beyond.

As a coincidence and not by design, every attendee at ‘Our Future Together: Birmingham’ was a Remain voter. This immediately gave us a common ground, and allowed us to talk frankly about our pain and disappointment in the Referendum’s outcome. However, it also gave us a common goal; to seek out and understand our opposing number.

We need to go beyond our comfort zone, find people from other communities and of other opinions, and try to be less inward facing so that we can truly appreciate why this vote — and others in the future — didn’t go the way we wanted, or necessarily thought, it would go. Our siloes are seemingly creating louder echo chambers with each vote we’re invited to participate in; we need to be less inward facing.

This quickly became the theme of our meetup: we wanted to create an understanding and awareness of where we should go next, and how to get there. We quickly agreed that lambasting the result would get us nowhere; this is happening — to a certain extent perhaps it was always destined to happen — so now we need to think about what is good about this decision, and how we go forward to find a common ground and build a better future, together.

The most refreshing thing? Politics didn’t come into it. I don’t mean politics in the sense of party allegiances, but instead that our conversations and our action points went beyond pre-fab left or right agendas to try to understand the human reasons behind the decisions we make. The decisions that are political but really have so much more to do with our social, personal and cultural values.

Here is a round up or our talking and action points:

“Tinder” for opposing views

At many hackathons I’ve run in recent years, this seems to be a popular go-to: “Imagine Tinder, but not for dating for [insert event-appropriate cause/effect here].” What this really means is that the simple mechanism Tinder employs to match you with a prospective partner is hugely effective in many other arenas. The principle is simple, and can lead you to a certain outcome quickly. Something we look for in busy, modern living.

  • A simple mechanism in the style of Tinder that allows for opposite voters to connect and have conversations about their reasons for voting in/out.
  • Participants would connect on other things you have in common, for example hobbies, interests etc. but these commonalities would always be challenged by matching with a voter of the opposite persuasion.
  • Could be anonymised to allow for more open and honest discussion.
  • Ensure that the narrative around the interaction is positive and progressive — this is not a place to vent, voice anger or spread hate.

Creating a new dialogue for change

How can we allow healing in communities — what are some ways that we can promote tolerance and commonality?

We spoke extensively about how to understand another’s language and their reasoning when we have opposing viewpoints and, in response, finding our own language to converse in a non combative way. Ultimately, we are looking for ways to promote deeper understanding, while trying to influence others to carry this positive energy with them in their future conversations. Hopefully, this will help to stop repeats of the wave of hate and anger that was the immediate and presiding reaction to the Referendum result.

  • Make it a priority to find out which council areas voted remain/leave to work out where our community activity needs to be focused.
  • Take positive steps to understand the challenges and issues of each council area to better understand their position.
  • Develop a list of positive reasons for leaving the EU so we can find a common narrative to start conversations with leavers.
  • Explore what community actions we can take, as well as highlighting those that are being taken.
  • What language can we use to engage the leavers in positive debate? Finding a couple of straplines to act as the starter for 10:
  • “I voted remain but I want to …”

Make politics more experiential

In an effort to make politics more engaging — especially to young people and outliers, we agreed that political campaigning needs to be more experiential.

  • Look for tools that exist already and sharing these, or potentially looking at new techniques and mechanisms to service design this better.
  • Explore routes to help smart, sensible decision making — for young people particularly. We need to find solutions that elevate politics to their level in terms of engagement and interest, and talks about issues that really matter to them.
  • This needs to be experiential rather than lots of words. Create a wider agenda through events and experiences that incorporate politics but is not all about politics.
  • Put on some music events to promote unity — back to the idea of music driving politics as it did in the 70s.
  • We need to create a new lexicon that allows us to more easily make politics more accessible and — importantly — resonant in their lives. Or find places where this is already happening.

All party groups for Birmingham

In an effort to have conversations that spread across comfort zones, and explore wider solutions, we’d explore whether all party groups can be set up for Birmingham City Council.

  • There is a persistent need to be more non-partisan.
  • Leading party has cabinet and runs the council — how can we this be more cooperative?
  • Currently, there is only the Scrutiny community that is cross party. How can we expand on this?

The Social media problem

We all agreed that while social media is an excellent forum to air your views, and to garner momentum, there is one fundamental problem that we need to fix. And quickly. Everyone is pouring into social media, quick to expound their opinions (both positive and negative) — but how much listening is being done? There is a culture of broadcasting, but how much more could be achieved if we listened and engaged more. Can we change it?

  • Typically, we have to like something to follow it and receive content/information. This discourages exploration and understanding as liking is a way of giving validation.
  • Is there a way to explore further buttons to say I am interested in this or I want to understand without aligning yourself with that group.
  • Is there a way to explore and surface content without liking? “I’m interested in knowing more” button.
  • Could we approach Facebook to find out more about changing this?
  • Potential disagree button — but that is quite a negative way to inspire conversations.
  • An area or an arena where you can explore balanced sides of the argument. Perhaps an algorithm could suggest topics based on their opposing your typical interactions. This could break us out of our bubbles, and help us to explore and become more informed on the other side of the coin. Rather than quickly turning away from opposite views, we need to encourage engagement with them to allow us to have more open and tolerant conversations, rather than arguments about who is right and who is wrong.

Looking at tech routes

In our digital society, the quickest and arguably the easiest way to mobilise is using technology. As activists calling for change, we agreed that it was vital that we were across as many platforms as possible, in the hope of interacting and engaging with as diverse and expansive a network as possible. Politics can sometimes feel very staid, very process heavy. By utilising technology and social networks we want to shake things up and hopefully showcase you can circulate ideas quickly, gauge the support for them, and — most importantly — adapt and shift pace depending on the reaction.

  • We identified Whatsapp groups and Snapchat stories as key mechanisms to disseminate information.
  • As Activists — we should be across these platforms equally, in the hope of inspiring others to engage with us there.
  • Put together a [potentially crowd-sourced] toolkit for ‘Activism’. Include channels and mechanisms by which to engage and grow support.

Run a data event in Birmingham

Starting with a referendum data event, but looking to pull in all sorts of other data that will help explain why people voted the way they did. How did their social, cultural, educational, and other everyday experiences factor into and affect their decision?

  • Potential partners/interested groups:
  • Birmingham data factory
  • Digital Birmingham
  • West Midlands open data forum
  • ODI node at Innovation Birmingham
  • Open Data Communities

How to actually vote

There is a disconnect between campaigning and voting. There is a lot of time given to exploring parties and policies, and less given to the actual mechanism of casting your vote.

  • Create a simple and engaging toolkit to explain and explore voting. Including:
  • How to spoil a ballot — and the raison d’etre of why you might do that
  • How to proxy
  • How to postal code
  • Understanding your poll card
  • Exit polls and their significance

How to engage voters online & online voting

We felt that utilising the online space would be the key to progressive change in our electoral system. However, we also identified major challenges in moving ourselves more towards digital.

  • Would it be possible and/or advantageous for the government to check the temperature before a referendum by polling single issues?
  • Is this a way to test out the validity of online polling or voting? If not, how can we do this, and how can we provide data on this to galvanise change.

Perhaps you’ll feel differently, but I feel, along with the rest of the meetup, that we’ve started something really positive. Already we’ve got ideas, opportunities and momentum to carry forth into our next meeting. Additionally, having gone from publishing the event to meeting in just three days meant interest exceeded turnout on the day. However, this happily means that our next meeting has been requested not simply by those of us that met, but by others too.

There are community events being held over the next few weeks, which we will be attending as a group, in the hope of testing some of the above methodologies and ideas, and adding to our plan to look towards a better, more cohesive future — together.

It would be ace if you could join us.