After six years of working at Involve – from leading its research to building the open government programme – it’s a privilege to be taking over as its director. It’s testament to the value of the organisation and Simon’s leadership that time has only increased my enthusiasm for Involve and what it stands for. As Ed Mayo, Involve’s chair, writes, Simon leaves an impressive legacy and I am personally enormously grateful for his mentorship over the past six years.
I could not be more excited to now lead Involve into its next phase. And what a phase it’s going to need to be.
2016 was a difficult year for any advocate of open and deliberative democracy. Far from displaying the qualities that Involve promotes, our democracy has become defined by disillusionment, polarisation and disconnection.
At Involve, we have long argued that a democracy based on a much greater degree of participation, transparency and accountability is needed to respond to the complex challenges and trade-offs we collectively face. The political events of 2016 have thrown that into stark relief. We have seen the consequence of a democratic system that does not live up to the demands of the 21st century, and perhaps the ultimate riposte to the “End of History” thesis – that the world is on an inexorable march to liberal democracy.
In many respects this has not been a sudden change; it is the consequence of long term economic, political, social and technological shifts that have built pressure below the surface. The current system has failed to effectively deal with the impact of globalisation, inequality, an aging society, climate change, rapid technological change, among a host of other societal challenges. It should come as no surprise to anyone that large swathes of the population – “Remainers” and “Brexiteers” alike – do not believe the system works for them. It doesn’t.
At the same time, it is also true that the events of 2016 have themselves fundamentally shifted the tectonic plates. We are experiencing a period of disruption that, on the one hand, presents the opportunity to build a democracy fit for the 21st century, and on the other, poses a profound challenge to the continuation of liberal democracy. How the pieces come to rest are likely to define our society for decades to come.
Against this backdrop, Involve’s focus – on building a democracy that brings people with different perspectives together, where government is open and accountable to its citizens, and which helps secure economic, social and political justice – has never felt more relevant nor vital.
If Involve didn’t exist, now would be the time to invent it. But the events of 2016 must give any advocate of a deeper democracy pause for thought. And so it is at Involve.
Over the coming weeks and months we will reimagine Involve’s vision, mission and strategy, building on the great work that has gone before, but re-equipping us to face the task of creating an open and deliberative democracy in an era of disillusionment, polarisation and disconnection.
The challenge ahead of us all – reimagining and building a democracy fit for the 21st Century – is vast, but I’m excited to face it with a fantastic team of staff, trustees, partners and supporters.
Keep watching this space.
Image credit: democracy is a good idea, Alex Schlotzer (Creative Commons)