In the last week I have receive two separate pieces of correspondence through the post encouraging local democratic participation in the area of Enfield, north London where I live.

The first was from Enfield Council (Labour majority) and looked like this:

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The council have decided to let everyone in the borough state their opinion on how the budget for the area should be spent next year. To be honest it feels somewhat political, even though it doesn’t mention parties, since much of the content is “given the extent of the government’s cuts in local spending”. It’s also expressed in a way to leave minimal doubt as to what the majority of people will express since items like “social care for older people”, “refuse collection” and “children’s social services” are in the same lists as “theatres”, “museums” and “Maintenance of street trees, shrubs and verges”.

There is a digital version on the council website but’s not listed on their front page, you have to go through “consultations” and then choose it, and there is a big issue of no ID verification so it could certainly be abused.

Still, I’m always glad of any encouragement of participation and hopefully some people will be motivated to become more involved.

The second instance was a letter from David Burrowes, my local MP (Conservative). This one looked like this:

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It would be interesting to know where the money came from for this one since there’s nothing about it on his twitter feed. I wonder if it is something from a central Parliament fund, he’s expensing it, his party is paying for it (seems very unlikely) or if it’s been done in conjunction with the council (also seems very unlikely).

This one is about the consultation for Cycle Enfield which will potentially significantly change the road structure in some areas of the borough. Whether this will be for the better or worse is what is debatable.

What I found particularly interesting about this one is the Mr Burrowes doesn’t come out directly for or against the proposed work. Instead there is information about the scheme and then one side of A4 each given to proponents and detractors of the planned work.

While I would never vote for Mr Burrowes, due to his religiously motivated opinions again gay marriage (despite his open acceptance of homosexuality), I have always been impressed by his constituency work and am again encouraged by his push to get more local people involved in this consultation.

Both the consultations were already open and these postal efforts are designed to get more people to participate. When I was in the winning team at the National Hack the Government hack-weekend in 2012 we built a system that was designed to try and discover consultations people might be interested and flag them up to people via social media. Alas, as so often happens, the project wasn’t followed up on.

For now the lack of any reliable way to register a preferred digital communication method for most kinds of government services means that to ensure you get to people you need to reach you still have to print and post a copy for every appropriate address.

Although both of these cases involved local government I’m keen to see the Parliamentary Digital Service (potentially working with GDS) to look into a way of encouraging more people to register for digital notifications of consultations they may wish to take part in. Perhaps that then could scale for local and other scales of government.

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