Background and Prospects for the Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy (CAPaD)

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Talk by Bob Douglas, Sunday 25 October 2015

My task today is to outline the background to this meeting and to say a little about what the new Alliance could achieve. The steering group which has brought you together today grew out of a couple of public meetings held earlier this year that in turn were prompted by the SEE-Change project “Voices of The People In Kitchen Table Conversations”. In that project, about 180 people had met in groups of 6 to 8 on two occasions to discuss what was important to them, what were their concerns, what they felt needed to change and how they thought change could be brought about in our society. The reports of those conversations, which were distilled in this report, indicated a broad range of concerns about local issues, the way the economy operates, the way our democracy is operating, the failure of our system to address environmental degradation and growing inequality in Australia.

The steering group asked themselves how these issue are being dealt with elsewhere in the world and focused particularly on the burgeoning Alliances that have sprung up in the USA, Canada, the UK, and more recently in New Zealand, Sydney and Queensland. A number of us have undertaken the six-day training programme in the Sydney Alliance are on community organising that drives the Alliance movement across the world. We have also developed a taste and understanding of what is currently happening in Sydney, Queensland and New Zealand to help to rebuild civil society power. We are not alone in our concern about the growing dominance of corporate power in democracies across the world.

As I just mentioned, The Alliance movement is built around the discipline of community organising, which is characterised by three types of activities. The first of these is what are described as “relational conversations”. This is where two people get together to understand each other’s values, aspirations, expectations and abilities. Both parties gain from these in-depth discussions and from them emerges the chemistry and leadership that builds bridges to go every action across civil society groups. You all got a taste of the commencement of a relational conversation in the brief discussion you had at the beginning of this meeting.

The second central activity in community organising is the kitchen table conversation and sometimes called the tabletop coversation. This is a structured meeting for a couple of hours between 6 to 10 people who come together to consider a particular question and who agree to follow a series of simple ground rules to better understand each other and to craft a response to the question. The aim is not to reach consensus but to clarify where people stand and how they feel about the issue.

The third element is the development of actions that respond to broad community concerns. This is about exercising the power of the community and giving it a coherent voice in public policy. A range of methods are available ranging from citizens assemblies to citizens juries to panels and also more conventional lobbying methods.

We have a starting membership of 75 including 64 individual members and 11 organisational members. Our hope would be that we could increase both groups in coming weeks

Our task at this Inaugural General Meeting of members is first to agree to a constitution and adopt it, second to agree to seek incorporation in the ACT and appoint a public officer; third to agree to open a bank account and fourth to elect a committee to be responsive to the members in carrying out its mission.

Thanks to the efforts of the steering group, we have in place a website and a process whereby the Alliance could grow and develop as a significant force in Canberra society

The organisation has three objectives:

  1. To empower people in Canberra to own and plan for our common future and the common good by developing and supporting citizen, community and civil society engagement in public decision making;
  2. To facilitate opportunities for citizen input to government deliberation;
  3. To develop and assist citizen capacity to hold government more directly accountable.

It will of course be up to you as members and the committee you elect, to determine how best to meet those objectives. I suggest that an early activity should be a listening campaign across all segments of Canberra society using relational conversations and kitchen table conversations to understand better the current concerns and aspirations of people in our city for the next decade. It would be excellent if a substantial number of the founding members would put up their hands to help make that happen by hosting or participating in an epidemic of kitchen table conversations.

Next year, Canberrans will be taking part in two elections, both for an expanded territory assembly and for our federal parliament. These will be important opportunities for the concerns that we identify to take centre stage.

This is our future and the future of our progeny that we cannot leave to the vagaries and self-interests of the corporate sector and the media moguls.

Thank you for joining us on this journey. I believe it will be both enjoyable and productive for all of us. Later in the meeting there will be an opportunity for you the members to comment on the early ideas proposed in the survey of members.

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