The People’s Green Watchdog
In a piece originally posted on the Futerra blog, Solitaire Townsend, co-founder and director of Futerra, sets out the emerging plans for a People’s Green Watchdog to provide independent scrutiny of government progress on sustainable development.
We need a People’s Green Watchdog. This is my plan to make it happen. What do you think?
The Sustainable Development Commission – the government’s critical friend on sustainability – is no more (it closed on 31st March). So the UK is without an independent watchdog on ”the greenest government ever”.
Over the 10 years of its existence, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) consulted, reviewed and commented on legislation, and reported on action. It rolled its sleeves up on all things sustainable, including energy, education, health, development, climate change, and transport. It walked the fine line between sitting inside the tent helping government, and kicking their butts from the outside. We loved it.
But it is no more. And the proposed inheritors of the mantle – Defra and the Environmental Audit Committee – are either not independent of government or have insufficient resources to do the job properly. Read Jonathon Porritts blog for the full, gloriously polemical reason why.
So we need a “Taxpayers’ Alliance” for sustainability. I talked to Richard Black of the BBC about the idea here, and ideas, plots and conversations have been brewing since.
The People’s Green Watchdog is Britain’s independent grassroots campaign for sustainable development. We hold the UK governments to account, to make sure that the needs of people, our economy and our environment are properly balanced in decisions, and in how the government runs itself.
The People’s Green Watchdog will:
- Challenge decisions that conflict with sustainable development;
- Campaign for changes to government policy on sustainability;
- Give citizens a voice on sustainable development in the corridors of power.
We don’t need a formal body, we don’t even need an organised charity, we just need you. The outcry and subsequent u-turn on the forest sell off proved that the public can be a fantastic watchdog. But someone needs to spot, flag and find out what’s going on.
So the People’s Green Watchdog will be based on a wiki. Its purpose will be to “spot, plot and shout” about government policy on sustainability and keep the heat on progress.
Luckily even Defra supports this idea!
- With open data commitments and the Freedom of Information Act we can gather the raw material of government polices, announcements and budgets;
- These are all posted on a wiki with a simple ‘tag and flag’ system for anything you spot that is worrying (or wonderful) for sustainable development. We will use the governments’ own indicators of sustainable development to organise this;
- The more flags people tag onto a statement, number or decision, the more profile it will get;
- Enough flags on the wiki and a social media campaign is triggered alongside a traditional PR push;
- Then it’s up to you. It will all be about how many friends, followers and contacts you can get shouting about the issue.
There are three groups we need involved. You are one of them:
- The wise: Sustainable development experts and organisations like WHICH?, providing expertise on different areas of policy. We already have offers from individuals such as Jonathon Porritt to be part of this group, as well as from numerous current and past commissioners of the SDC. Their job it to make sure the wiki doesn’t get occupied by single issues.
- The supergeeks: An online network of interested parties and specialists in certain areas. Their job will be to analyse government data published on the wiki and flag policies that they view as having a potentially negative – or indeed positive – effect on sustainable development. These issues will be flagged to the wider community on the publically accessible wiki, where they can also be commented on.
- The clicktavists: The third group is the largest and has the widest scope. This group includes anyone and everyone, acting as the mouthpiece for the other two groups. They will include those who are prepared to use their public voice, especially on social media, to get the point across. Futerra will bring it’s expertise on using social media to communicate sustainability, along with more traditional media and PR channels.
It will all be strictly not-for-profit. All the power will rest with interested parties and experts, all of whom will self-nominate. Basically, you will “vote with your tweet”. So the issues raised may be different to the traditional campaigners issues, and that’s ok.
It will also be strictly non-partisan, while focusing on government activity; we’ll also post the manifestos and policy proposals of other political parties on the wiki.
We need a wiki, a bit of time, and you. What do you think?
This article was originally published on the Futerra blog, where many readers are commenting with ideas and suggestions on the proposal.
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