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The People’s ideas for Ireland’s renewal

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Last week, the Irish Government announced its response to the Ideas Campaign. The initiative was launched in March to seek citizens’ ideas for Irish economic recovery and renewal. It set a challenge to people in Ireland to be innovative and creative in suggesting idea and planning the country’s economic recovery.

The campaign sought people’s ideas on key areas required for economic renewal:

  • Preserve and grow employment
  • Stimulate activity across key areas of the economy
  • Make it easier to do business in Ireland
  • Enrich local communities

The initiative consisted of two distinct phases:

1: Brainstorming

The first phase of the campaign was launched in March and ran for three weeks. During this time 5,284 ideas were logged covering a wide range of topics. These ranged from ideas for improving Healthcare and Education, to suggestions for new taxes to increase Government revenue.

2. Review

Following the accumulation of ideas, phase two of the initiative was lunched in April. An Advisory Group was created to assist in the process of evaluating the ideas received during brainstorming. This group then created a short list of ideas, which in their view, had the greatest economic and social value, and which could be easily implemented.

The ideas were summarised into eight broad headings and included priority ideas for consideration by organisations (social, voluntary, and business), individuals as well as Government. The broad areas for new ideas included:

  • Active Citizenship
  • Stimulating Enterprise and Employment
  • Developing the Knowledge Economy
  • Promoting Arts, Sports and Cultural Activities
  • Encouraging Green Initiatives
  • Boosting Tourism
  • Public Sector Reform
  • Improving Healthcare

Action plan

Following a review of the ideas by the Advisory Group an Action plan was developed. This was then submitted submitted to the Government for review on 14th May. Commenting on the Action Plan the Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD said:

I have always said that Ireland’s best natural resource is the talent and ingenuity of the Irish people. The submission of almost 5,300 ideas for consideration by the Ideas Campaign is an extraordinary response and reflects the commitment and energy of Irish people which will carry us through this global downturn.

To get through this difficult period and, most importantly, to set us on the path to economic renewal, we need to think smarter and work smarter.

I have just received a copy of the report. I will be fast-tracking the ideas to the Cabinet sub-committee on Economic Renewal for assessment and implementation, where appropriate.

The Government had already created it’s own plan for a Sustainable Economic Renewal. It has further plans for transforming Public services, and reducing expenditure in the Public sector. These plans, however, did not have any significant input in terms of public participation.

By providing the public with an easily accessible means of participating, the Ideas Campaign has created a greater level of public buy-in than any official reports for Government.

Government reaction

The official Government response to the Action plan came last week. 17 out of the 44 ideas included in the plan are to be implemented on the recommendation of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Renewal.

Some of the 17 ideas include:

Idea 1: Create a new Volunteer Corps to engage the unemployed in community and voluntary work in Ireland and internationally, without losing their unemployment benefits

Idea 2: Build capacity and awareness in community and voluntary groups to enable them to ‘employ’ volunteers effectively.

Idea 9: Review integrated initiatives to derive maximum value from the public sector property portfolio through utilising vacant space, purchasing rather than renting etc

The Government has also committed itself to examining the feasibility of the other ideas in the Action plan, and will be conducting six-monthly reviews of implementation of the Ideas Campaign.

Suggestions for the Implementation of ideas

While it is encouraging to see the Government accept and implement ideas from the public, it is important for the Government to be open and transparent in relation to their implementation plans. Any plans to implement these ideas should proceed with the same tenets of collaboration and participation exemplified by the Ideas Campaign.

Many of the ideas accepted relate to Encouraging, Reviewing or Increasing activities in  certain areas. As such, it may be difficult to fully quantify Government actions to implement these ideas, over and above standard Government policy. For example, Idea 26 relates to ‘Increasing further education and training for the unemployed’. As Ireland’s unemployment rate increases rapidly, this will naturally be a focus for Government, and consequently it will be difficult to apportion activity in this area specifically to the Ideas campaign.

A good initiative would be for the Government to create a wiki in which the public can outline concrete milestones and objectives for how these ideas could be implemented. The US Government created a wiki in order to draft Government policies during their recent Open Government Initiative. In a similar way, the Irish Government should now initiate a wiki to collaborate with the public on the implementation framework, and milestones involved in achieving the objectives of these ideas.

Aileen O’Toole (founder of the Campaign) noted that the implementation of these ideas by the Government was a:

powerful endorsement of this independent citizens’ campaign to create ideas for economic recovery and to help stimulate a different type of national discussion about the Irish economy

While the public has succeeded in framing the discussion, generating ideas and creating an Action plan, it’s now up to the Government to begin the consultation on  implementation. The questions we need to discuss include:  what does the plan for implementation of each idea look like, what are the milestones, who are the stakeholders, how can we measure our achievements etc. Having this discussion in public would demonstrate the Government understands how the public can help in developing concrete plans for an economic revival.

We’ve already generated the ideas and the action plan. Now it’s up to Government to enable us to participate in how these plans are implemented. Some suggestions are:

  1. Government to initiative a wiki to seek the the public’s help on specific action plans for the 17 ideas
  2. Government to enable the facilitation of a Social Innovation camp e.g. through sponsorship. For example, an online network for the Volunteer Corps could be developed in a weekend e.g. similar to the functionality on Serve.gov or Allforgood.org
  3. Government to outline a competition to seek innovative ideas on how to efficiently implement some of the goals of the ideas e.g. like the Netflix prize, but it could be related to improving a particular Government process. This concept has been discussed recently by the US Office of Science and Technology policy.

However the Government decides to enact these ideas, one thing is for certain; Economic renewal will happen a lot faster if the Government can harness the creativity, innovation and expertise of the general public.

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