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It's Not Really about the Leader, or Manifestos Either

Renewal should really be about how we have conversations together

Everyone's talking NDP Renewal heading into the convention, whatever that may mean.  I'd say well over half of NDP-related articles I've seen online have been about the leadership review.  Beyond that, policy-oriented coverage has focussed mostly on Leap resolutions.  Since the resolutions have been made available, there has been more coverage of various bold policy resolutions that may be discussed at convention.

I'm excited both about the leadership review and the prospect of passing some bold resolutions.  But when I think about renewal, the two things that come up for me are process and infrastructure.  What kinds of systems can we put in place as a party in order to have the conversations?

This is important precisely because we have not been having the conversations in a sufficiently meaningful way.  That should be an easy lesson from the election.  The Campaign 2015 Review said it in big bold letters:

“There was a disconnect between the internal conversation we were having with ourselves, and the conversation we were having publicly.”

Summarizing the Campaign 2015 Review:

In November of 2015 our party President, Rebecca Blaikie, was tasked with a thorough and extensive review of our campaign. In the new year, the federal executive ratified a working group to assist in this task.

...

The consultation process was structured around three questions: what worked, what didn’t, and what we need to start doing as we continue to build and strengthen our movement. We have heard from tens of thousands of New Democrats through online surveys, telephone town halls, teleconferences, and community consultations.

The working group gathered data from around the country, aggregated it to find the patterns, and then wrote a report consisting of feedback and recommendations.  The working group was made up of highly competent people and I have no doubt that they performed their task with all due diligence.

But, let's imagine for a moment another way of doing an election review.  A kind of election review that hasn't really been possible up until very recently.  Let's suppose we asked every party member across the country those same questions:

what worked, what didn’t, and what we need to start doing as we continue to build and strengthen our movement.

And let's suppose we could take all of the answers from all the members, and share them with each other, and vote up each other's answers.  And then after that, we can all look to see which answers have the most traction, and we can see crosstabs to get more information about which answers are more popular with which demographics (ie. province, gender, age, urban/rural).  And we can all start writing recommendations as to what should happen.  Of course we then share and vote up each other's recommendations.  Rinse & repeat.

This really is an earnest suggestion, even if it may sound like a silly game to some.  This kind of process could be extremely fruitful.  The result would be much high quality data, accessible to any members who want to make value out of the data.

Let me be very clear--I am not suggesting in any way that the 2015 Campaign Review is "hiding" the data from us.  They have distilled data from a variety of sources and presented it to us in a clear way.  What I'd like to say clearly is that the working group's method of operation was based on a process designed at a time in which there were many obstacles to mass collaboration.  While those processes may have been been highly effective in the very recent past, there has been a communications revolution, and there are a lot of opportunities for those who want to embrace new strategies.

The 2015 Campaign Review was not just about analysis but was also about the leadership reflecting our feedback:

Feedback: "We also heard a strong call to increase transparency in nomination and vetting procedures."

Recommendation: "The Executive should appoint a committee to review nominations and vetting with a view to increased transparency."

These things are important, and it's crucial to have our feedback reflected by the leadership.  But aside from that, there are new ways of working made possible by technology and remote connection, and we need to be utilizing them.  You can have textbook execution and still lose, if your textbook is decades old.

So when I think about renewal I think about new processes and new infrastructure.  I can't help it, I've been trained as a systems developer.

For others, renewal is about policy.  The Leap Manifesto seems to be the big initiative that has attracted much attention.  There are several Leap-related resolutions comgin to convention and I'm personally all aboard for the Leap resolutions.  But I don't know how it will pan out.  In their recent Rabble series on NDP Renewal, Tristan Markle and Sarah Beuhler contextualize Leap alongside the Waffle and the NPI:

Fifteen years ago, activist and author Naomi Klein attended a founding meeting of the New Politics Initiative (NPI). After groups of activists and NDP members met across the country to draft a manifesto, the NPI sent a resolution to the NDP convention proposing to build a new party and a new relationship with social movements.

It fell short of securing a mandate from the party membership, but offered many lessons for future renewal efforts.

Fourteen years later, during the September heat of the federal election campaign, Klein was instrumental in the launch of another manifesto, the Leap.

...

This April, the Leap Manifesto will be a topic at the federal NDP convention in Edmonton. A dozen or so riding associations have submitted resolutions connected to the Leap. The manifesto, in some form, could make it to the convention floor and may even receive more than the 37 per cent support the Waffle and NPI garnered in their time.

The Waffle and NPI fell short not because of content but because of process.  Leap is excellent policy, but it's the manifesto approach I'm not confident about.  As amazingly progressive as Leap is, process-wise it's pretty similar to the 2015 Campaign Review--a small group of highly-competent, highly-intelligent individuals met in a small room, and after extensive discussion and analysis of gathered data, developed a plan.

Part of the plan is to engage everyone, and many of the Leap-related resolutions call for riding associations to discuss the implications of Leap over the next couple years.  Leap could be a starting point for a discussion of where we're going next--but it doesn't fix that conversation problem.

There are a few upcoming resolutions I see that address the conversation gap:

7-14-16 PARTICIPATORY POLICY-MAKING

Scarborough Southwest

WHEREAS the health of Canadian democracy is enhanced by meaningful and effective internal democracy within political parties including participatory policy-making; and

WHEREAS at least one political party, the Green Party of Canada, has made the shift to online engagement with, and decision-making by, party members in advance of policy conventions

BE IT RESOLVED THAT

(1) That, within eight months of the next policy convention, the Federal Council must issue a report to the membership on the practices of the federal NDP relating to internal democracy, paying special attention to policy formation, including in campaign platforms.

(2) That, within four months of that convention, the National Director operationalize an online mechanism for presentation, discussion, and prioritization of policy proposals in advance of the next policy convention.

7-36-16 MEMBERS’ VOICE (VOX MEMBRIS)

Richmond – Arthabaska , Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle

WHEREAS good communication between members and bodies are essential within a democratic party;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada make an Internet forum available, reserved for its members and bodies, to promote ongoing communication between its members and bodies;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the federal bodies of the NDP participate in and administer this forum in a democratic manner and in collaboration with all participating members.

7-53-16 PARTICIPATORY POLICY-MAKING

Toronto-Danforth

WHEREAS the health of Canadian democracy is enhanced by meaningful and effective internal democracy within political parties including participatory policy-making; and

WHEREAS at least one political party, such as the Green Party of Canada, has made the shift to online engagement with, and decision-making by, party members in advance of policy conventions resolutions | 173

BE IT RESOLVED THAT

1) That, within eight months of the next policy convention, the Federal Council must issue a report to the membership on the practices of the federal NDP relating to internal democracy, paying special attention to policy formation, including in campaign platforms.

2) That, within four months of that convention, the National Director operationalize an online mechanism for presentation, discussion, and prioritization of policy proposals in advance of the next policy convention.

3) That, as a default standard, this online mechanism must be no less robust than the mechanism used by the Green Party in advance of its 2015 policy convention

These resolutions are unlikely to make it to the floor, but who knows?

We're talking about the mechanisms of conversation.  Many previous obstacles to mass collaboration are no longer in effect.  There's no reason for our internal conversations and our public conversations to diverge.  Who are we hiding from?  Open conversations mean we can make the traditional media irrelevant.

The party should grab the reins and set up such a system.  However, this kind of platform does not need to be run by the party to be effective.  And perhaps there are some advantages to not having it run by the party.

New Voice could be that platform, if you want it.

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