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Transforming Politics in the 21st Century 11 Jun 2015

I’ve just returned from a debate at the RSA on transforming politics in the UK. The resounding – and familiar – conclusion is that the adversarial party political system is so over. Fit for purpose 200 years ago it now woefully ignores advances in technology, citizen empowerment and expected standards of public service.

Click here to join the discussion on Thursday Jun 11th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)

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Is it good enough?

While the expenses scandal of UK politicians may have been the last straw for UK voters, it is not the main underlying reason for a global trend of increasing disenchantment with democracy. Imagine if retail worked the same way. Every five years you got to pick one store that you would use for everything. It would be the only one you could use and you would have to buy everything it sold. Even if the day after you chose it there was a policy change and they now only sold GMO and processed food when you had voted for them because of their fresh vegetable selection. Or doubled the prices.  You wouldn’t stand for it would you? Nor would most of the other customers. There would be rioting on the streets. There would be outrage. People would take action.

How fascinating then that we have been successfully trained to put up with this sort of deal when it comes to something way more important. This is no longer just shopping at stake, this is our health, our education, our civic state. This is the way we treat criminals, the elderly, immigrants and each other. This is everything and yet our say is so minimal and so infrequent.

So what’s the alternative?

Having competing governments operating parallel systems like different brands of retail store could be tricky. But not entirely impossible. A worthwhile thought experiment at least just to work through some of the issues.

Another option would be a super coalition. A proportional representation so that Parliament roughly represents the preferences of the population and a Big Cheese is elected separately.

Or how about no politicians? Have people on charge of say, transport, who know about… Oh let’s say, transport. And then a serious process of derivative debate and research to agree strategies that maximise benefit for the population overall. That any of us could seek to be part of. Protected, of course, by some checks and balances to avoid vested interest ruling the roost.

Current status

Apparently there are more members of pressure group 38 than there are of any political party in the UK. That’s a good clue. When I explain the voting system to my teenage children I have so far failed to come up with any argument compelling enough to get them to vote (one because they say they know too little so can’t make an informed choice, the other because they live in a parallel world where authority has no value and little clout).

I am impressed that the Dutch government show a more open minded tendency. Ministers in various fields have held online citizen dialogues where the wisdom of the crowd is allowed to influence the outcome of the policy. A lot more subtle than another referendum and more representative than a town hall meeting with its attendant risk of being taken over by the loudest vested interest. See the road tax example here.

Next steps

They say we get the government we deserve. If the current system is good enough for you then fine. If not, then rather than moan about low citizen participation, let’s see what we can do about it. What’s your first step going to be?

I run an independent online dialogue forum called The Thinking Tank. Our next conversation will be about citizen engagement and how we shift from leaving  it all to top down politics towards more bottom up collaborative decision making where we all become part of the solution. Got a point of view? Let’s hear it. See you there on Jun 11th (add your name to our mailing list using the form on the right to make sure you get the right info about it)

Click here to join the discussion on Thursday Jun 11th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)


Next debate: Sun Mar 8 International Women’s Day 2015

Click here to join the discussion on Sunday Mar 8th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)

The original version of the film The Battle of the Sexes was made in 1914… and while it might sound anachronistic it seems we’re not done yet. The most likely person to kill a woman is still her partner. 44% of women in the UK experience sexual violence at some time in their lives. In recent research I have done with young men they talk of the difficulty of understanding and dealing with unfamiliar emotions of attachment and jealousy with little or no guidance. As well as the shocking figures there is a more subtle problem that society as a whole needs to address.

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On this year’s International Women’s Day we invite both men and women to consider the dysfunctional dance we have created between us and what actions might take to address the root causes of this situation which is not serving either gender.

For a quick and witty round up of the facts, you might want to prep by reading Soroya Chemely‘s piece on the Huffington Post. “according to UN gender reports, women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food and earn a whopping 10% of its income.

Click here to join the discussion on Sunday Mar 8th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)

Or book your place with Eventbrite

Dive into the Thinking Tank today to share your insights and consider those of the diverse group of participants we have come to expect. for a short while today think freely about something that affects us all and let’s see where we can get together.You can share your views in advance on twitter #ttt.

Check out our report from the last debate on nationality.  The Thinking Tank Report Nationality 1412

The Thinking Tank debate on Nationality revealed this to be a complex and under-considered topic which requires a more proactive approach to make the most of the potential benefits and mitigate against leaving it to be hijacked by nationalism.

Report: What is nationality? Dec 2014

Nationality … what matters to you and why? How can we make it work for us?nationality Post Scottish referendum and with serious ongoing challenges in Ukraine, Syria and Palestine to name but a few, in this Thinking Tank we took an open minded, open hearted and challenging look at the concept of nationality and its value and price in modern society.

Maybe you are a Scot disappointed at the recent referendum. Or a New Zealander wondering about your new flag. Maybe you no longer identify with what your nation is doing, or maybe you have moved around the world and don’t quite belong where you are or where you used to be.

Read the report and find out what we concluded together about the risks and rewards of nationality and why we should be taking a more conscious stance. The Thinking Tank Report Nationality 1412   Dive into the Thinking Tank today to share your insights and consider those of the diverse group of participants we have come to expect. for a short while today think freely about something that affects us all and let’s see where we can get together.You can share your views in advance on twitter #ttt.

Report: Mind the Generation Gaps

Generation Gaps: we always knew about the teenager / parents one but as we live longer and change faster how many more are opening up? Click here to see the report Thinking Tank – Generation Gaps

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From centenarians to baby boomers to millennials* – and whatever comes next – we have grown up with different needs and priorities. Eco-warrior or conscientious objector? Rationing or hedonism? Facebook or telegrams? It’s little wonder we don’t always see eye to eye.
In this Thinking Tank report we examine generation gaps. How can we live with them? Or even  turn them to our advantage? What examples have you come across where the outcome is richer and more relevant because of intergenerational involvement?
If you belong to a generation*, or you know someone who does, if you’ve ever wondered what on earth your teenage kids or elderly boss are talking about, then bring your thoughts and get some new ones. You might even change your mind about something.

* if you’re not sure which generation you are in, you can find out here

Click to see the report
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     Catherine Shovlin, Founder, The Thinking Tank

Report: Engaging Employees

According to recent research, If the average workforce were a basketball team, 2 people in the team would be trying to score, 2 would be actively sabotaging and the rest would just be standing around. Which of these are you? How does this lack of engagement or sense of purpose at work affect us and our teams? At what cost not just to the economy but to human spirit and wellbeing?

Read our short report and get thinking

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Report: Are you a sustainable leader?

Have you got what it takes to be a sustainable leader?

And what does it take anyway?

As the Economist put it in their CSR supplement  “it is the interaction between a company’s principles and its commercial confidence that shape the kind of business it will be”.

Click on Glance (below) for 6 top tips from leading sustainability thinker Mark Wade and on the report  Thinking Tank – Sustainable Leadership to see what was said..

                  report sust leader

What’s next?

We are in the process of developing our programme of Thinking Tank debates and, as always, welcome some co-creation.

Here are some of the ideas that have been suggested. What do you think we should do first? Or do you have another idea?

  • Beware of the loan shark. How has short term credit been so successful in persuading people to make what can end up being catastrophic choices about their finances. As the Archbishop of Canterbury rails against Payday Loans we look at short term credit and the reasons it exists. Causes like lower benefits and higher costs as well as social aspects like the shame of asking for help outweighing the shame of asking for money. And we wonder what we can learn from Wonga and co to improve the situation.
  • What’s the point of old people? As western society creates more ways to separate its citizens by age are we missing a trick? What if old people are not just a problem to be dealt with but a valuable resource? What can they offer and how could they improve their connectedness to support that? A hotbed of ideas from young and old to redress the balance and include the elderly in our world.
  • When is murder justified? The psychological test of who you would sacrifice to save lives is well known. It’s a tough one to consider but when is murder the least worst option?
  • Decline of the West. Is it true – as Niall Ferguson claims? Do we care? What will improve or deteriorate or just stay the same? Participants welcome from East and West (and North and South) to hammer this out

Report: Ethics of Banking

First off, it’s a shame we didn’t have more participants from the finance sector. Although they were 50% of the invitees. they were only 10% of the participants. Too scary? Come on bankers be braver next time. We considered over 150 ideas and opinions – here are the ones that got more than 70% support from the group

We call this the espresso report – the top responses.


  • Guess that the Anglo Saxon model of laissez-faire in financial institutions comes to an end in the near future / hopefully!
  • I am not sure if the laissez-faire model will come to an end. There are too many lobbyists in politics for that to happen.
  • Finance nowadays is far more than lending money. It’s an ex-territorial business of smart mathematicians who have no real ethics in mind.
  • Not only in politics but more simply bankers and their lobbyists directly or indirectly influencing the politicians
  • I feel the relationship between banks and clients has changed. It is no longer a supplier-customer relationship, customers have become somewhat dependent on their bank (unless you have loads of money) and banks pretend as if you should be happy they let you be a customer
  • It doesn’t help when the politicians are also the guys with lots of money – they have too much vested interest in preserving the status quo


  • Did they ever accept responsibility and announce they would reform? It’s the arrogance that makes me want to blame them more
  • I scored totally because the real economy does not count any more, what counts are the financial games played to move richness in the hands of the few playing the game
  • It’s an interesting example of moral failure. Probably most of them didn’t actively decide to do harm, but they ignored the signs and hid from personal responsibility
  • nobody in charge really wanted to stop the rat race/ greed competition that took place and still is
  • Indeed, financial authorities have failed completely in all countries in the Western world.  Not in a single country they were able to make a significant difference
  • I am not even sure that the large  majority understood the risks associated with these new products/ derivatives
  • What shocks me is the attitude. Like it was just a big game or a joke. They seem very removed from the reality of the consequences of their behaviour


  • Can’t see a pro from an ethical point of view.
  • Con. When someone shows they can’t be trusted and they have immense influence / power, why would you choose to carry on letting them do what they like?
  • Con. They cannot be allowed to persist in the view that the little people are irrelevant. That they can sit in their marble palaces and play with real lives. They need governance

Read the report

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Falling off pedestals or getting ready for the future?

News drives events, events drive news. Are you a news gobbler? Is it the first thing you do when you wake up or the last thing at night?

Click here to join the debate. Feb 14th, 4pm UK, 5pm CET, 11am Eastern time. Twitter hashtag #tttnews… feel free to share your views in advance of the debate

Today we will be considering three current news stories with a common theme – the pope, horsemeat and the Hadron Collider – to consider if things have to get worse before they get better. Is the disruption of change justified by the end result?

It may not be a traditional move to resign as pope, but do you see it as a wise and
generous move making way for new energy? With half of the world’s one billion Catholics
in the Americas (mostly South America) is it time for a non- European pope?

And while horses don’t seem to have any better argument for not being eaten than cows
or cod, the discovery that we are not eating what we thought we were strikes our primeval
instincts for self protection. D you think the current scandal is a sign of progress for
consumer protection or yet more evidence that everything is corrupt and misrepresented?

As for the Hadron Collider – it feels less exciting now we didn’t all go up in smoke, so how
do you feel about it being closed down for two years for maintenance and upgrades. When
it is switched on in 2015 with redoubled power will you still be interested?

So three examples in the news today of ways of moving from old ways to new. Are you
feeling hopeful or despairing. Or just uninterested in it all? Does the news even matter to
you? Hundreds of years ago we would have had no idea of most of the events in the news
– certainly not in the timescales we see today. Did it matter? Is the 24 hour news cycle
helping us evolve? Improve? Enjoy life?

Dive into the Thinking Tank today to share your insights and consider those of the diverse
group of participants we have come to expect. for a short while today think freely about
something that affects us all and let’s see where we can get together.

Join us to share your views on the news, on the day of the headlines.

Click here to join the debate. Feb 14th, 4pm UK, 5pm CET, 11am Eastern time. Twitter hashtag #tttnews… feel free to share your views in advance of the debate

Pirates! Oct 18th, 2012

On Oct 18 we had conversations at two time slots to consider our relationship with piracy in 2012. Over 300 ideas and opinions were put forward and considered by the group with some key themes emerging.


Download the more detailed report here: (coming soon)


These are the top statements that I tweeted immediately following the event (#tttpiracy):

Strongest statement (both groups)

  • Artists have a right to get money for what they produce

And conversely, the most opposed statement was

  • I think all music should be free for everybody

Other strong statements

In favour of piracy:

  • No major jail time for downloading or distributing music/ movies/ media

Anti middle men

  • I’d feel better about buying more music if I knew the money was going straight to the artist


  • On download sites they could put banners “why not get the legal version for $2?”
  • Micropayments… –> Bitcoin to the rescue!!!!!!
  • I would find it a lot easier to do the decent thing” [with pop up micropayments]
  • it is not about restoring the old market forces, but finding new ways for new channels to generate income to artists


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