I made this point about shared humanity last week when I gave evidence to the Kirklees Democracy Commission. The Commission has been set up to do a ‘health check’ of local democracy in the area, and to work out how to ‘do democracy’ better. Although the commission is focused on Kirklees, the questions it is asking about how to better connect councillors and councils to their communities have a much wider relevance.
I was reporting on findings from our recent 21st Century Councillor research. Of the various points I made, the one about shared humanity was the one that got the most interest and retweets. Similarly in our 21st Century Public Servant research, a lot of people latched on to our finding that’being human’ was a key attribute of effective public service workers.
What does this focus on humanity mean in practice? It means displaying honesty, empathy, humour and a willingness to learn when interacting with citizens. It means being aware that whilst today we might be wearing the badge of councillor or officer, in other parts of our lives we are citizens ourselves – we are not a breed apart.
Some public servants and councillors do this already. The police in particular have been quick to see the potential of Twitter as way to engage and entertain the public, as well as to fight crime.
If more councillors and officers are going to connect honestly and warmly with citizens, then managers (and party leaders) will need to have a sense of humour and a thick skin. Let’s look for those things when recruiting leaders, and help develop a culture of humanity in local government.