1. How can we involve a much larger proportion, and a much more diverse range, of our members, in policy discussion within the party?
Make policy discussion an attractive proposition. Many who are actually interested in policy don’t wish to come to what they think could be a dry, boring discussion. Vary the ways in which you do this - while some people would prefer a #LibDemPint others might prefer a coffee morning or a supper club or a pizza and politics. Arrange events with a definite theme: people who might not turn up to a generic “pizza and politics” might well turn up to something with a theme or topic they are passionate about. Also, though: accept that some people are not interested in policy discussions, and trying to force those square pegs into round holes won’t work - let people do the stuff they are interested in.
2. How can we best encourage informal policy discussion to be much more widespread in local parties?
Adopt The Calderdale Model: to whit, keep policy and admin totally seperate, always involve people at every step of the way, have a definite aim to a definite deadline, have visible outcomes so people can see they are making a difference, and make sure there is food/drink at every event. I shall be publishing a more detailed article about this on Lib Dem Voice and on my own blog, as per the request of the lovely Jeremy Hargreaves.
3. Is it as easy as it should be, for a new member wanting to participate in policy discussion, to do so? If not, what we can best to do make it so?
I suspect that depends largely on how they engage with the party, and what sort of local party they have. Many people of my age and younger do not want to come to in-person events at all - they live and breathe online. Conversely, many people of older generations don’t want to do internet stuff at all. Both of these groups are included in our intake of new members - and, indeed, in our existing members - and it’s important that both groups are kept engaged.
In terms of once a person enters an event/room/forum/online space, getting them to speak? Speaking to an established group of people is always going to be intimidating and I think the party does well in encouraging first time speakers at conference. In smaller groups, I suspect it very much depends on the group.
4. What practical ways can we use to make some policy discussion, especially working groups, much less South East-centric?
The idea of a travel pot that everyone pays into but only those who are travelling from afar draw out of, which was raised at the session in the Marriott, is a good one. Similarly, allowing the use of Skype or email lists or a forum might help - I know many people who are /really/ good at policy stuff but who are bad at communicating in oral formats, or who find travel debilitating, or both.
5. What are the best practical ways to make use of modern technology to engage many more party members, and more frequently?
Having a policy forum which is members only, similar to the forums on lib dem voice, /might/ work, but it will /only/ work if it is very strictly moderated by a very dedicated (team of) moderator(s). Having run forums myself, the structure I would suggest is as follows:
policy area a (e.g. transport)
policy area b (e.g. civil liberties)
policy area c (e.g. housing)
Off Topic Boards
If you make a remark which plays the person not the ball it immediately gets moved to Ad Hominems. This includes discussions with moderators about their moderating decisions. No ifs, no buts, no exceptions.
If you start swearing or otherwise being abusive, you get moved to ranters’ corner. Ranters’ corner should be completely uncensored, and posts once moved there (or if started there by hardier souls) should not be editable or hidable or deletable by anyone: this way anyone who wants to see why someone’s post has been moved can do so, and nobody can retrospectively make their own post less offensive. Nobody is ever banned from the board unless they get kicked out of the party. Anyone who makes stupid or abusive comments is doing so in the full knowledge that their comments will be permanently on display.
Any other way of running a set of forums will either not be moderated enough, and thus will put off the vast majority of participants (as the afore-mentioned Lib Dem Voice forums have proved) and hobble any kind of diversity; OR will devolve into constant discussion as to whether the moderators have got things right instead of discussions of policy.
6. Do we need to make formal party policy-making procedures more visible to members? If so, what are the best ways of doing that?
Possibly, although it’s not hard to find out how to do stuff. Is there a section in new members’ packs?
7. How can we make engaging in policy discussion, in whatever forum, more attractive to members?
Free food. Seriously. Even if it’s just a few homemade brownies. Even if it’s “bring a contribution” free food.
8. Should finding ways for all party members to be able to vote remotely, following live-streamed debates at conference, be a priority?
Yes, now we have voted for OMOV we need to push forward on this. I liked the idea raised at the session in the Marriott about having smaller, local venues hosting places for people to vote. This gets around many of the problems of insecurity and personation which allowing people to vote from single computer terminals or mobile phones would have.
9. Should the fundamental principles of conference making policy, supported by a policy committee, be changed? If so, how?
One small but significant change could be in the way that FPC consults with SAOs: nothing about us without us is a good rule of thumb. So don’t write LGBT+ policy without consulting LGBT+LDs /at the beginning/ not as an afterthought, which is what seems to happen now (and I speak as an exec member of LGBT+LDs); don’t write youth policy without consulting Liberal Youth; don’t write disability policy without consulting the relevant SAO, etc.
Also the federal policy committee (and indeed, all the committees) should be wholly elected, and not formed of MPs and bigwigs with a few elected members as a figleaf (some committees are worse for this than others coughcoughFEcough) - MPs should stand for election to committees just like everyone else.
10. How can we best ensure ongoing effective co-ordination between the party’s formal policy-making structures, and MPs, Peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPs?
Communicate. Seriously, just tell each other what is happening. All levels of the party in all areas are bad at this.
11. How can we best ensure effective joint working between the policy and campaigning wings of the party?
12. How can we ensure sufficient staffing resource to support policy making?
13. What else about our policy process is it important that we improve?
Feedback to people who submit motions/amendments to conference. While I realise that FPC have a lot of things to consider and a lot to do, if you’re successful in getting more people to contribute this is not going to get any smaller a task. Perhaps assign a region or a group of SAOs to each member of FPC and that person is then tasked with feeding back to that region or group of SAOs why their motion was or was not selected?