5.7 How can the voice of all Norbiton residents be heard?


Dr Michael D’Souza

The One Norbiton Project will be really unique and worthwhile if it can regularly capture a fair reflection of the opinions of every resident in Norbiton, including the usually silent majority. Doing this successfully would enable …

(1) An ongoing indication of how much its proposals are improving local happiness

(2) The development of shared community priorities and actions across the whole ward

(3) Local policies to be much more influential on existing public budget holders.

(4) The recruitment of new members to the central committee for future creativity.

Doing this will not be easy. Mailing 6000 homes could be too expensive to keep up. Furthermore no one knows about how much response there will be to a mass mailing, given the flood of advertising leaflets everyone has to put up with already. Also underlying this problem is the fact that too many people now feel that they can have no personal role in our current political system and so no longer bother with it as they feel they have delegated the task to others.

Everyone is used to general elections asking them, once every four years, to endorse someone they often do not know, from a list of candidates that party machines have already selected. The practicalities of running central government demand that those elected can then claim to represent everybody on the national and international stage. It is clear however this arrangement could and should be different in localities. But here we have councils, which are again run by party political machines to represent the views of their local electorate and to be responsible for local budgets.

The thing that is missing from all this is a sense of personal involvement at the very local level by people who know each other and understand each other’s problems. That is, by people who represent themselves rather than are the representatives of others. This is where we hope One Norbiton will fit in and after a learning curve, generally catch on. Certainly the development of new social internet tools like Facebook will enable this become a feasible reality.

However many Norbiton residents, particularly the elderly, are not yet using these technologies. So as an interim measure it has been decided to target just 300 households (5%) of the population. Because these 300 are chosen at random every house has an equal chance of being in the sample. So the personal opinions of its occupants will be a good reflection of the personal opinions of the whole ward. For this to be as accurate as possible is very important that every one approached takes part.

After a lot of hard work, the One Norbiton working party has now accurately listed all the dwellings in Norbiton and selected its first random sample. This exercise can now be easily repeated, as often as required, on fresh random samples. These selected One Norbiton Consultant panelists will then be able to deliver the four requirements above. After about ten to twenty years every dwelling will have had the opportunity to do this service for Norbiton.

There is a quite separate need to tell everyone in Norbiton what this new initiative is all about, to recruit more local residents who want to serve on its committee and get general endorsement to represent them. This will be done by calling an inaugural One Norbiton General meeting in the near future. Once properly set up One Norbiton will be independent and free to explore the value of having a democratic organization acting at ward level.

Its first task will be to become an effective “stakeholder” I.e. have a valuable influence on how the public money devoted to Norbiton, is spent by organisations like the NHS and Council. This may become particularly important if such budgets are reduced or merged in future. If it is successful it may soon be given a budget of its own to control.