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15 March, 2014.


In a recent edition of The Economist newspaper the front page announces a 'six page essay' entitled 'What's gone wrong with democracy and how to revive it.'http://www.economist.com/node/21597917?frsc=dg%7Cd Ittalks about a slide towards autocracy in many newly emerging democratic states and about the rise of China which sees its model as more efficient. It also talks about the erosion of trust in government in Europe - a familiar theme for PeopleTalk. It sees the solution in terms of delegating in two directions - upwards towards technocrats in such areas as monetary policy and downwards towards local decision-making but in a manner which must take responsibility for the financial side of things. In all this treatment, however, the word 'service' is only used once and in a context which refers to a consumer product. This reflects the prevailing view that service as in 'public service' is a problem but service as in 'consumer service' represents all things good. In reality the earliest forms of democracy all required a particular form of service of all citizens - military service. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a professional civil service was effectively the backbone of government and, in that particular context, 'public service' was a thing of honour. The crisis facing democracy in our time won't be resolved until the concept of service is once more linked with citizenship. To see government as something to which we pay taxes and from which we demand 'service' is inadequate. We are expecting others – described, often with distain, as 'public servants' - to know our situation automatically and to respond effectively. In our complex technological world public service cannot happen unless we play our part and, if we do, we will be doing a service to ourselves and others. Everyone benefits; that’s what makes it ‘public service.’ This is what modern citizenship is about - playing our part in ensuring that the state serves effectively. Fortunately, there are people – both working in public administration and working with neighbourhoods and organisations around the country – who understand this. It seems that the Economist does not quite get the point.


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7 March, 2014.

The director of PeopleTalk addressed the NUIG Literary and Debating Society last night on the subject of 'social entrepreneurship.' He is not happy with that term but it seems to be the best available. Here's a summary of what he said:

Social entrepreneurship is like a disease. You catch it. When you have it, you develop clearly recognisable symptoms. And then you can infect others. One thought-provoking example of social entrepreneurship occurred during a time of tyranny and shame when millions of people throughout Europe were being driven into death camps. People can only catch the disease of 'social entrepreneurship' if they come face to face with a troubling situation such as the holocaust. To be infected, however, it does not have to be so extreme. Those, who catch the disease, know that they have to do something. Doing nothing is simply not an option. The people who helped to hide their Jewish neighbours during the holocaust, when asked why they did what they did, often replied by saying 'We did what we had to do.' Or 'What else could we have done?' Of course, they could have played safe and kept their heads down and yet.... they couldn’t.

The first symptom of 'social entrepreneurship' is that you begin to look for practical solutions to a daunting problem. The people in the holocaust would have asked questions like 'How do you hide a family and keep them fed and clean and healthy without drawing attention to what you are doing?' The second symptom is ingenuity. Really difficult problems are made difficult by powerful forces who stand in the way of s straightforward solution either because of indifference or hostility.. Without ingenuity this opposition to progress cannot be outmanoeuvred. The third symptom is persistence. As long as the problem remains unresolved, the 'social entrepreneur' will continue to look for practical solutions. They will not be deterred by failure. They are never satisfied with partial success. 

The daunting nature of the task which social entrepreneurs undertake means that they have no option but to seek allies - people 'infected' like themselves. One way of doing this is to set out to infect others. They might ask a friend to help out in small way hoping that, having taken one step on the road, they might continue on that road with growing enthusiasm. The initiative and ingenuity and determination of the social entrepreneur give hope and courage to others and, without these virtues, civilisation cannot survive. The term, 'social entrepreneur' does not do justice to what is at stake when people decide that they must do something in the face of a painful situation. It’s not about business or management but giving human solidarity a presence in the every-day world. 'Social entrepreneurs' are the gate-keepers of solidarity. Without them everyone would retreat into their own cynical little world.

New Jury Member

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We would like to welcome Kathy Eastwood as latest member of the Galway County PeopleTalk Jury Kathy is from Oranmore and will be attending the next Jury meeting on 8 March. We would also like to thank Sarah Roarty, who has had to resign from the Jury, for her contribution to the work of the Jury.


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23 December, 2013.

Dermot McCarthy, former Secretary General to the Department of the Taoiseach, has been appointed to the National Panel of PeopleTalk by the Jesuit Provincial. He will also be joining the Management Team.  Some years ago, when he was a senior public servant with pressing concerns on his mind, he was willing to give the time and attention necessary to participate in the Dialogue on Democracy Seminar - an exercies which lead to the publication of  'Democracy and Public Happiness' by edmond Grace  [I.P.A., 2007.]  and eventually to the emergence of PeopleTalk. Not only does Dermot bring to the project his wide experience of public service, he was one of the earliest participants in the PeopleTalk process. 


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10 December, 2013.

Last Saturday the Galway County PeopleTalk Jury met for the fifth time and the main item was the Ballygar listening session. Two other sessions are planned for Gort and Moycullen in January.

The  Ballygar session was first ever such exercise on behalf of a PeopleTalk jury and all the indications are that it went very well. They began by spreading the word - at short notice - and on the night twenty one people turned up. The hall was arranged with tables which sat 4/5 people. The organisers made sure that each table had a spread of ages and genders - and that any friends did not sit together! Each table had flip chart pages and markers. 

The meeting began with those present being welcomed and then the members of the jury present - three of them - introduced themselves and said something of why they got involved. Then one of them introduced PeopleTalk and explained what it was about. At this point the people at each table were given five minutes to agree on three good points and three bad points about their experience of public services. Then they were listed and colour coded under headings such as education, health etc.. Finally they were prioritised, to find out which issues were most widely experienced and the session concluded with a open discussion around people's fears in relation to those issues.


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15 November.

The Ballygar workshop is taking place on Thursday 21st November at 8.00 PM in the Social Services Centre, Ballygar. This building is right at end of the square in Ballygar - opposite Church. The workshop is one of a series of three - the other two being in Gort and Moycullen. The purpose is to explain what PeopleTalk is about, to listen to people's experience of government and to encourage them to spred the word about the public listening workshops which will be organised in the new year.



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12 November, 2013.

Last Saturday the Galway County PeopleTalk Jury had its fourth meeting and welcomed its newest member Maria Silva, who has been living in Ireland for many years but is originally from Portugal. The Jury formulated its first practical proposal and the director was instructed to take the necessary steps to raise the matter with the appropriate official. The details of this proposal will only be made public after the official concerned has been contacted.

The Jury also agreed to run three informal workshops within the next month - in Moycullen, Ballinasloe and Gort. These workshops will be a first step in the public listening process. The three objectives will be to explain what PeopleTalk is all about, to invite those present to talk about the issues which concern them in their dealings with government and to encourage them to spread the word, as we prepare for the full public listening workshops around the county.

The issue of developing some sort of listening process for front line public servants, which was raised at previous meetings, was further explored. It would have to work on a 'no names mentioned' basis and could only function if it had the confidence of both management and unions. 


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amsterdam stall5 November, 2013.

For three days last week - 29-31 October - PeopleTalk was a guest at the Borders to Cross Conference in Amsterdam. The conference was organised by a number of agencies including the Netherlands Ministry of the Interior and the University of Amsterdam. Along with Edmond Grace, the Director of PeopleTalk, Denise Feeney, a Galway County Council official and Coordinator of the Galway County Community and Voluntarty Forum was also present. [See photo of both at the PeopleTalk 'stall.'] This was a significant gesture from the County Council and, as will be seen below, reinforced an already positive perception of Ireland. 

About three hundred people from many different countries in Europe, and some elsewhere, were at this event. They was mostly made up of community activists but there was a significant number of academics public servants and politicians - as well. All had one thing in common - a keen interest in 'democratic innovation.' Along with thirty nine other project PeopleTalk was given chance to present itself and, to by the conversations with others during the conference, it was more than well received. Some of those conversations stand out - with a public servant from Finland, with more than one from the Netherlands, with the Deputy Mayor of Ravenna in Italy, with an organisational consultant from Naples.

As for the differend projects,....


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Friday, 25 October, 2013.

Director was invited to tell a group of Presentation Sisters about PeopleTalk. They came from dfferent parts of Galway - Athenry,Tuam and four parts of Galway City. One of then asked him what she could do in a practkcal way to be of help and he replied that she could spread the word. She was not satisfied with this, so he had to think about it.

Then he asked her if she knew people who were struggling and vulnerable and having to deal with public agencies on a regular basis. She said did not but she worked with people who did. Then he suggested that she find an opportunity - if possible - to sit down with one or more of those people and ask them about their dealings with public agencies and how they might work better, then write down what has and, with the consent of that person, send it to PeopleTalk for the attention of the Jury. 


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18 October, 2013.

Here are some of the projects selected along with PeopleTalk to present at the Borders to Cross Conference.

The Workshop Project The Work Shop is a Lambeth Council, UK, project designed in order to talk more directly about how residents, the council, and its partners might work together in new ways. This project was set up in a vacant shop in West Norwood and in the initial phase 540 conversations were held between local residents and 58 council and partner staff members. These conversations led to some fresh ideas about how we could overcome the challenges of collaboration and how to make West Norwood a better place to live. [PeopleTalk is co-hosting a workshop with this project.]

CitizensPact, launched in December 2012, brings together a coalition of citizens and organizations joining in to advocate for concrete demands for the Europe they want to live in. The Citizens Pact should be understood as a pact between the citizens of Europe – including all people who reside and participate in Europe – and a pact between them and the EU institutions, in which concrete proposals are developed, calling for radical change in European politics. 

Building participatory capacity in the public sector. Responsibilities for organizing public services in the Netherlands, of which health care is one, are increasingly delegated to the municipal level. A group of municipalities in West Brabant jointly responds to these policy changes. In coalition with Long Term Care providers, well fare organizations, a client support organization and the largest insurer in the region they try to translate system changes into local policy. 
Democratic community of practiceDemCop, is a network of young professionals working on and experiencing new ways of participation in European democracies. Its central goal is to advance the state of inclusive democratic governance and citizenship practices in the EU, in theory and practice, through immediate political action and long-term capacity building.
Building participatory capacity in the public sector, Slovenia. In 2012, various  civic initiatives have started from grass-root level – citizens gathering around issues that affect their collective quality of life, searching for alternatives to the existent modes of operations, organising, working, living in communities. One of the initiatives is an international one-week collective learning experiment (“Learning Village”), supported by the local community of Statenberg and another initiative is a one-person initiative springing from within the existing political structure Ministry of Interior and Public Administration to develop participatory leadership capacity for key policy makers in Slovenian public sector.