Dave Mckenna – Democratic Hero

dave-mckennaAfter the unbridled success of ‘Digital Heroes’, I thought it was time to start afresh, change the format somewhat and investigate new ways of interviewing people.

Therefore, and with much ado, welcome to ‘Democratic Heroes’ an entirely new series, that bears no resemblance whatsoever to ‘Digital Heroes‘. To kick off, I thought you’d all be interested in meeting Dave Mckenna: Scrutiny Manager, PhD, inveterate blogger and #notwestminster dude. I’ve met Dave a couple of times but only recently had the chance to chat properly over a couple of beers. Turns out he’s quite the interesting chap.

Take it away, Dave.

1.  What’s your name and where are you from?
I’m Dave Mckenna.  Originally from North London, I’ve lived in Swansea for 30 years.  It’s tidy.

2.  What do you do for a living?
I’m the Scrutiny Manager for Swansea Council.  I also lead support for the Local Service Board and the Single Integrated Plan.  In short, I’m a scrutiny and policy person.  One of the best things about the job is being able to get involved in the work itself: at the moment I’m working on an inquiry by scrutiny councillors into how support for school governors can be improved.  I think there will be some really useful outcomes. 

3.  Favourite band and/ or artist?
Depends what CD is currently in my car.  This month, it’s the Flying Burrito Brothers. 

4.  Android or iPhone?
Android phone and iPad.  A sort of digital chips and rice.  Half and half.

5.  PC or Mac?
PC at work.  PC at home until it breaks then who knows…  

6.  Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
Yes, both.  I like to build maverick thinking into my routine.  I get grouchy if I don’t think at least one maverick thought before teatime.

7.  Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Assuming the family is safely tucking into a three course dinner at the Premier Inn, it would be the letter from Arsene Wenger we got for our wedding and the luminous 12″ of Neon Lights by Kraftwerk.  Collectors’ item, that is.

8.  Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Unsullied. More on account of the tea than the biscuits: who wants bits of digestive silting up the bottom of the mug? Tea is very important.  After all, there is no team without tea.  I like GLAM biscuits best (Got Left After Meeting).  We have a special tin for those in the office. 

9.  Best project you’ve worked on and why?
The best piece of work I have been involved in was scrutiny of child and family services that was undertaken by councillors in Swansea.  The service was in special measures but, in part due to the work of scrutiny, things were turned around and a new way doing scrutiny was also born.  That was five years ago but we still do things pretty much the same way.

As officers, we didn’t have to do much more than follow the councillors but I’m still proud to have been involved in such an important and influential price of work  Oh, and did I mention they won an award?  Bit embarrassing really.  We don’t like to talk about it.

10.  A year in, what’s this local democracy thing done and how have you been involved?
The highlight of the year from a local democracy bytes point of view has to be the Notwestminster event.  An absolutely fantastic conference organised by an amazing group of people up in Huddersfield.  Carl Whistlecraft and Diane Sims definitely deserve a special mention for the work they did to make it happen.  Oh, and they are doing it again next February – join in!

I should say I didn’t really do much towards that project either (is there a pattern emerging here?) apart from join in once all the hard work had been done.  Still, I did contribute to the pre-conference pecha kucha and that has to count for something, yes?

I was a bit more involved when I chaired a panel we held at the Political Studies Association conference last March.  The theme was local digital democracy and I think we were pretty much the first to live tweet and webcast (thanks, John Popham!) from what is a fairly traditional academic event.

We have also been going to various events like localgovcamp and govcampcymru to kick off democracy conversations whenever we can.  We had a Makers Day with Phil Rumens and his crowd as a localgovcamp fringe event. 

We also still keep in with the localgovdigital crowd.  When I say keep in I mean we constantly bother them by repeating ‘what about democracy?’, ‘what about democracy?’, ‘what about democracy?’ until they give in (sorry, Carl, Sarah and co).

Overall, I think we’ve done our bit to keep the profile of local democracy nice and high in the local government digital world.

11.  Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of public consultation/ digital democracy/ open governance?
I hope local democracy will be like rock and roll.  If not quite that then I hope we will still have local councils that are small enough for people to be able to identify with (if not smaller). 

I also have a thing about having a formal split between the cabinet and scrutiny in local government – but I’d understand if you didn’t want me to go off on one about that right now…

In Wales we now have the Well-being of Future Generations Act which really pushes the idea of public involvement. Every local council area will have to produce a Well-being Plan and we’ve been talking about how we can use this as an opportunity to do something really amazing.  I like the idea of getting ideas from the public to producing the plan ‘bottom up’ – a bit like they’ve done in Reykjavik.  So yes, in 10 years’ time, I hope we are just like Iceland. 

12.  Best gov site you’ve seen and why? Other than GOV.UK
The Swansea Scrutiny Publications Page. Ahem.  But seriously we worked hard on that.  We did user stories and everything.  Agendas, reports and letters all in one easy to filter stream.  With short summaries.  What’s not to like?

13.  Best 18th Century Philosopher?
Well that’s an easy one. It has to be Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Yes, as a person he was far from perfect but you can’t argue that The Social Contract is the greatest piece of political philosophy ever produced. Can you?

So there you have it, 13 questions both posed and answered. At times it was tense, but ultimately I think it was all worth it. If you want to carry on the conversation, give Dave a follow here.

Until next time, Hero fans.