Democratic Hero – David Porteous

DavidPB_WI’ve interviewed quite a few people for my ‘hero’ series over the years and whilst they’ve been variously informative, eye-opening and at times silly, I’m not sure any of them have been as downright funny as this one. So, “who are we going to hear from?” you might well ask… The man in question is David Porteous, Senior Business Intelligence Officer at the City of Edinburgh Council: writer, social researcher, grumpy human and erstwhile stand-up comic. He also supplied what can only be described as a portfolio of photos, so I’ve liberally embedded them throughout.

Put the kettle on.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
David F Porteous. (Close enough to) Edinburgh (as makes no difference).

2. What do you do for a living?
I’m currently a Senior Business Intelligence Officer working for the City of Edinburgh Council. I manage the largest face-to-face opinion survey conducted by any UK local authority and (on behalf of my employer) I hold the record for the UK’s best response to a budget consultation using budgetsimulator.com. I’m kind of a big deal.

3. Favourite band / or artist
I did not answer these questions in order and as a result when I come to this one it is with an enhanced understanding that I am a man out of time. To provide a robust answer to this question, I’ve used the metric “number of songs by that artist on my phone”. The clear winner was Various Artists with 320 tracks. Close runner-ups were McFly (including as McBusted) (58), Elton John (56), Bob Dylan (49), Bruce Springsteen (47) and Green Day (45). I have seen all of those artists in concert except for the Boss.

4. Android or iPhone
I don’t care so much about this issue. I just want a nice phone that allows me to access the thousands of pounds of ill-advised purchases I’ve made on iTunes over the last seven years. I liked clam shell phones. Do you remember clam shell phones? Clam shell phones made me feel like I was in Star Trek, and I genuinely thought we’d reached a technological end time from which there neither could nor should be further advancement. Phablets activate my gag reflex.

5. PC or Mac
I care so much about this issue. PC. Buying a Mac means favouring form over absolutely everything else. I’m not going to tell you that everyone who uses a Mac is evil, they’re not – but they are definitely stupid. Mac users are the Trump supporters of personal computing. Suck on that, Mac using scum! (I have an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard – that is NOT the same thing, c.f. previous iTunes reference).

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I haven’t read all of these profiles, but do people admit to being a creature of habit? I would think even if that were objectively true you would take all reasonable steps to conceal this – even from yourself. And what about those people who are all “wooo, look at how unorthodox I am” – you wouldn’t hire those people for any job involving keys, passwords or scissors.

If you rebel against everything you’ll never get the people in Starbucks to serve you – because you won’t queue, and you keep trying to buy coffee using an impromptu barter system that places an unreasonably high value on pocket lint and beat poetry – then you get no damn coffee, you fall asleep by 11am, and the day belongs to the creatures of habit.

Walk a wandering path, not a middle road. Have I answered this question?

DavidP27. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Nothing. Everything important is backed up to the cloud, including my insurance documents. You’re owned by what you think you own. A good fire would save me the bother of vacuuming in that awkward spot on the window side of my bedroom. It’s blocked by the bed. I have to move furniture. And unless you’re in my bed already you can’t even see it. That side of the room is a total non-issue. Though, to be scrupulously fair, I also haven’t vacuumed the visible, near-side in quite some time either. PS – for some reason I’m single. Is it the McFly songs? It is, isn’t it?

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
I’m just going to hit you with science here. Heat and moisture activate aroma, and smell is the most important component of taste – dunked biscuits just taste better. Vaccinate your kids, vote to stay in the EU, dunk your biscuits – everything else is crazy.

9. Best project you’ve worked on and why?
A few years ago Emma McEwan (subject of a future profile) and I worked on the consultation for Edinburgh city centre. We spoke to business leaders, activists, local residents – a real mix of people who had different understandings of the issues. While traffic routes, pedestrianisation, public spaces, desire lines, signage (and so on, and so on) don’t feel exciting, the changes that have been introduced subsequently have impacted (hopefully positively) on millions of visitors and residents. It’s the first and only research project I’ve ever done where I can walk on a pavement that exists, in some small part, because I recommended it. And it’s always great to work with Emma, who brings passion and intelligence to all her projects.

10. Where do you hope the UK will be in 10 years in terms of online consultation/ digital democracy?
Creative problem solving – which is, in my view, a major reason to involve people in decision-making – should be fun. I hope we get more accustomed to using that specific word – fun. There are cases where that might not be appropriate, but those are the exception and not the norm. When we begin by saying that local democracy is a serious issue, we immediately lose young people and most working age adults – who have plenty of other serious issues to deal with.

Engagement cannot simply be about a positive outcome, it needs to be arrived at through a positive process. In practice what that means is we in the public sector spend time on the mechanisms, spend time on the marketing, and interact with people as people – without trying to speak with the voice of our organisation in an attempt to offend to smallest number of people.

I want Jane, 27, mother of one, to come home after work and spend ten minutes checking up on what the issues are in her local community using simple software. I want her to feel connected to real people she can also interact with offline. I want this to be as normal and uncomplicated as using Facebook.

We need to accept gradations of involvement as being valid, which means not leaving decisions with (what we in Scotland would call) “well-kent faces” just because they’re the only ones who will turn up to three hour long meetings every two months. Digital democracy has the potential to reach groups who are currently as excluded from local government decision making as any other, and there needs to be continuous push-back against the challenge to using online tools. Offline consultation excludes far more people.

(Concluding by saying that) there will always need to be a place for both online and offline consultation (is boring, but probably true).

DavidP3

11. Any shout-outs?
Firstly to me – I’m also a writer and my books Singular, Good Witch and The Death of Jack Nylund are available everywhere. The audio book for Singular, read by me, can almost certainly be downloaded on the same device you’re using to read this. My website is www.dfpiii.com

Secondly also to me, but for a different reason – I’m one half of the Cheerful Despair podcast about nothing http://cheerfuldespair.libsyn.com (NSFW-ish: PG-13, there are no boobs, but we do swear) which will be returning for a second season this year.

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So, there you have it: a short insight into the rambling mind of David Porteous. We laughed, we didn’t cry and we probably didn’t learn anything either. Ordinarily, I’d point out how you can connect with David on Twitter but I think he’s amply covered ways and means to get in touch.

Until next time.