Thursday, 15 October 2009

MPs Expenses: an OD perspective

I would like take an Organisation Development slant on the issue of MPs expenses which has resurfaced in recent days. Obviously it is an crucial matter that that all party leaders and the vast majority of MPs are still actively seeking to resolve. Whilst I have some thoughts about the issue itself – more importantly I would like to describe a process for resolving this – that might be a way out of this morass that is damaging politics on all sides.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a long time advocate (and practitioner) of using an approach to conferences and meetings called ‘Open Space’. It was invented by Harrison Owen and has been used worldwide over 200,000 times to help (often very large and often conflicting) groups of people find and agree ways forward. There is much information available on the net about the process ( There are also you-tube links that explain it too (e.g. interview with Harrison 1.57 minutes I have more links if you want them - please email me - or you can search on open space on the you-tube site.)

My suggestion towards finally kicking this expenses issue into touch would be get all the main protagonists in a room together – for a day – to sort the issue. By protagonists, I include front bench and back bench MPs (all parties of course), external observers including lobby correspondents and other journalists, key civil servants, others by dint of their expertise, gravitas, experience and wisdom (whoever those might be – but probably a few members of the House of Lords), some ‘ordinary’ members of the public, a few notable bloggers such as Iain Dale... and anyone else who might have some worthwhile things to contribute. The task would be sort out the issue of the expenses, for once and for all. The process would be Open Space – which would mean that all that people who wish (and have a passion for) to talk about – could be talked about. The agenda would emerge - with no order papers, whipping or catching the eye of the Speaker.

Why am I proposing this? It seems to be that this issue has become so corrosive to public confidence that action needs to be taken quickly to arrive at a broad consensus. I know of no better way to achieve consensus than through Open Space – as it is a totally transparent, creative and sublimely simple and elegant process. Whilst Sir Thomas Legg has made an good start - his actions clearly has left a good deal of rumblings behind and there is some way to go. An Open Space process could slice through all of this and be emblematic of the kind of new politics of which I believe many in the Houses of Parliament and in the country wish to see more.

I do know about politics and how decisions are often made, the deals are usually done, positions taken and resolutions driven through by majorities. Whilst politics is, always has been, and probably will continue to be about interests clashing and change often being bullied through – I know I (and maybe many other members of the public too) want something different this time about this issue in particular. Perhaps a new type of politics could rise from the ashes of this issue - but only if it is handled well - with a good process.

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