The Real Problem with Idea Generating Campaigns

When I first read about the aims of the countries current idea generating campaign, Your Country, Your Call, I was particularly drawn to one particular aspect. It’s contained in this section, taken from the About page on the YCYC website:

The goal is to pick two truly transformational proposals so big that, when implemented, could secure prosperity and jobs for Ireland. Proposals that could help change the way we do things, allow businesses to grow, employment to be created and prosperity to flourish.

“Truly transformational”

It’s not about growing more trees along the motorway, or gathering rainwater to sell abroad, or even to give Irish passports to the Irish Diaspora and bring them home on holidays on free Aer Lingus sites.

They say that they’re looking for something massive – something that will change Ireland for the better, for good.

A noble aspiration. However, if you really consider what might be needed to change this country at the moment, in my first post in this series, I touched upon why this is really unlikely to come to pass.

Idea generating campaigns, I said, are “where the general population are invited to submit their ideas to an elite group of people who will cherry pick what suits them and ignore everything else”.

Insiders don’t want change

I’ve described these elite as “incumbents” – David McWilliams would call them (himself included) “insiders”. But whatever you call them, and whomever they are, they are the people who were running this country, and running the businesses in this country, during the time that we rose spectacularly and descended even more spectacularly over the past 20 years.

Why then would these people entertain any ideas that come from the general public that would disturb the status quo that exists in Ireland?

For example, as is touched upon in several suggestions on the YCYC website, the most “transformational” change we could probably implement in this country in the morning would be to change the current government, possibly even doing away with Fianna Fail completely. Why not even use the €100,000 and the momentum of this YCYC campaign to create a new political force for our generation?

A new start? Hardly likely

But turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. The Dail could make a significant transformation change to how this country is run for free by instituting the much called for political reforms, but we’re not seeing that any time soon either.

How about bringing about “transformational” change by retiring off all the “incumbents” who got us to this low point? The Government has already failed to do that in the Banks, it’ll never happen in the Civil and Public Service, and despite so many promises in the past, it’s not even happening with the countless quangos set up over the years (in fact we’re setting up new ones rather than getting rid of others).

But that’s not the end of it, the current problems encountered by developers are unlikely to result in any of these being completely removed from the picture? Just as the Corporate Enforcer wouldn’t move against insider dealing in DCC, he’s unlikely to take action against any developer who so badly runs a company and who so wrecklessly incurs debt as to endanger the country, never mind their own companies.

Why nothing will really change?

This YCYC campaign will pick a panel of people who will, without doubt, be a panel made up of “insiders” and “incumbents” – the very same thing happened with the Ideas Campaign – see their Advisory Council members here to refresh your memory.

In fact, they’ve already started by picking David Byrne as Chairman of the Judging Panel – Senior Council, former Fianna Fail appointed Attorney General, former Fianna Fail appointed European Commissioner, and Chancellor of Dublin City University.

These 12-18 members of the judging panel will come from positions and backgrounds as insiders and incumbents where it will be plainly obvious that they will not actually want to see a transformational change the size of which is actually needed to turn this country around.

It won’t be in their own interests, or the interests of their buddies and political contacts to see the “transformational change” that could change how this country is run, how it does business, and ultimately how it looks after all its citizens, not just the insiders and incumbents.

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9 Responses to The Real Problem with Idea Generating Campaigns

  1. Padraig McKeon March 6, 2010 at 17:56 #

    There is much of the fundamental point that you make which is hard to argue and yet I would make a case in respone that the ‘this is pointless / nothing will really change” argumemt is exactly why we need something like YCYC – less for the value of any two or more propoasls that emerge and more to create a platform to debate and challenge ‘the way we do things around here’ not just in what I might respectfully call an outpost like this blog but more in the mainstream. You may say that is ‘pie…’ but here it is kicking off?

    I would remind also that the purpose of the campaign is to “get [people] thinking”. Frankly proposals such as those that you refer which suggest “chang[ing] the current government, possibly even doing away with Fianna Fail completely” demonstrate a poverty in thinking that is in many ways more alarming than any concern that the ‘system’ is unlikely to abolish itself. Is that all that we are capable of?. Are we in thrall to the status quo that we cannot make any steps forward ourselves? Are we incapable of visionsing alternatives?

    To one final specific point in your post, I would like to think that when revealed the panel of judges will not entirely be as you expect

  2. steve white March 6, 2010 at 23:24 #

    I think getting rid of ff gov, is reasonable suggestion we can’t move on till we get rid of those who caused the problem from positions of power, of course you want to move on forget their mistake and keep them in power and then blame us for not getting out of recession they caused.

    but you have unbelievable ability to turn the arguments on their head, VI whole arguement is about ycyc being made up of those wanting the to keep the status quo of elites, you included, you can’t then suggest that the people criticising it are in thrall of the status quo. you’re spinning black into white.

    dear god i hope you don’t put some stupid celebs or a “professional outsider” on your panel

  3. Padraig McKeon March 7, 2010 at 02:15 #

    You are completely correct in saying that a proposal to change a government is in itself a reasonable suggestion to make… but think it out for a second in respect of this country today. Is any combination of politicians available to be elected in this country going to make any great change in the forseeable future… and completely honestly would things be that hugely different now if we had any other combination for the last ten years… and to be clear I have no connection to any political party one way or the other.

    Where I really differ though is the assumption that we can’t move on until the government is changed. We can’t we? I agree with the point that we can’t ignore the past. We have to know what went wrong to make sure we can prevent it happening again but there is a precise value to be got from examining the past and then move on. We can’t change what’s done and once we’ve learned all that is of value for the future, any ore time spent looking back is time wasted – I just accept that we are here now and get on with it, and I won’t apologise for that

    VI, you and others have an opinion about YCYC and presuppose its outcome. I have another opinion which is that it is a platform for people that want to move on from thinking within the boxes that are there and do something new. YCYC is just a platform for those that want to take that opportunity – nothing more, but that could be a big thing. Folk can use it to rant and be bitter, as they have been doing or to take time to think out some original points and then suggest something.

    My point about people being ‘in thrall’ is that all those ideas about changing the ‘elite’ etc. are simply thowing the hands in the air and defining themselves against what has been and what they don’t like – the staus quo. It’s all to easy to do – take no responsibility for anything (“we didn’t get us into this mess”), blame ‘them’, demand ‘they’ get changed and then go on doing exactly the same things have always been done using the fact that ‘we can’t move on till we get rid of those who caused the problem from positions of power’ as an excuse. Those that keep repaeting that mantra actually need the staus quo, without it they are stripped of their cause.

    Steve, we’re just starting from two completely different places here and we’re not likely ever to be aligned but it is good too to have differences.

    By the way, I don’t know what would count as a ‘stupid celeb’ or a “professional outsider” but I doubt again that we’d likely to think similarly on judges.

  4. valueireland March 7, 2010 at 22:01 #

    Hi Padraig,

    Sticking to the “remove Fianna Fail” suggestion, leaving aside your non-political affiliations, I find your statement of “Is any combination of politicians available to be elected in this country going to make any great change in the forseeable future” to be very much a “lets leave the status quo” type argument that I’m saying is only going to be further instilled in Irish society with this campaign.

    Your statement, effectively saying that there is no alternative to the current incumbents is exactly what the current incumbents want/need to hear, and what they depend on, election after election (political, or board of directors, etc).

    In addition, I’m reading your some of your comments as being pretty negative towards those who are questioning your campaign, “throwing hands in the air”, “defining themselves as against”, not our fault etc – though I may be wrong.

    However, I do believe that you’re missing the overarching points made by many people who are questioning this campaign – despite what you might think, you’re not doing anything different that hasn’t been done before here. And what’s been done before hasn’t been at all successful, and just because you’re throwing more money at this doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful this time around.

    You’re looking for a “truly transformational” idea that’s going to help the country, but it’s a great shame that you’re taking €2m and throwing it at the same tired old ideas campaign/global Irish economic forum type exercise that is really just a distraction more than anything else.

    Earlier today, I believe it was Conor O’Neill on Twitter who illustrated 3 examples of where the €300,000 government contribution could have been spent directly to assist create jobs – never mind the full €2m fund in total.

    I will be coming back to this issue of the €300k in a future post. There were a couple of further questions on Twitter today that you might answer if you have a chance – what government department did this money come from, for example?

    Taking this money from the current government has even further, in my view, diminished any possible authenticity that your campaign might have – even more so than taking money from the crippled banks.

    One would have to ask the questions as to what the government will expect for their €300,000? A promise not to promote a change of government maybe? Promises not to promote policies which are contrary to current government policy? Restriction on ideas that may correct mistakes made by the current government as they’ll only highlight those mistakes more?

    Your budget is €2m. Your prize fund is €200,000 – effectively, the government is funding your campaign prizes – a truly astonishing development in its own right.. It’s therefore very hard to believe that you won’t be influenced by them when it comes to making prize awarding decisions.

    And unless I’m missing something with regards to your expenses, it seems like this is €300,000 you could have done without. You have €2m – that’s €200,000 in prizes and €1m for developing the winning ideas. That leaves €800,000 for you to run a campaign where you say most work is being done pro-bono. Surely the campaign could have been run on €500,000 and avoided the tainting of the whole thing by government involvement and government money. (Though even to be running this campaign on €500,000 seems almost Fianna Fail governmental in it’s extravagance).

    By the way, when I say promises above, I’m not implying anything specific or written down – mere expectations are enough to sway decisions. And when I say government, we’re talking politicians, civil servants and government agencies.

    Diarmuid

  5. steve white March 8, 2010 at 23:20 #

    yes i do think getting rid of the gov that be in power for 12+ yrs would make a beneficial change even to replaced mainly by fg, who policies are imho worse. change of personnel would be important.

    i didn’t say we can’t move on, i just saying that the spin from the gov and business realm is to move without them taking responsibility. cowen has admitted no mistakes, im saying i wont take advice on moving on from those not willing to admit any mistakes

    brain cowen “lets move on, be positive”

    mr drury “lets move on be positive”

    and here have the another total reversal of argument,( is this what they hire you for), you telling me that it is the recession is my fault and im not taking responsibility, i think the government, AIB and all these others companies, have exponentially far more need to take responsibility them me. you can’t equate them with the critics of ycyc.

    mr drury has suggested elsewhere there is no conspiracy, is referring the presidential couple and some of largest companies in ireland as the elite some sort conspiratorial talk detached from reality!, i don’t think so!, im not creating an enemy, no some of your clients have been reckless and corrupt beyond imagination, your just continuing doing your job (for free), collecting a few pennies and trinkets to shake about for some corporate pr cleansing.

  6. steve white March 8, 2010 at 23:43 #

    in my first post i said we can’t move from trying to hold people responsible if they don’t’ admit mistakes

  7. Padraig McKeon March 9, 2010 at 01:49 #

    Diarmuid, I do understand the point you are mnaking on the politiocains / incumbents. My point is nothing about maintaining the status quo or otherwise. It is that the system there is not going to change anytime soon so there is a limted value and indeed inevitable disappointment in waiting for that to happen before attempting to do something, so why not plan to do something.
    I actually have no problem with people opposing ycyc but I am negative towards the mindset which justifies doing so on the basis that ‘it’s not my fault so I’m not doing anything’. If everyone takes that approach, then nothing ever will be done – think about it… I have to say also I would put all this talk about ‘not new’, ‘done before’ in the same space – etc. So what? Is that also a reason to do nothing…?
    Let’s wait and see what comes out of the campaign before we judge it but to your point about the suggestions that Conor O’Neill has made – why not make that / those as a proposal into the competition? Rather than criticise the effort as “same tired old” … etc. do something new, fresh, innovative.
    I saw and answered the question earlier on Twitter – the Department is Enterprise Trade and Employment and I don’t agree with your view generally on that. Frankly if there was no connection with Government, that would be criticised too on the basis of “how could it be delivered without the state which is responsible for …”
    I appreciate the broad definition you offer on government. There are no conditions or restrictions on the judging from any contributor, government or not. No contributor is big enough to influence the competition and the judging and evaluation process in itself is independent of the organising operation.
    On funding, there is a cash fund of €2m available to cover prizes and costs – the full budget is substantially greater as much of what is being done is pro bono and we would hope to use as little as possible of the cash over and above the prize fund – that would leave more for the development of the proposals received. Whatever the use of the fund, it will be reported in the accounts of the company.

    Steve – it’s your choice who you take advice from or look to get answers from. But when you get them, we still all have to get on and do something, so the only result from waiting to get answers is that the world around us will be worse off for the waiting. I don’t see why we can’t get on with doing stuff while still pushing for the answers. That’s my point – I’m not blaming you or anybody else, but let’s quit pretending that somebody else will solve our problems (whether that is before or after it is figured out ‘who to blame’). They won’t so are we just going to give in?

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