Compass and ‘The Common Platform’ – Challenges and Opportunities

Compass the well know progressive organisation that played a key role in creating the ‘Progressive Alliance’, that was so dominant in the 2017 general election,  will shortly be launching a new project called ‘The Common Platform’. It’s a pretty ambitious project. Compass want nothing less than to encourage a shift in thinking in political thinking as profound as the creation of the welfare state in 1945 and the Thatcher ‘counter revolution’ in 1979. Compass argues that we have reached a stage when we need an equally profound shift in the creation of ‘a modern society that values all its people’.

The idea behind the Common Platform is to bring together individuals, communities, academics social groups, politicians and others to create a shared vision for a more equal, democratic and sustainable society. The project will focus on three big questions:

  1. What is a ‘good society’ and a ‘good life’
  2. How should a new economy support such a society and life?
  3. How can a new democracy get us there and keep us there?

Deeper Democracy is pleased to be involved with Compass on question three.

Indeed one of the key reasons why this site was created was to help develop answers to question 3.

These questions are deeply complex and challenging and would tax even the best resourced organisations, but Compass is not well resourced, it doesn’t have much money and has only a small, but amazingly talented and hard working staff group.

However the organisation is highly respected by many and shoots well above its weight. Compass is also amazingly well networked and had close links with a wide number of politicians from progressive political parties and organisations. Compass also has a growing and enthusiastic membership and an expanding network of local groups.

Even so a paradigm shift at the level proposed by Compass will not come simply through the production of a document called the ‘Common Platform’.

Compass seems to recognise this when it argues that the development of the ideas behind the 1945 Labour Government revolution and the 1977 Thatcher counter revolution were the product of years of thinking that went beyond the narrow confines of the Labour Party at the end of the war or the Tory party in the late 70’s. It was the process involved in the development of the ideas and concrete proposals that was central to the success of these the two shifts. It is also worth bearing in mind that whilst the creation of the central ideas and proposals of the two shifts was wider than narrow party lines, they still involved a relatively small and exclusive group.

Compass is to be applauded for committing itself to the dictum of ‘being the change you want to see’ and seeking to develop the Common Platform as an open and inclusive process but the question is how might this be achieved? As I argued in ‘Towards a Deeper Democracy’ the development of participatory and deliberative processes requires resources and skilled facilitation.

So how will Compass keep the process open, how might it ‘reach out’ to those who would not normally be involved in this type of activity?

Finally there the profound danger that in seeking to develop the project in an open and inclusive way that if the process is not skilfully facilitated the Common Platform document could simply end up as bland and pretty meaningless wish list. You know the sort of stuff to emerge at conferences and meetings when the flip charts and post it’s appear for the 45 minute ‘workshop’. It would be a tragedy if this did happen. But for all sorts of reasons it could be the result. Lack of time, resources, project drift, and constantly seeking consensus by going for the blandest common dominator are all dangers.

This danger can be avoided but only if Compass recognises where its real strengths lies, in its staff, its membership and its networks. Here there are numerous people with many years of experience in facilitating effective deliberative and participative processes. It is critically important that this wonderful resource is properly used.