The Key to Modern Democratic Leadership

By John Boswell, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton.


 

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s announcement of his resignation at the beginning of this week has been met with surprise. An historically popular third-term leader is leaving politics on a high. The reaction over this side of the world has been one of bewildered admiration. How is this possible? What was he doing so right? What is this magical secret to success in contemporary democratic leadership? As a kiwi who has followed things closely from afar, and as a card-carrying deliberative democrat—committed more to the procedural fairness of democratic contestation than to substantive policy outcomes—this fawning is a little hard to take. A very effective leader Key has been, but the descriptor democratic is not one that fits. Specifically, three main strategies that have underpinned his National-led governments have been corrosive to established democratic conventions and practices:

1. Procedure is for wimps

Right from the outset the Key government were ‘relaxed’ about established conventions simply because they had the numbers in the House (despite NZ having a proportional system, the make-up of Parliament throughout has included tiny and mostly compliant coalition partners and supporters). An egregious example was the use of urgency in Parliament. New and manifestly un-urgent Bills in the early days especially were passed under urgency, curtailing debate and contestation, and preventing opportunity for Member’s Bills to be heard. The rituals of scrutiny and opposition were painted as nasty politicking, getting in the way of the government’s rightful mandate.

2. Governments get to control the communications environment

A change championed in particular by National’s media guru, chief strategist and all-round fixer Steven Joyce (the so-called Minister for Everything) has been to turn government agencies into cogs in an impressive political communications machine. Joyce’s own (admittedly large) Ministry, for instance, employs over 50 communications staff. That’s as many media experts as most newsrooms in the country.  These communications specialists—largely poached in fact from rapidly emptying newsrooms—seem to be employed chiefly for the purpose of not communicating, of stalling and misdirecting. I myself was rather miffed to be on the receiving end of one such run-around on a recent research trip back to NZ.  My experiences were by and large confirmed by the academics and media people I spoke to: from Key himself refusing to front for Morning Report or Campbell Live (the most critical interview rituals in NZ), to mundane operational agencies neglecting to engage with people like me, a culture of shutting-up-shop reigns.

3. The advantage of being in government is one to be used politically

The most fundamental and disturbing change has been the one uncovered by investigative journalist Nicky Hager in his book Dirty Politics: an investigation that links the PM’s office to a right-wing attack blogger. This is the below-the-line, dirty, Nixon-esque abuse of the powers and privileges of office to hurt rivals. The most notable tactic has been using Official Information Act requests to coordinate attacks on political rivals (by tipping of this blogger and then processing his requests at lightning speed) and stall genuine requests. Key has denied the former but actually openly admitted the latter.

Readers will be quick to point out that none of this is unique to the NZ context, recalling the playbooks of John Howard, Alistair Campbell, Karl Rove and beyond (after all, NZ is famously 20 years late to the party on everything). The dark arts have always been part and parcel of democratic politics. But a key part of the story here has been the context that has allowed these strategies to breed so much success, in particular the precipitous decline in media coverage of politics in NZ. There are now (according to my sources) more government communications people than journalists. What’s indisputable is that they are more experienced operators who can, in the words of one informant, ‘run rings around the cadets’. This is important because the fourth estate is in trouble everywhere, certainly in spirit even if it survives in body. NZ, with its small, deregulated, almost entirely private media market, represents the extreme edge of a broader and seemingly inexorable trend.

So what might be picked up and taken from the kiwi experience to the current travails of Brexit etc? Key’s government has of course not been populist in the mould of Farage or Trump—indeed Key has annoyed critics on the right for being far too committed to preserving the status quo. Instead I fear he has set the mould for something much less extreme but potentially more enduring, what might be called a popularist leader: a pleasantly bland PM that people (not me, you might have picked) want to have a beer with —one at home in the All Blacks changing room, bantering with shock jocks, posing for selfies—whose views on anything controversial are deliberately obscured, and whose governments’ actions afford little chance of scrutiny and are geared toward damaging enemies and furthering a personal political brand.

I, for one, much prefer it over here where people still hate their politicians.

Waking up to Brexit, Democracy and Experts

By Matthew Ryan, Politics & International Relations

Friday morning’s announcement of a win for the leave vote in the European Union referendum provided a wake-up call for complacent ‘experts’ like myself.

I voted to remain. From a personal point of view, it was pretty clear that leaving would have uncertain ramifications for funding for research and free movement of students and scholars from the EU to the UK. Moreover, I grew up in a Europhile country before migrating to the UK. In university I studied the European Union in great detail. I learned about how the EU had improved and ensured equal treatment for women and workers in countries emerging from tyranny to join the union. I learned how the Commission and the European Court of Justice had ingeniously protected European consumers by taking on the controlling market tactics of the likes of United Brands and Michelin. Growing up in the Southwest of Ireland during the tiger years I saw many buildings built under large signage celebrating funding from the European Union. Just last week many of us enjoyed for the first time reasonable roaming tariffs as we roamed France in search of footballing glory. I knew what good the European Union was capable of. It may not have been uniquely capable of these feats but at least it had a track record I was aware of.

At some point pretty early on Friday morning the prospects for remaining became bleak. At first I was disappointed and felt a little guilty. I didn’t get around to campaigning much and I felt I might have done more to relay my experiences and knowledge to others. But at least I had participated in a democratic plebiscite and many many others had too. Watching the news unfold I became increasingly angered (frankly) by the number of talking heads, and acquaintances on social media (most are graduates) that began to bemoan the holding of a referendum on the grounds that the citizens that voted to leave were simply not competent enough to make the appropriate decision. The anger and disappointment of those who identify with, and have much invested in membership of the EU is understandable. But for many so-called experts I think the penny still has not dropped.

Debates about democracy and competence are as old as the study of politics itself. The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and later Thomas Jefferson, lamented pure forms of democracy as the worst form of mob rule.[1] Certainly we saw some of the worst elements of populism in the campaign. Many of us witnessed incitement to hatred. It is still hard to know what to say about the tragic murder of Jo Cox. Her family and friends have said it all.

There are though, I think three important points to be made about the state of democracy in the UK in reflection on the referendum campaigns and analysis of the result. First, this was not a mob vote. Opinion research will shed more light in the coming days and weeks, but it is clear that the leave vote was spread across many different constituencies of interest with different takes on immigration, trade and national identity. Despite a focus on working-class votes in the immediate analysis, leave voters were in the majority in rural middle-England, the (post-)industrial north, many parts of the Celtic fringe excluding Scotland, and large urban provincial towns in the South and East. Leave voters are the experts in what is best for them. They reasonably disagreed after a long campaign with remain voters. They were upwards of 17 million in number. Some TV vox pops will no doubt highlight individuals with spurious and racist justifications for their votes, but many reasonable people listened to arguments and agonised in good faith over how to vote until the very last minute.

The geographic concentration of remain votes was stark; much more-so than leave. Again, some have been quick to argue that reliance on a small majority for such a momentous and complex decision results in a ‘tyranny of the majority’. They argue that the referendum should have required a supermajority of 60% or more. This is a perversion of the tyranny argument. Tyranny over minorities occurs when the same groups of people are losing out almost all the time. A democracy is a form of rule where everyone has to lose out some of the time. Perversely, many of those crying tyranny are coming from groups that can be seen to have won out in almost every policy decision affecting life chances in the last 40 years. The key challenge for political leaders and the media now is to facilitate deliberation across these divides. That starts with allowing people to voice their concerns, engaging arguments on their merits and not demonising different worldviews. There is a vast body of academic research on how best to integrate citizen’s innate expertise with technical expertise but some people dismiss it and most have never heard of it – a point I return to below.

If the first reaction responds to arguments about voter competence the second responds to arguments that this was a protest vote that rejected the wrong government. So the argument went among some of the commentariat on Friday, that the EU was the fall guy for all the failures of national governments over the past 20 or more years – governments who have left vast swathes of the population behind. As above there is likely some truth in the protest vote theory. However, I have little enough sympathy for the EU here. The EU has been complacent in the face of repeated warnings that it is out of touch with the public it is supposed to represent. This is not the first referendum defeat of its kind and the EU did almost nothing to try and justify its response to the Greek crisis in democratic terms. Its efforts as a whole to respond to the democratic deficit, time and again have been either overly ambitious (an EU constitution) or tokenistic (running a few consultations with the usual suspects). One thing we did learn in the last few weeks is that despite the ‘us and them’ rhetoric of the extremist populists, there clearly is an appetite among publics to know about, celebrate and praise the best of politicians and politics. For those of us who remain in, the European leadership needs to reach out to its denizens in a more than tokenistic fashion. The EU and its supporters need to learn how to market and communicate its successes and reasonably justify its work to its denizens on a regular basis. And this needs to happen fast.

The final point responds to arguments triggered by Michael Gove’s comment that people in this country have had enough of experts. I agree with many who have pointed out that the exact people they want to hear from in a scenario of uncertainty and complexity are experts. Expertise has a major role to play in advanced specialised societies. But I also find myself having much sympathy with Mr. Gove’s sentiments. Again the post-result response, in particular on the remain side, seemed to focus blame for their own failures on the insults, personality clashes and misinformation from many quarters that came to dominate the campaigns. Misinformation thrives not because people prefer blissful ignorance but because people prefer some form of explanation that they can understand. The experts didn’t provide real explanations, only superficial threats, because they assumed people would not understand the long-winded, abstract, caveat-laden language they deal in. They are right about the latter but the reality is that they could not help people understand. Experts refused, or did not have the skills to engage seriously in the most basic intellectual endeavour – explanation.

Despite recent efforts to combat the trend, the academic study of the social world seems increasingly on a one-way journey to withdraw to the relative comfort of the arcane. Academics are incentivised to write esoterically in journals which are not only unintelligible to most of the society they study, but also to many of their oh-so-clever friends. Ironically, journals dedicated to the study of politics; my chosen discipline and that which the ancients and many famous scientists throughout history have held in the highest regard; have some of the lowest impact factors (a measure of influence) among all disciplines. What is really striking though is that many academics in the social sciences only interact with people from outside their social circles as their subjects (with notable exceptions). We study people but we rarely take the opportunity to explain anything to them.

What we need now is an intellectual populism. We need to remember that the academic endeavour is after all merely the attempt to discover common sense; or at least to discover sense and then make it common. We aim to make the complex simple, without losing rigour. This is a challenge but one we are not stepping up to adequately (and I speak for myself if not my colleagues). Academic rigour requires critical distance and independent scientific analysis. But it also requires communication. Moreover, those of us who have had the privilege of making discoveries about our social world have the duty to help others make those discoveries too – and that goes beyond the small constituency who can afford to spend three or more years of their lives with us. All academics, researchers and graduates need to practice populism. The impetus needs to come from us not elsewhere. The public understanding of science and expertise is crucial for the reinvigoration of democracy.

[1] Aristotle was keener than Plato on rule by the many and the favoured form of rule he termed ‘Polity’ resembling more the constitutional democracy we know today, which is also much influenced by Jefferson’s thinking.

 

National Voting Rights for Resident Non-Citizens: The Luxembourg Debate

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


On June 7th 2015, the people of Luxembourg will be voting in a referendum covering four separate questions:

  • Should teenagers aged 16 or over be given the active right to vote? (The active right means that they would be able to vote but not stand in elections.)
  • Should non-Luxembourg nationals be allowed to vote in national elections on the condition that they have lived in Luxembourg for at least ten years?
  • Should the state continue to pay salaries and pensions of priests, diocese staff or officials of other faith groups in Luxembourg?
  • Should government mandates be limited to a period of ten years?

Although all raise fascinating points for political theory and practice, it is the second – national voting rights for resident non-citizens – that raises the most challenging issues for contemporary states in contexts of migration and for EU member states in the context of the right to freedom of movement enjoyed by EU citizens. On the 20th-21st March I was privileged to be invited as an expert in a wide-ranging intellectual debate on this issue held in the Chambre des Députés du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg in which a group of historians, lawyers, sociologists and political scientists presented a range of perspectives on resident non-citizen suffrage to an audience of parliamentary representatives, activists, academics and students. Organized by Professor Philippe Poirier and his colleagues at the University of Luxembourg with the cooperation of the Luxembourg Parliament in order to enhance political debate, the event exemplified how academic research can inform, and be challenged by, the diversity of political perspectives that characterize a democratic state.

The question of resident non-citizen suffrage in national elections has real political significance for Luxembourg. About 45% of its residents are non-citizens (with about 85% of these being EU citizens). On the one hand, this looks like a serious democratic problem with almost half the population being denied national political representation in its legislative body. On the other hand, it is easy to see that the people of Luxembourg might reasonably be concerned that permitting national suffrage rights to resident non-citizens would undermine their ability to control their own political destiny.

One response to this dilemma is to make acquisition of nationality relatively straightforward and on the 1st January 2009 Luxembourg introduced new naturalization legislation that permitted dual/plural nationality and a double ius soli principle. This has had significant impact:

The number of valid demands for nationalisation quadrupled, going from 1065 in 2008 to 11770 for the period of the 1st January 2009 to the 31 December 2011. The Luxembourgish nationality was granted to 11736 persons, quasi 4000 per year. … By comparison, in 2008, only 1215 persons acquired the Luxembourg nationality. Furthermore, by double ius soli, 3414 persons of less than 18 years age, born in the Grand-Duchy of foreign parents of whom one was also born in Luxembourg, acquired Luxembourg nationality on the 1st January 2009. Following the assessment of the STATEC (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies), from 2009 to 2011, approximately another 1000 children became Luxembourgers by double ius soli, and 2491 children were naturalised along with one of their parents. A total of about 18500 new Luxembourgers in three years, mainly because of the innovations introduced by the law of 2008.

However, as already noted, the number of resident non-citizens today is c.45% with c.85% being EU citizens. For Luxembourg, it seems a decision must be made.

The vote in Luxembourg is also, however, also significant for the EU. Currently the EU has a demos problem in that EU citizens who exercise their civil right of freedom of movement may find themselves disenfranchised at the national voting level in both their state(s) of nationality and their state of residence. This is a democratic wrong but it is one that the EU as an institution has no competence to resolve. There are several possible ways of resolving this problem. But given (a) that the institutional architecture of the EU is neither purely intergovernmental (which would support tying national voting rights to naturalization) or purely federal (which would support tying national voting rights to residence) and (b) that EU citizenship entitles EU citizens who move to other member states to be treated as de facto dual nationals for a wide range of purposes, one fitting way of addressing this problem would be for Member States to allow such Second Country Nationals to become ‘Resident Electors’ after a reasonable period of residence. A ‘Yes’ vote in Luxembourg’s referendum (although it would also encompass a small number of non-EU citizens) would provide an example to the EU of such a practice. A ‘No’ vote would push the agenda in the direction of either reciprocal arrangements between specific Member States or expatriate voting rights for Second Country Nationals or some combination of the two. Luxembourg’s decision thus has implications that are wider than its own national affairs – and it is also for this reason that the engagement of academics, citizens and politicians in the event organized by the University of Luxembourg in association with their Parliament was such a welcome endeavor.

Workshop: Developments in Deliberative Democracy

By John Boswell, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu, @Boswell_JC). You can find more posts by John Boswell here.


We are delighted to present an international workshop on new directions and developments in deliberative democratic theory and research.  This half-day event brings together two high-profile academics from the world of deliberative democracy: John Dryzek (Canberra) and John Gastil (Penn State). The first session, provocatively titled ‘One Deliberative Process to Rule Them All’, will be led by John Gastil who will reflect on his ongoing research on the Citizen Initiative Review process in Oregon. The second session ‘Deliberative Democracy and the Agents of Global Justice’ will be led by John Dryzek. The workshop will be followed by a short reception.

The workshop is a partnership between the Centre for Citizenship. Globalisation and Governance (C2G2), Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and PDD Specialist Group.

Key details

Where: The Boardroom, the University of Westminster

When: 1-6 pm Saturday, March 28

How: Attendance is free but you must register in advance. To do so, click here.

Who Are ‘the People’ in a People’s Constitutional Convention?

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


This post is a contribution to a debate at openDemocracy initiated by Stuart White and followed by Alan Renwick’s discussion of institutional designs for such a convention. David Owen’s contribution focuses on the question of who should be included in the People for these purposes.

There are a lot of questions raised by the idea of a People’s Constitutional Convention for the UK. The most fundamental, however, is ‘who are the People?’ for this purpose.

In Stuart White’s initial post and Alan Renwick’s acute reflections on the form of such a convention, they adopt the intuitive response to this question: the People are the (adult) citizens of the UK, which we might imagine to be those who can vote in General Elections. The rationale for this view is straightforward: a constitution sets the terms of a political association; it specifies the basic legal form of citizens’ political relationships to one another. This is a good start but I think for these purposes we need to construe the People a bit more widely.

Consider first that not all UK citizens can vote in General Elections, for example, citizens who have been resident abroad for more than 15 years or prisoners serving custodial sentences. Should they be able to participate? Well, notice first that a constitution applies to all citizens regardless of whether they are resident in the UK or not. Any changes to the constitution are binding on all citizens and change their relationships – so, for example, the result of a UK referendum on EU membership would be binding on all UK citizens whether or not they are resident in the UK, the EU or the wider world. Because a constitution sets the terms of their relationship, the People must include non-resident, as well as resident, citizens.[1]

If we turn to prisoners serving custodial sentences, we should note that even if we think that there may be both principled and pragmatic reasons for refusing voting rights in General Elections for some classes of those convicted of criminal offences, a constitutional convention is a different kind of event, one that stands in a much more intimate relationship to one’s standing as a citizen. The loss of voting rights in a General Election says that one is not a citizen in good standing; the loss of the right to participate in a constitutional convention says that one has no civic standing. So all citizens need to be included in terms of either having a vote for representatives or being in the population from which citizens selected by lot are chosen.

But a constitution doesn’t just set the terms on which citizens relate to one another, it also lays down the ground rules for:

  • What the public actors (aka the State) can and cannot legitimately do in relation to all those who live under its authority, that is, within its territorial jurisdiction.
  • What private actors (individual or corporate) can and cannot legitimately do to other persons in this territory.

Looked at from this angle, everyone who is a resident of (as opposed to a visitor to) the UK has an equally clear and vital interest in being protected from arbitrary exercises of public and private power. Indeed, given that immigrant non-citizens are typically much more exposed to exercises of arbitrary power by the State (perhaps most especially the kind of discretionary power with respect to immigrants currently lodged in the Home Office) and by private actors (perhaps most obviously unscrupulous employers), the case of the inclusion of non-citizen residents is overwhelming.[2] The People needs to encompass residents more generally, not just citizens.

What about non-resident non-citizens? This is a harder issue. It is fairly straightforward to see that this group should be able to make representations to a People’s Constitutional Convention since, in an increasingly interdependent world, their lives are likely to be shaped in part by our actions, but should they have representatives with the decision-making body? Some authors – Ian Shapiro and Robert Goodin, for example[3] – answer in the affirmative. What counts, on this view, is that your morally relevant interests are or may be affected. I am skeptical of this appeal to ‘the all affected interests principle’ as a criterion of democratic inclusion for the reason nicely put by Christopher McMahon:

The people who have a right, under democratic principles, to participate in a decision are not those who are affected by it but those whose actions are guided by it. That is, if the possession of [political] authority is a matter of having a right to direct the actions of some group, democracy is reflexive authority – the generation of authoritative directives by those who will be subject to them. The say in determining a decision that democracy confers is a say in determining what one will do or allow as a member of a group.

Citizens and residents are subject to the authority of the constitution, non-resident, non-citizens are not. This isn’t to say that there are not good moral and epistemic reasons to consult widely with outsiders, there surely are! It is just to say that they need not be included within the People. So non-resident non-citizens should be represented in some way, but probably should not have voting rights in a People’s Constitutional Convention.

Thus far I have treated the People in terms of existing adults, whether citizen or not, resident or not, but ‘the People’ denotes an intergenerational community that exists through time and the decisions, perhaps particularly constitutional decisions, that we make now will shape the world that future generations of UK inherit. If we think about children first as an existent future generation of adult citizens, it is clear first that they have important interests at stake and second that their lives, values and self-understandings as political agents will be significantly shaped by the constitutional character of the UK. Saying simply that they can change the constitution when they reach adulthood fails to acknowledge the fact that they have interests at stake now and that much of their political identity as citizens will already have been formed by then. For these reasons I think that the People needs to encompass the representation of children.

What of not yet existent future generations whom we can envisage only as an indeterminate abstract collective of the yet to be born? It is clear that they, like non-resident non-citizens, will be affected by our decisions – perhaps vitally in respect of whether we include significant environmental norms in any constitution – but should they be represented? In relevant ways, this case looks like the temporal equivalent of the spatial case of non-resident non-citizens and I am inclined to think that they should be treated in the same way, that is, as having rights to make representations to a People’s convention but not be represented within the decision-making People.

If this is cogent, the People for the purpose of a constitutional convention cannot be restricted simply to resident adult citizens. And this expansion of the People has implications for the design of a constitutional convention as well. In order to ensure that the relevant classes of persons are appropriately ‘present’, it is sensible to adopt a design that includes at least some element of structured random selection so that there are not only resident citizens present but also resident non-citizens and non-resident citizens as well as some element of inclusion of governmental representatives such as a Children’s Ombudsman. I therefore favour – in this respect at least – the approach used in Ireland’s recent convention, as discussed by Alan Renwick, as the best way forward for a People’s convention to accommodate an appropriately expansive understanding of the People.

[1] For a fuller discussion, see David Owen, ‘Transnational Citizenship and the Democratic State’ Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 14: 5, 2011, pages 641-663.

[2] For related observations on access to citizenship for residents, See David Owen (2013) ‘Citizenship and the marginalities of migrants’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 16 (3): 26-343 & (2014) ‘Republicanism and the Constitution of Migrant Statuses’

17 (1): 90-110.

[3] Ian Shapiro The Moral Foundations of Politics (New Haven, Yale University Press) pp.219-20 as well as Robert Goodin ‘Enfranchising All Affected Interests, And Its Alternatives’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (1): 40-68.

Demos Problems and the European Union: An Exercise In Contextual Democratic Theory

by David Owen, Anali Hrvatskog Politološkog Društva (English), vol. 10, No. 1 (2013), pp 7-23.

Debates concerning the ‘democratic deficit’ have been a prevalent feature of the normative literature on the European Union, but rather less attention has been paid to ‘demos problems’ constructed by the normative ordering of the EU and what such problems reveal about the nature of democratic citizenship in the EU, the character of the EU as a normative order and the institutional character of the relationship between the constitution of the EU as a normative order and as a structure of political incentives. This article addresses this topic by focusing on one such ‘demos problem’.

Read this article now at Citizenship Observatory.

Reflections on the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2014

By Mark Frank, PhD Student in Politics & International Relations and WebScience.

On the 21st to 23rd of May I attended the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2014  (CEDEM 2014) in Krems in Austria.  I was there because they accepted a short paper (what they call a reflection) written by myself and Phil Waddell.  As far as I know, no one from Southampton, much less PAIR, has ever attended CEDEM although it has been going every year since 2008. So I thought it would be worth saying a bit about it.

Most of all – I highly recommend it.  The conference title is a pretty good description. So if you are interested in the interaction between the Internet and Democracy then this may be a good conference for you. It is organised by the Danube University of Krems – which is an interesting university. It is aimed at continuing education for working professionals – postgraduate only and specialising in short or masters’ courses with a lot of part-time and distance learning.  The main conference is always in Krems, although they also run an Asian version which moves from place to place.

It was a small conference (120 people and three tracks) and but very friendly and well-organised and of a high standard. As my interest is Open Data I concentrated on that track and found the majority of the papers to be valuable. With hindsight I think that ideally I would have spent more time in other sessions, as this track, while fascinating, was more technology oriented than I expected. For example a paper on ways of automatically assessing data quality and another comparing different platforms for presenting open data. The e-Democracy and e-Participation track was more concerned with the political implications of technology (this divide may reflect two different views of Open Data in the world at large). However, the keynote speakers and the brief presentations of the reflections presented a wide variety of perspectives on e-government from round the world. Alexander Gerber on Scientific Citizenship was a particular highlight, although I disagreed quite strongly with his thesis of upstream scientific engagement which seemed to imply that the direction of scientific research should be decided democratically. The small and specialist format seemed to permit keynote speakers who were less bland and more approachable than is often the case at large conferences.

The biggest benefit of any conference is always talking to the other attendees and here CEDEM 2014 really scored. The theme of the conference was well defined and not too broad so I found that I had common interests with almost everyone there. And everything about the three days made it easy to meet and talk. It is small and informal and there were numerous social events. The UK is a leader in Open Data and it is easy to neglect what is going on in the rest of the world. This was an excellent reminder that this is a truly global movement albeit with very different perspective in different countries.