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This is all true and Paul is exactly right about the issue of transparency especially. We might feel inclined to be more sympathetic to the plight of governments and all this listening they are supposed to be doing if they were a little more open about who they are conversing with, why and with what outcome. As we all know, not all conversations with government are equal, an inevitability which tends to erode a little Paul's attempt to defend governments from the sometimes unfair criticism to which they are subjected on this issue.

Couple of other points. I've spent over 20 years working on all aspects of 'consultation' and listening methods for government and my conclusion is that it's a little murkier than Paul's observations suggests. From those situations where frankly it's more a dialogue of the deaf than anything remotely resembling what I think a conversation should be, to those situations where the government listens to people about issues on which it has already determined its view, the empirical track record for governments in this field is patchy, at best.

I'm inclined to follow the Stephen Coleman line (fornmer eDemocracy professor at Oxford and now Professor of Political Communications at Leeds)that suggests the kind of conversations needed to truly start closing the democratic deficit are qualitatively different to many (not all - I admit) of the initiatives governments use to claim they are listening.

In some cases, they simple aren't (listening, that is). The basic premise of a conversation is the prospect that each side might think differently by the end of the exchange than they did when they started. I'm not confident that principle is always the starting point for governments, or at least not often enough.

We have much further to go and the new tools of social networking and collaboration will be central to the task.

I think it is true both that Paul was generous in his description of how much listening is going on in government, and that there much more of it with a much more positive attitude to it than there was a few years ago. But though there is a very real wish to listen, governments still struggle to hear and to know how to improve their listening skills. So I strongly agree that there is much further to go - not least to get beyond the community of the articulate. But even then, I still think the problem I discuss in this post remains. Politics is essentially about finding ways of making complicated and inter-dependent decisions across a wide range of interests. Doing that is inherently hard (which is one reason why it's so easy to criticise politicans). Doing politics differently may be very attractive, but that doesn't mean that what is being done is any less political.

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