The Key Ideas

#23 Create a network of ‘tings’: forums to discuss or create ideas driven and owned by citizens

Scotland should create a system for influencing and shaping the nation which is in the control of citizens. The name 'ting' has been increasingly used to describe this idea.

Ting is an old Norse word for a kind of informal council of citizens or their representatives. It involved people gathering at a specific place to discuss and make collective decisions about whatever they wanted to discuss. Tings were common in Scotland a millennium ago and there are still places whose name is derived from 'ting' (such as Dingwall). Reinventing Tings could prove to be a remarkable democratic innovation in Scotland.

A 21st century ting would be a gathering of people to consider a subject, not just to discuss it but to come up with ideas and solutions and test them. For this to happen it must be linked to a source of power, at either national or local level, and must be informed by the understanding of whatever issue is under discussion. It would be a place (which could be anything from an existing town hall, to a dedicated venue, to a converted bus, or even an online space) where people could get together and discuss specific issues. Eventually everyone in Scotland would be close to a local Ting; the first stop for public service providers to collaborate with citizens in re-imaging and designing public services. They would evolve as we all re-learn citizenship; people would decide how they wanted to use them and adapt as necessary. Ideas can come from anywhere: citizens, community groups (or a club, association, or group of local businesses), or public service to propose a project. This would then be advertised at the Ting and people would be invited to come together to discuss it. The Ting could then produce as many ideas or thoughts on this as those who participate come up with. It might seek to come to a single consensus solution, or be happy testing a number of less well-developed ideas—what is crucial is that it is citizen-led and adapts thusly.

There are two structurally important aspects of Tings. First, there would need to be a means of feeding these ideas into government in an effective and meaningful way—these are not just talking shops but ideas factories. Sharing the learning from Tings will be important: when there are sufficient Tings in the network, dealing with a wide range of issues at all levels, the accumulated learning will help inform politicians about the issues that matter. The one immediate route would be for Tings to be networked with the National Policy Academies—if a Ting comes up with a great idea for boosting tourism nationally, there would be a place to take that idea for further development. Another route would be for Tings to invite politicians and civil servants (or local government officers since many ideas may be locally focussed) to come and hear a presentation of the ideas involved. There are myriad possibilities for feeding ideas into government and other decision-making bodies.

The second important aspect of Tings is that they need to be well networked with each other. Tings should be able to adopt projects being run by other Tings, take their ideas, and develop them further, or in different directions. It should be a network of places which build up the capacity of citizens to shape their own society for us all (including children and young people) and to learn to be active citizens. But these must also be seen as incredibly valuable resources, harnessing the creativity and ideas of citizens to help build a better Scotland.

Tings must be open, neutral places not dominated by partisan politics—but designed to prevent ‘neutral’ meaning a recreation of traditional power structures which overwhelmingly suit the opinions of white, non-disabled, straight men. They must also be trusted spaces where people not only feel able to participate without feeling threatened but feel that there is genuine equality in access to them, and that the work they do is properly valued. They will need facilitation and support as they grow and define themselves. The development of Tings should become a primary responsibility of the proposed Democracy Academy.