In the decade since the banking crisis standards in public life have declined while misuse of data analytics to manipulate the economy and elections has been largely unchecked.
Soaring income and wealth inequality, confusion over the role of the public sector and digital media echo chamber effects have helped populists win influence and power.
A democratic deficit is growing while trust in our institutions, particularly among young people, has reached an historic low. Our political system is proving unfit for purpose just as we most need it to respond to a new class of superwicked problems.
These not only require many people to change their views and behaviour, but demand urgent resolution despite there being no central authority to deal with them. The decisions of those in leadership positions are often also their cause.
Exeter sits at the centre of one of the most complex local governance contexts in the country. Half the city’s workforce have no say in choosing its council while most public policy is determined by voters who live elsewhere.
Many people cross multiple electoral boundaries on routine journeys between widely distributed home, work and leisure destinations, fragmenting the franchise and making it difficult to keep up with decisions that directly affect their lives.
Yet the city region must confront a cluster of cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder problems covering transport and mobility, health and social care, housing and infrastructure, education and training, and productivity and economic development while addressing community wellbeing, cultural diversity and risk resilience.
In particular, policy-makers seek to position Exeter as a global leader in sustainable living, citing the international standing of the Met Office in climate change research as its credentials. However, many obstacles to becoming a world-class environmental exemplar remain.
Recent Met Office forecasts predict that we are likely to breach the internationally agreed 1.5°C warming limit within four years, reinforcing the need to rapidly reduce our city’s carbon footprint. Yet attempts to follow other places and pass climate emergency resolutions that commit Exeter to zero emissions by 2030 have failed.
If reality is to match rhetoric, significant local system change challenges must be met.
Attempts to address such problems are hampered by the way public policy is determined and delivered across overlapping jurisdictions by multiple authorities with often conflicting political perspectives and strategic interests.
Other powerful, yet unaccountable, organisations and actors also significantly influence decision-making which affects us all.
Active participation in civil society is an important remedy for these ills, among others. It critically depends on people understanding complex processes while also being sufficiently well-informed about what is taking place to engage with local democracy and intervene in the interests of their family, friends and communities.
From parliament to parish council the transparency on which active participation depends, and on which trust in government is founded, relies on ready access to accurate, relevant, timely information about who is deciding what on whose behalf and how the bill for these decisions will be paid.
Good quality local investigative news reporting and analysis can address many of these issues by providing a curated source of spatially-specific insight, while also representing the interests of communities and reflecting their cultural life.
It can hold wealth, power and the influence of individuals and institutions to account by scrutinising, investigating and reporting on the activities of government, business and charities and those that lead them.
However changes in the structure, ownership, role and reach of print and digital media have eroded the capacity of the Fourth Estate to perform these essential public interest tasks, and the editorial independence of existing local media titles is at risk from advertisers, owners and corporate shareholders.
An agile new form of journalism has emerged in response to these challenges. More than a hundred independent community news titles have appeared across the UK in the past few years, some online only, others in regular print editions.
All avoid the pitfalls of traditional local media business models to deliver free and open community journalism that has the public interest at its heart.
Exeter Observer is one of them.
An antidote to existing local media models
Exeter Observer is editorially and financially independent, which means we produce and distribute our content without political or commercial bias.
We aim to deliver investigative journalism and in-depth articles rooted in community interest with real relevance and impact while informing and empowering our readers.
We observe industry best-practice principles, are fully regulated, and are enabled by ordinary people who share our mission to strengthen civil society and help people participate more effectively in local democracy.
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News ⁄ Climate & environment
Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital says new parking "temporary" but no end-date given in planning application and no hard evidence of need provided.
Analysis ⁄ Democracy & governance
Council's executive now possesses majority on city planning committee, with council leader and planning portfolio holder also included despite national guidance, offering basis to challenge decisions and increasing democratic deficit.
News ⁄ Transport & mobility
Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".
Analysis ⁄ Climate & environment
Exeter City Futures' carbon reduction plan ignores over a million tonnes of carbon emissions and massively underestimates the challenges facing the city. First in a series examining its flaws by Fridays For Future youth climate activists.
Analysis ⁄ Democracy & governance
Exeter City Council has convened an unelected board that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and is taking responsibility for major policies which will determine Exeter's future.