Waitrose nudges everyday democracy shocker
by Charlie Tims
Now then. When you pass though the checkout in the new Waitrose in Rickmansworth you're given a token. On leaving the supermarket you pass by three containers. Each container belongs to a different local charity. My dad told me this after I made him watch the Everyday Democracy video that I have entered in the National Democratic Convention's Film Festival (Please vote for it). Customers have the option of depositing their token in either of the containers. Apparently at the moment most of the counters are in the MIND box. At the end of each month the charity with the most counters receives £1000. Then the containers are emptied and they begin again.
A few years ago we wrote a pamphlet called people make places. We were so hacked off with the bland empty spaces being built around Britain in the name of 'public space' that we thought we should draw attention to some of the places that did actually support sharing and interaction between different groups of people. Even if they were places we didn't like. We found a supermarket in Swindon who were running school fetes, speed dating, wine tasting, food festivals and after school clubs.
The Waitrose experiment is intriguing, because it basically takes the turn-yourself-into-a-community-asset thing to a whole new level – they're beefing up their brand with the experience of local democracy. The experience of Democracy is something that they think people value. That's cool, not because it will make people feel better about Waitrose and less about the plight of small shopkeepers etc, but because it's a tiny indicator of the appetite that people have for the experience of a more intimate, democratic culture.
It's also a bit nudge like. People aren't given the option to have the token, they're given the token with their receipt – you have to put it somewhere, so it might as well be one of the boxes. The default option is to create a public good.
When nudge and liberal paternalism make me feel a bit miserable, it's not because they explicitly slam individuals for making poor choices as individuals, but because they implicitly slam our ability to collectively solve these problems. But i guess for the time being I'm happy to compromise on nudging democracy.
p.s. I know there's a crunch on so it's a bit much to be expecting people to posh it at Waitrose to get their democracy. If you're looking for a cost effective way of getting involved sardines in brine (fill you up/high protein) are on at 35p a can.