This week I’ve had the opportunity to chair two round table events for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. The first saw me leading a session in Chesterfield, primarily with people who had learning disabilities and/or other disabilities, and the second saw me chairing a table discussion at a meeting with the Digital Marketing sector in London.
Both groups had similar views, thoughts and feedback, and here is my summary of the week’s key themes.
In order to bring digital democracy practices and tools into parliament, we need to recognise that we’re really talking about a change programme and not a technology project. MPs and Peers need to be supported and empowered to understand how digital is a change for good and tools and training need to be provided so that this culture change brings an increase in efficiency, interaction and representation.
2. Process & process re-engineering
In order to help positive change happen and to ensure that digital democracy actions are successful, we need to go back to basics and look at what is important to parliamentarians and citizens, and see how digital can make that more effective. The roundtable in London suggested the Commission could host a process re-engineering workshop to help us.
3. Opaque and confusing language
Everybody I spoke to at these roundtables said that if Parliament wants to be more inclusive through the use of digital media, then the language it uses has to be modernised too. People want to hear Parliament speak the everyday language that they use in real life. In London the group said that using old-fashioned language actually disenfranchises people as it makes them feel stupid. Modern language is needed to make it easy and simple to engage with what Parliament is doing and what Parliamentarians are saying.
4. “What if Parliament was a brand?” – idea for a competition
Modern businesses and organisations know that communications in 2014 are human, personal, and interactive, where staff are trusted and empowered to converse for their employer. An idea was suggested for a competition where people – brand agencies, students, voluntary organisations, everybody – could decide what ‘Parliament as a brand’ would look like.
5. Using digital to make Parliament more accessible to everyone
In both Chesterfield and London people said to me that they think MPs and Peers should spend more time out and about meeting people and discussing what ‘normal’ people are thinking and feeling. Both videos and video conferencing could be used to help people see and hear more about Parliament, and video conferencing could be used to help MPs and Peers engage with Parliament when they are not in Westminster, and citizens when they are. All kinds of digital channels provide enormous opportunity for opening up Parliament and helping more people to discuss ideas and issues with more Parliamentarians.This was paraphrased as “Parliament is something you do, not a place where you go” – a concept I love.
6. More awareness and information
There was a plea from everyone this week that people want more information about what’s happening in Parliament, when sessions (such as Select Committees) are being held, and where people can make an impact on decisions that are being made. People also wanted to be given a decent amount of time to respond.
People were in favour of adverts on Facebook promoting opportunities to have a say in parliament, and the use of non digital media such as TV news or newspapers too. In Chesterfield people said that the voluntary and community organisations who work with disabled people could be supported (with help and grants) to gather feedback and to help people who are disengaged with Parliament to have their voices heard.
7. Don’t leave anyone behind
There are 11m people in the UK who don’t have basic online skills and those that do have skills need access to the internet if they are to engage with Parliament online. Even for people who do have access via smartphones and low-cost broadband packages, using lots of data and downloads can be very expensive. People asked that Parliament consider the digitally excluded, the cost of digital for people on low incomes, and consider improving non-digital channels at the same time.
8. Changing behaviour is hard
A phased roll-out to a change programme is a good idea. People at the London roundtable suggested that a proper plan is needed to help move ahead with digital engagement. Role models and peer (small p) support will be important to show how digital can be used to make Parliament more accessible as well as being manageable by MPs too.
Everyone I’ve met this week was interested in democracy when they came into the room, and were interested and EXCITED about being more engaged with Parliament when they left.
I’m telling the people we’re consulting that The Speaker is keen to have some pragmatic and solid actions in the report we’ll be publishing early in 2015, and after this week I know we won’t be short on ideas. Thank you to everyone who took part with such enthusiasm, thought, and creativity.
Please do get in touch with me or the Commission if you’ve got something you’d like to share with us. All the information can be found on the Digital Democracy Commission webpages here.