Open Up! Digital Democracy Commission Report Launched

For just over a year I’ve been on The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy – it’s been inspiring, surprising and very interesting. Today we’ve launched our final report and a micro-site sharing with everyone our thoughts and our recommendations and linking to the responses and evidence we’ve had.

The report – Open Up! – has five key targets plus a number of recommendations which are a route map for the House of Commons to meet these targets:

  • By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does.
  • By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital.
  • The 2015 newly elected House of Commons should create immediately a new forum for public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons.
  • By 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.
  • By 2016, all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for reuse. Hansard should be available as open data by the end of 2015.

So what’s important to me?

One thing I was keen to do was to make sure that, as a Commissioner, I talked to people who didn’t currently participate in politics. I met lots of people who don’t vote, lots who didn’t know what an MP did, and one person who didn’t know how to vote. I found that by asking people what they wanted from Parliament they then became interested. I’m a massive believer that digital can reach people in new ways  – a “fully interactive and digital” Parliament will be on websites and online conversations where people already are. People won’t have to search for the work of Parliament, it will there in their online lives.

There’s going to be a lot of media (I’m guessing) about our recommendation that secure online voting should be an option for voters by 2020. But I hope people see the breadth of the report. If we can make this digital shift then we really will change the culture of Parliament and it will be more inclusive. People want proper dialogue between themselves and the people who are making decisions about the laws and rules that affect their lives.

The Commission is clear that this isn’t just about things that Parliament has to do by themselves. There are lots of things that tech companies, educators and the average person, can do. If we want Parliament to be more two-way there’s work there for people on both sides of that divide.

And, if we make Parliament better because it’s more digital then we need to make sure that this open and accessible democracy is inclusive to everyone even the 10 million people who can’t or don’t use the internet in the UK. We, the Commission, recommend that resources are made available so that local grassroots organisations can help local people to reap the benefits of these new digital channels – either with new skills or as intermediaries.

Digital inclusion is about:

  • Digital for people lives (saving money, looking for work, communicating, entertainment, et al)
  • Digital for public services
  • and now it’s about Digital for democracy.

In my day job I see the positive and transformative impact digital can have on people’s lives. If we can make Parliament digital and interactive it will make a significant, positive, transformative impact on our society and on our democracy. Let’s focus on a parliament fit for the future and stop talking about the past.

Please do read the full report.   And then let’s start a dialogue.  #digitaldemocracy @digitaldemocracyuk

Open Up! Watch Digital Democracy Commission launch live: Monday 26 January

I’ve been inspired and surprised by the comments and contributions we received on the Digital Democracy Commission. On Monday (from 0:01am) it’s your chance to read our final report and recommendations based on what we heard and our distillation of it.

The launch is on Monday 26th, 8.30/8.40am – 10.00am. It would be great to have you watching and asking questions.

Go to this Webcast Link to watch the launch from 8:30am – there won’t be any official speaking until 8.40am when I’ll be kicking things off and introducing The Speaker and the other Commissioners.

Please ask questions via #digitaldemocracy – there will be someone specifically feeding in questions, so keep them coming. We’re really keen to pull in people not just sitting (literally) in the Westminster bubble. There are three Digital Democracy Cafes being run by UK online centres in Stockport, Leeds, and Saltburn and they’ll be watching and tweeting and Facebooking along.

There is a live Facebook Q&A session with The Speaker, John Bercow, at 9:30am which you can log on to and pose any questions you have. You can find more info here

It will be great to have your questions and your thoughts online. I’ll blog again on Monday about the report in much, much, more detail. Enjoy!

Feeling good at the Digital Inclusion Forum

Last Friday I felt really happy. A great start to the New Year and a feeling that things were fresh and partnerships were warm and friendly. Part of this happy glow was as a result of the  Digital Inclusion Forum run by GDS (Government Digital Service) last Tuesday. It was a chance for the public/private/civil society partners signed up to the Digital Inclusion Charter to meet together for the first time in 2015.

It could have been a lot of boring people pushing their own agendas. It wasn’t. In fact, it was a refreshing update on digital inclusion activities and pledges, and something of a brainstorm on what more we can do – together – to step up activity over the next year. Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said 2015 was set to be a ‘phenomenal’ year for digital inclusion, and I think he could very well be right. (I hope so).

I was particularly interested to hear from Jon Rouse – Director General in Social Care at the Department of Health. He announced his role as a civil servant ‘champion’ working across government at a permanent secretary level – helping teams embed digital inclusion. He was clear he didn’t just want digital inclusion written into policies, he wants Government departments to DO THINGS, and make digital inclusion part of their DNA – standing for Digital Needs Attention! (Jon’s joke). He was genuinely and movingly passionate about how he’s seen digital transform lives in the care sector, including his work with Dementia Friends.

Anna Easton from BT talked about her work on the Connected Society programme, and BT’s new basic broadband offer at £9.95 per month. Nick Williams from Lloyds talked about their Small Business Digital Skills Matrix, their Digital Champions, and their new ambitions.

Meanwhile, Rob Trimble was also on hand, an old friend from the Bromley By Bow Centre – an innovative East London community organisation with a UK online centre.  He called on the people in the room to concentrate on embedding what already exists, and make real use of the trusted intermediaries and individuals already working with hard-to-reach communities.  And he stressed the need to make our digital inclusion projects transformative – not just transactional – so they would have a lasting impact which addressed wider social needs.

Like Rob, I was on hand to talk about how we achieve mass and targeted action through local partners, match-making national initiatives with local knowledge and personal delivery. The fact we all have to face is that digital inclusion is getting harder – there are no more low hanging fruit to easily pick off the most accessible branches. Now we have to personalise our motivation and inspiration, combat specific fears and barriers, and as always we’re looking at a long learning journey – not just to get someone online but to keep them there, too.

I was lucky enough to be on a Q&A panel with Francis Maude, Argos, Accenture and GDS, and the discussion was lively and positive. In his conclusion, Francis Maude told us that the bottom line was that more people getting online lifted our economy.

There was a lot of experienced digital inclusion folk in that room, and lots of fresh eyes and brains – we know so much of what needs to be done and we know that we can do more by working together. We can inspire the staff of big employers to be Digital Friends and to help family to use the web a bit better, but we can also target those energies to the groups who we know are most likely to need support. As just one example, I asked Francis Maude if he could make sure all low skilled contractors working in Government buildings (such as cleaners, porters, catering staff) had basic digital skills via their procurement contracts. He nodded.

A new year, a new dawn …. (and some things stay the same) …. and I’m feeling good.

New year, new priorities

January is a time we traditionally all stop and think about where we’re going, why and how.  So – in keeping with tradition – this blog sets out Tinder Foundation’s 2015 resolutions – and solutions. And we’ve got big plans.

For us, 2015 is a transformative year that will see us fighting the good digital fight on two fronts. Digital inclusion remains our core business, and this year we plan to do even more of it – working with our brilliant local and national partners. However, we also want to expand and grow the other parts of our strategy in 2015  – and do digital (and social) good that goes beyond digital participation.

1. The Digital inclusion front

As regular readers will know, the key ingredients in digital inclusion are motivation, skills and access, and – as ever – Tinder Foundation, the UK online centres network, and our partners, will be doing all three.

  • Motivation-wise – our next campaign Be Online takes place from 23 February – 8 March.  It follows a massively successful Get Online Week back in October, and will focus on health and skills for work.  It’s a great opportunity for partners to work with us to spread the digital inclusion word, and help inspire more people to see what possibilities open up when you’re online. Hundreds of event holders have already signed up to take part, and packs will start heading out early next week. If you’ve made a resolution to do more for digital inclusion this year, get in touch and get involved.
  • In terms of Skills, it’s our job this year to ensure we create ‘confident and independent internet users’ with a little bit of help from our learning platform Learn My Way, which continues to develop to reflect the needs of both learners and centres. Yes, that still means online basics like getting to grips with keyboard, mouse and touchscreen. But it also means helping people develop skills that they continue to use to help and empower themselves – from shopping, to banking, keeping in touch with our new email course, and even democracy – taking part in local and national politics via digital means.  Watch this very space for more before the end of the month…
  • When it comes to Access, I’m looking forward to seeing the results of two exciting pilots in the first quarter of 2015 – our project with Vodafone to see how mobile broadband can affect internet use, and the Internet Start project with TalkTalk offering customers a cheap device and free broadband trial. It’s only with the support of key technology partners that we can crack the access gap, and I’d like to see this kind of project scaled up for UK online centres customers – and others – before the year is out.

2.  Doing good via digital – the second front

Just as exciting as our plans for digital inclusion are our wider plans for doing good via digital – a new strand of our strategy that will grow throughout 2015. In essence, we want to address social challenges with digital solutions, and you can read more here in our five year strategy, published at the end of last year.

  • Digital health has been an area Tinder Foundation has been working on for some time now, in partnership with NHS England (see my latest health blog here). The NHS does a great deal of social good, but its survival and development is a very real social challenge, and digital is one of the solutions I really believe can help it thrive. By April of this year (for instance) all GPs will have to offer at least 30% of appointments online, and I think Tinder Foundation is uniquely placed to support both GPs and patients reap the rewards of online health. The models piloted within our programme – like the work of Heeley Development Trust with Dr Ollie Hart – is something we plan to build on during 2015.
  • English My Way launched last year, and has already helped hundreds of people use free digital resources to get to grips with English as their second language. This is just part of the work UK online centres do across the country to support integration, facilitate understanding and build successful local communities. Digital is a gateway to community participation and cohesion, and it’s another area we want to explore, track and share this year.
  • Digital access to learning is a third strand for social good we will focus on for 2015.  I wrote back in December about our Innovate UK research and development project, which will see us look in detail at how we might improve access to and participation in wider community and adult learning by using digital tools.

Beyond these examples, this year Tinder Foundation is resolved to continue exploring how we can work with hyper-local partners in the very poorest of communities, reaching out to those experiencing the biggest challenges in their lives. We already work in pockets with the long term unemployed, people struggling with little money or debt, homeless people, and people with long term and debilitating health issues. What more can we do to make good things happen for those people, with the help of digital technology? How can we identify best practice, share it, and most importantly scale it across the country?

As ever, let me have your thoughts and ideas.  And let’s see where 2015 takes us – blog by blog – over the next exciting 12 months.

Happy New Year.