Hashtag Scrutiny

This is the third blog post in a series I have been writing in my role on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. It may help to quickly scan the previous two (as with the legislation post, I will scatter kittens and nice things throughout, as I write loads):

Hashtag Democracy

Hashtag legislation

We are currently calling for evidence on scrutiny’s role in democracy, I shall remind you of how to do this at the end of this post. Earlier this month the commission met to hear from people (witnesses) who gave us more detailed background based on their knowledge. Specifically we were supposed to be talking about:

  • Select Committees
  • Examples from other countries
  • Open data
  • Information from government
  • Parliamentary Monitoring Organisations (PMOs)
  • KPIs for MPs

But actually the conversation we ended up having was much more fundamental than that, and this I thought would be useful to share with you.

Parliament’s role and government’s role

Very few people, in fact it is probably so few it may as well be none except those who work in it, know the difference between the role of Parliament and the role of Government (indeed the difference between Government and government). Knowing that Parliament’s role is to scrutinise the work of the Government, and that we (citizens in a democracy) can in turn scrutinise the work of Parliament is a fact lost on most of the population of this country.

{kitten break}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when you start to look at the vital part scrutiny must play in democracy – and the enhanced opportunities offered through digital tools, communities and reach – it is immediately confused by having to assume that no one will really know where to start, nor do many of them want to.

Research conducted by the Hansard Society paints a gloomy view of engagement and enthusiasm for politics. On the 30th April 2014 they will publish their 11th Audit of Political Engagement, should you wish to interrogate some findings for yourself, but it pretty much rides out what you would expect:

  • few people want to be involved in decision-making
  • parliament should take responsibility for enabling those who do, as well as reaching those who can’t be bothered, (but would if they knew there was something being decided on that they actually care about)
  • the language of Parliament is alienating: whips, select committees etc
  • the older people get the more interested they are in politics and law; conversely the older they are right now, the less digitally engaged they are

So really this is going to be much more about outreach than making channels available to those battering the doors down to find a way in.

Conundrums

The social media led communities of the digital world are once again the game-changers – and what we are hearing over and again is that when online communities are actively sought out for engagement with a specific topic, the response and engagement is immediate, relevant and useful to everyone involved. Bit of a No S**t S******k moment, right? Seems obvious…

Parliament is already doing some of this, we have seen small scale projects having great success, but with very limited resource applied to them, they have a digital outreach team and all sorts of disparate stuff the Speaker detailed last year when he announced this Commission in a speech to the Hansard Society:

Digital democracy should thus be seen as the complementary counterpart of the outreach efforts which I have spent much of my four years as Speaker seeking to promote. It is a form of in-reach, encouraging and enabling the public to become more involved in the work of Parliament and Parliament responding as a result. Historically, in-reach has largely consisted of voting once every four or five years. For representative democracy to thrive it has to evolve and there has to be a step change improvement in its responsiveness to the electorate and the country at large.

{flowers from the Eden Project break}

IMG_9586

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a sort of earnest, and perhaps wishful, fashion he later went on to state:

If we get this right, then the Speaker’s Commission would provide a blueprint for action covering, among other topics, ways to bring to the heart of our democracy the things that really matter to our citizens – how to put right grievances, how to turn law-making into something that really involves the people who will be affected – and not just a conversation between interest groups and political parties – and much more that we have yet to discover.

So far so “Yes”, obviously, yet it seems the more we dig, the more basic it is – digital is not the solution to a broken process, a cry screeched far too many times into the echo chamber, but never more apt here. The challenges are mighty, resources are few and the real action needs to be around sharing in the world where people are communing around topics (on and offline). Then in turn ensuring that this engagement, once won, has the opportunity to add value.

Engagement, digital or otherwise, that turns out to be pointless to the person dedicating their time and energy is not only an expensive waste of time, it will also actively damage any further attempts to garner feedback or opinion. Worse, it will create an environment of suspicion and distrust, further damaging the vestige of democracy.

Red Pill/Blue Pill

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Morpheus, The Matrix

I seem to be using this quote a lot recently, so apologies to those who may read more than one thing I write (although I know this post has been LABORIOUS… sorry! But it is so important to share this cogitating with you all)…

For the Digital Democracy Commission I see the Red pill/Blue pill choice to be:

Blue: Use the opportunity to shine a big fat mirror at the issues and walk away – wake up next year and carry on. No further damage done, nothing broken, also nothing fixed.

Red: Be bloody brave, lay out that blue print to citizen re-engagement in democratic process, but ensure that it is written in stone that this goes hand in hand with revision of process through Parliament and Government – so that engaged people really can change the world.

{Chief Librarian break}

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(This is John Pullinger, the legend photo accreditation at the end of my post on democracy)

How can you get involved?

I promised I would let you know how to get involved with all this, should you fancy. Here is a very lazy copy paste of the information on the Commission web pages:

These are the issues we would like to hear your views on:

  • The role of technology in helping Parliament and other agencies to scrutinise the work of government
  • The role of technology in helping citizens to scrutinise the Government and the work of Parliament
  • The nature and format of information and data about Parliament and government that is published online

It’s not necessary to respond to all of these. Feel free to concentrate on the issues you think are most important, or which you have most to say on.

We will publish evidence submitted on this site: please let us know if there is a reason you would prefer to submit evidence privately.

How to have your say

Contributions by email from everyone and in any format is welcome: videos, blog posts as well as more formal notes.

Deadline

Whilst it would help us to have received evidence on digital scrutiny by the end of May, we recognise that the themes overlap and you may prefer to cover two or more themes in a single response at any point over the next few months. We will shortly be publishing a single call for evidence covering our last three themes.

Further information

Until next time… bai🙂

 

One response

  1. Pingback: Calling all bedroom programmers – everywhere! « Emma Mulqueeny

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