“Basically a lot of people have to die…”

The final words of Marketa Mach on Digital Democracy, spoken at an informal tea and cake chat I held at my house one muggy Sunday morning. The recording of the whole thing can be heard here:

Why was I having tea and cake and talking Digital Democracy at 11am on a Sunday in Guildford?

Because I am a Commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy and I wanted my social media friends, who share my passion and value democracy, to have their say, and to be heard by everyone as well as the Commission. Cake seemed a great enabler! And the informality of my house on a Sunday I hope encourages relaxed chat, where the truth will out.

What was discussed?

Well, I seeded the conversation by putting up these two things on the wall, one is a list of bullet points the Commission is officially focusing on, the other is the list of topics we seem to return to time after time as a Commission:

photo(4)photo(3)I would recommend listening to the SoundCloud if you are keen to know what was discussed, as everyone will hear different things, and there was a LOT in there.

Why does anyone have to die?

Well, there was a topic that ran throughout the chat that was whether MPs should be trained in use of social media, or empowered, or whether there should be a job description with competencies for those who represent us, or whether there should be mentoring of MPs by social media literati, or whether there should be champions etc etc. But at the same time we know that this really is a temporary issue, and by the time the 97ers (my own coined phrase referring to those born in 1997 or after who have grown up with social media) are in office, eg the Prime Minister, and their 97er peers are engaging as citizens, that much of this will become a non-conversation. So we are looking at an interim issue that has to be addressed… and Marketa just stated: “basically a lot of people have to die” … so, yes, they don’t really, we don’t make politicians represent us until they die, so more a political death – their death as our representative. Still, a great soundbite to finish this discussion on!

If you too are mad about this stuff, here’s how you can formally engage with the Commission

This website https://www.citizenspace.com/app/parliament/speakers-commission-on-digital-democracy is your route directly to the Commission, Commissioners and the Speaker. PLEASE USE IT!

Am I having any more tea and cake sessions at my house? Can you come? Can you host one?

I am having one more in August on the 19th, but I already have a full house, so no to anyone else joining us, and we have people skyping in too, but as today proved, more than three and one person at least gets to see nothing – which is bad.

But!! Anyone can have a tea and cake session, invite friends and what have you. All that I would ask, is that you please use the website to let the Commission know the outcomes. Also, please record it and share it on the hashtag #DDCEngage on social media platforms. It is so important that this is something as many people as possible take part in. And it is equally important that the Commission hears your voices.

I am all for democracy tea parties with cake. (My recipes for todays ones are here: Chocolate and Ginger cake with Orange icing and here Victoria Sponge)

Who was at this one, and how did I choose them?

They are listed below and just responded to my invitation that was open to all on Twitter and Facebook. It was an open invitation and the dates were agreed by Doodle as to who attended which session

Mar Dixon

Dr Sue Black

Marketa Mach

Jonathan Elmer

Jon Harman

Nik Butler

Are there any further outputs?

Not from me, from the Commission yes there is a report due to be published in January 2015. But I have asked all of those who attended today to write up their own thoughts and publish their thoughts on the hashtag #DDCEngage – so look out for that, and if you too do a tea party, please ask your attendees to do the same.

As they write, I will link them to the bottom of this post in the comments section.

What’s that hashtag again?

#DDCEngage

D-Day and Edward Snowden – Democracy, Freedom and Banishment

Today this happened:

  • I watched Edward Snowden speak on stage at the Personal Democracy Forum 2014 conference (via Google+)
  • I saw the standing ovation he received (twice) but could not see – if you are my Facebook friend you will see the video I made of his last seven brilliant minutes
  • I heard him pause the applause time and time again to add *just one more thing*
  • I had to look up from my phone this evening (google maps helping me navigate new bits of NYC) to wait for a New York fire truck reverse back into the station, as it did (and the firemen got out and took their clothes off) I saw this

IMG_8794 IMG_8795

  • I read this http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27700479 and remembered being on Omaha beach with my O/H last week, and seeing the beaches, wheat fields, cafes and farms involved in that heroic Allied determination to right injustice
  • I saw Parliamentary people photographed during the Queen’s speech with whom I had spoken at length about digital democracy
  • I also saw many people, working, living, sharing, eating, drinking, dating – first dating even! (I overheard a very awkward drawn out convo about where to have a drink before supper – but to be fair it is a challenge in New York to make such decisions)

But today was not an unusual day really. I go to conferences or speak at them fairly regularly, in cities across the world. My bag is democracy – so I get to hear a lot about it. But today I felt like New York had shown me something new.

Agreed it was just the host city for the Personal Democracy Forum conference, but that (amazing though the speakers were) was not it.

There is passion and healing, and a determination that is in so many ways similar to the French Resistance during the second world war. But not against the terrorism attacks it has faced and potentially still faces; to be honest they just say: “Life goes on” and flaunt their breathtaking buildings…

IMG_8797 IMG_8722No, this is a city hosting a conference that is about resisting surveillance, surveillance undertaken in the name of security and protection and only the most pretendy asleep person could ever really believe (I forgot to tell you the thing I learned today from John Perry Barlow, one time lyricist for the Grateful Dead, today interviewing Snowden)

There is passion about freedom of speech in America that is possibly unrivalled anywhere else in the world, granted; but with that passion there is responsibility, and what I heard today many times over, was that this is important, even if you think you do not have any worries yourself about someone reading your emails or metadata – you have a responsibility to everyone else you interact with. That is the deal-maker here.

Edward Snowden is banished from the Obama-dom of the US, and with typical aplomb, people are funding his gargantuan legal fees with their $10s and $20s, and auctioning his lanyard to raise funds for when he is attending in person on stage (God help the dude), standing to cheer him on …

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 00.37.05{Douglas Rushkoff is also a flipping legend, by the way}

… this man who sat at his desk and just could not morally carry on knowing what he knew and facing his fellow citizens day after day. His response to the crowd-funding announced today? Not everyone can afford to give money, so please help each other, finish the conversation he started, take the time to look up the Reset the Net campaign – encrypt encrypt encrypt

It is not for us. It is for those we know and have yet to meet, the next generations and to take away the temptation from future governments.

This brings me back to the present day, with my own role as a Commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy.

The last meeting I had was with those people in Parliament paraded out for the Queen’s Speech. They too were passionate, and they too had concerns – albeit in a very British way, the common cry was something along the lines of: It cannot be a democracy if we give all of the data we could gather on every citizen to an MP. Because if we do so, when they are next campaigning, they will take that information and target *say* Cynthia at number 23 who likes cycling and sheep with a special leaflet, covered in sheep, about cycle lanes. That is not democracy, that way the same person or party gets elected time after time, and this is unfair and terrifying.

It may well be that our elected representatives need to know what we really give a toss about, and that we are able to engage in game-changing Parliamentary decisions about those things without having to flick out of Facebook; but if this is done by data, by digital information mining, it cannot be undone.

Democracy is hard. Democracy in a digital and socially digital world is harder.

I want a conference in the UK, like PDF – that relentlessly addresses these challenges. Not just highlighting them, not just giving them air and sunshine, how do we actually do this? It is going to change, what are we going to do? Every single year, putting our democratic toes to the flames. Our Democracy-Day…

Democracy is my passion. Banishment is archaic. Freedom has a price.

The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is important (UK people) and we have this year to set good things in motion, here is how to engage (please do join in, everyone around the world).

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}

IMG_9302

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(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 🙂

 

Hashtag Legislation

Background noise for those who don’t know me or follow every single thing I do or join: I am on this and am writing about some of the stuff that comes out and sharing opps to join in too.

We heard evidence being given today on making laws in a digital age, aka Legislation. “Giving evidence” is another phrase for those who have a proven track record or knowledge in the space we are casing, stroking our collective chins and mumbling, telling us everything they think we should know from their years and years of detailed work – in 15 minutes. I know, not perfect but there it is. (I think that is why they invite the empassioned to be commissioners, this is like catnip to us – a whiff of *new*… ‘mazing). But we don’t *just* do that, we also …

(This is the only image I could find for stroking chin looking serious, on open licence, apologies – but ice skating can be fun)

… read everything that comes in from everyone over the course of the evidence process. (See my previous post for the timeline of topics, but you can pretty much join in whenever, if there is a soapbox, we will gladly standby and listen – mainly because we want to be on your soapbox with you. So long as it is about Digital Democracy obviously). So nothing is done based on 15 minutes and a short heated debate, but it does actually require you to send your stuff in digitaldemocracy@parliament.uk, or chat on the forum <- bit rubbish in there, come on real people, this is properly the time to stop whispering behind your hand and chuck your milk; stuff is going to happen here, you can help. I’ll stop hectoring…

Anyway, today we heard from people who know a *lot* about Legislation. I mean this space of civic society is quite incestuous, it is a small world, luckily growing larger (go get on your soapbox and make it bigger…) and of course any discussion on Legislation without John Sheridan would be a discussion that is pretty pointless. Or so I thought, I mean John knows everything, and he is passionate and he can analyse and apply Boolean logic to the Statute Book for God’s sake – his life, like mine and digi democ, is dedicated to this legislation topic. He does lots of diagrams that look like this:

… although that is a social media diagram from Wikipedia and way more simple than John’s, his are too scary for pre-watershed. I can honestly tell you that his visualisation of the affect of an amendment to an Act, was basically a GIANT SCRIBBLE, that was drawn properly and could justify itself. The most scary scribble in the world – and it even took the Speaker back into his pre-Speaker days (I think).

But John is just a piece of this puzzle I thought I knew pretty well, from reading John’s stuff. But then, these amazing men (who are dressed beautifully but ridiculously, please do not change, I absolutely love having men/women that dress up for work and I am so totally not lying, Parliamentary dress is something we must treasure forever, like paper, ink and embossed logos… but I digress) explain the process of amending a Bill; making a change to something that has already been enshrined in Law. They were so …

… about the process they absolutely believed in, but also knew absolutely to be outdated and irrelevant to the people who needed to know.

Cue my lesson number one: This is not a case of just pointing out the bleeding obvious (which to be fair has been the case across government/Parliament-ish for the last decade+). In Parliament at least they have slashed the thorn trees to the best of their ability (not a green field yet, obvs) and they are facing the granite wall of history. How the holy f*ck are we going to deal with this, I mean seriously…

We had at the table today, five dedicated people who have been active in this digi democ space from a point of law, preeettttyyy much since they learned to read, I think. In addition to the Commissioners and Speaker.

As I listened to this insanely complex process of legislation, the paper annotations that are recorded studiously, drafted meticulously, the amendments that are processed now against Laws passed in the 19th Century to address issues we face nowadays with firearms and knives on streets, for example. There are no limits to the number of amendments to a Bill, so basically we are updating the manual when the toaster just doesn’t work any more. this analogy is not mine, it was from today though <- perfect.

I was sitting next to MPs who groaned in acknowledgement of the time, the ridiculous process and effort they had to go through to recommend that something change in law to make life better, in a legal way, for their constituents. The *time* our democratically elected representatives spend on this …

And so I suddenly learned lesson number two today:

This is not about getting Mary next door to comment on a Bill about firearms, that’s a thing we need to address of course – but if the MPs we actually elect are bound up in this crazy web of amendments, and not actually representing the people because they are having to actually make up for the fact that they have not learned every Bill and Amendment when they chose to go into elected politics, I am not actually sure anyone except John could do this anyway.

Freeing the MPs from paper-bound process is as vital to democracy as engaging Mary in gang warfare (law), so to speak.

Action required from you, dear reader:

Having read all of that, these are the questions the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy have out for consideration at the mo:

  • Could technology improve the access to and usability of both legislation and the law-making process for the citizen, representatives and professionals (such as lawyers), and if so do you have any suggestions?
  • Should you need to be a lawyer to understand and use an Act?
  • Should technology be used to integrate citizens’ views better into the legislative process? At what stage of the legislative process would this work best? How could the Public Reading Stage be improved?
  • Are there any examples from other parliaments/democratic institutions in the UK or elsewhere of using technology to enhance legislation and the legislative process, which the Commission should consider?

You don’t have to answer them all, of course, just tell us what you think we should consider/remember/be wary of/or of course what you think we should JFD. You can submit your evidence (thoughts/opinions) by email to digitaldemocracy@parliament.uk but there is also a forum if you prefer some chatter: although all I can see so far is Nick Booth commenting and I know him so that isn’t fair – go play in the forum, this affects you all. Please? And actually, riff on the MPs, because I really think we could have a huge impact by digitising their official work. I know loads of them and they are not all gin and jags, most are like me: still up at 1am writing about this stuff.

Here is the next post on Scrutiny