Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

Last night Martha Lane Fox gave a knee trembler of a talk in the Science Museum. This was her Dimbleby Lecture and was her latest opportunity to use her position to put the clappers up the Establishment. If you have not seen it – do watch it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015

There is an article about it by the BBC and this is the petition she is asking everyone to sign to demand that DOT EVERYONE happens. Now I will not waste more words telling you my version of what she says – because she says it brilliantly. But what I am going to do is jump on the opportunity she very definitely gave me last night.

Let me explain.

I have known Martha for a few years now, and she has been a fearless and brilliant person relentless in her support of what I do, but not afraid to bark at me if I screw up. I got to know her when she started following me on twitter about six or seven years ago and I told her not to because it was terrifying, we have been friends ever since.

In advance of the lecture last night she asked me and a few of her brilliant friends look over what she was planning on saying. This began with a meeting at the House of Lords – she had me in the room with my heroes: Tony Ageh and Bill Thomson and I was ridiculously happy.

I have since had the tab on my computer open day and night with the google doc transcript of what she was going to say. Every now and again I would go in and have a look at how it was shaping up and see Rusbridger also reading it, or Tom Steinberg, and moments when I would watch her typing and hesitating, deleting and then genius words would flow.  Even her cats got in on the editing.

FullSizeRender

It was magical. And moving. But also funny. She sent me a text a few days ago saying: “You seem to be spending a lot of time looking at my lecture…” Poor MLF must have thought I was some silent judge-y teacher type, frowning at her work in silence. I wasn’t at all, I just kept the tab open to remind me to read every few days.

Thanks to her, and to the BBC Make it Digital team, the Managing Director of Young Rewired State (and my sister) Ruth Nicholls were also invited to the lecture. I was asked to attend the dinner afterwards (guestlist ridiculous, how on earth I got on there…) and then we retired for a final celebratory cocktail – and it was done. The lecture that is.

But what’s this noise in my inbox?

Today I have had a slew of people getting in touch. One of the reasons for this is that when Martha talks about women in technology, and how they need to be supported and showcased more, there is a cutaway to my face! I mean… yes cringe-making because I did not know, lucky I was not picking my teeth or yawning, but also, what a flipping gift! As Rory says:

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 14.37.33

I have no idea how that happened, but thank God it did. People are wanting to be in touch, people are reaching out to ME to see what they can do to help and be a part of what I am trying to do. This is completely new, and refreshing and overwhelming and … exactly what Martha wants to happen for every woman working against the odds in technology, indeed civic technology (worst of both worlds for funding!). So, thank you, Martha – I am going to Carpe Diem and take absolute advantage of the opportunity you have afforded me, and every other woman like me out there today.

Here is how you can help me right now

STUFF THAT COSTS MONEY

1. In Rewired State we have just launched a programme called the Data Citizen Project. Here is what we are going to do:

We propose to run a programme which will be implemented over the next five years, from 2015 to 2020. Its aim is to significantly increase the understanding and confidence of citizens in the UK with regards to use of personal data, ultimately leading to everyone being able to make better decisions about that data.

This will involve partners across health, education, finance, politics, travel and social sectors working with representative personas, developers, designers, universities, social anthropologists and partners who specialise in measurement and statistics. We aim to help citizens be in complete control of their data, give permission to all parties who wish to access it and know what they are doing with it.

We need more partners and sponsors for this five year programme. Follow the link, get a pack and see how you might be able to help.

2. In Young Rewired State we are running our 7th annual Festival of Code. This costs a BOMB as we do not charge the kids to attend, they have taught themselves how to code, why should we make them pay to meet each other and work on some cool stuff? Supporting young programmers should be a line in everyone’s CSR budget. We need more of them to fill our jobs, and we need to find and look after them, so that they can teach each other – there is no other way we are going to fill this critical skills gap. We need these kids. If you want to support the digital sector and civic action/”for good” things, then your name should be on this page – in lights.

PAY ME TO SPEAK!

I get asked at least four times a day to go and speak at en event, or be on a panel, or turn up to something interesting. All of which I totally love doing. But realistically, I am a single parent Mum, I have had several times in the last year where I have hit the bottom of my overdraft (such is the life of a Founder of an – intentionally – unfunded organisation). Doing these talks and panels and stuff costs more than just travel – it is the opportunity cost. I appreciate that the platform is an opportunity, but so many platforms and the opportunity is lost because I am not actually getting any work done, or supporting the CEO and the Managing Director of Rewired and Young Rewired State: Ruth Nicholls and Julia Higginbottom (both women – yes).

So please don’t stop offering me platforms, or inviting me to attend stuff, but if you are needing me to speak as a part of your event, and you are charging people an entry fee, or raising sponsorship, please can you pay me?

STUFF THAT TAKES MORE TIME THAN I HAVE, BUT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I really want to do this:

The challenge

The brand of technology/geeks is too remote and uninviting for most girls to want to be classed as a technologist – even if they are drawn to the career. Ada Lovelace days in schools exacerbates this remoteness – there is no relevance for your average school girl

The solution

Rebrand technology

But what can we realistically do right now?

I propose to build a small cohort of young, accessible, relevant and exciting women in technology. Schools will be able to ask us to run an assembly and careers workshop for them, and will pay to do so, unless I manage to get this funded by someone.

The speakers will be given a clothing allowance to buy a fabulous outfit and incredible cars will be hired for them to be driven to the schools. They will also be paid a speaker fee. They will then stand on stage (I propose four speakers per school) tell their story followed by speed dating style careers advice. It would be a maximum of three hours.

I need someone to help me, to take it, and drive it. This can be an organisation as well as an individual, I don’t mind – but I need help

In Martha’s own words:

The values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

I am being bolder. I am asking for help. I am asking for money. Traditional funding models don’t work for businesses like mine, because the money comes with ties that always and eventually force historic business models, analogue models, ill-fitting models down the unwilling but hungry throat of the civic tech company. We cannot compromise what we are doing. The business model is solid, but it will take time – there is no quick win, but it is a solid one. The impact of both Rewired and Young Rewired State over the next twenty years worldwide will be huge, and visible, and noticeable.

We run great projects and programmes, eminently sponsorable, with benefit for both of us: US so that we can do what we need to do (and still eat and afford train tickets) with your money; and YOU because we will ensure that what we do, delivers value in return. A trade. The oldest trade in the world: money exchanged for something of value.

Thank you, Martha! Here’s a cheeky shot…

IMG_0649

“I have a nightmare…”

Tonight Martha Lane-Fox will give her Dimbleby lecture at the Science Museum in London. I was privileged enough to have seen early versions of it as she grappled with how best to use this platform to address the growing urgency for some kind of body to attend to the moral and ethical challenges thrown up by the digital renaissance. You can read a write-up in The Guardian that gives more detail on what she is going to say.

In her words, Martin Luther King did not inspire generations of people by starting his speech with: “I have a nightmare…”. That focuses on the bad stuff, the scary things – basically the Daily Mail approach to informing and inspiring change. Indeed, the Daily Mail has been running no less than four horrible stories on data as I type. Here is one headline:

We know everything about you: Sinister boast of data boss who says he has 5,000 pieces of personal information on EVERY British family – from your salary to your health products and ages of your children…

I shan’t link to it, but feel free to google.

Education has not kept up with the information age, not just our children’s education, but us adults too. I know some but not all, and spend my life keeping up with change, reading and learning – but I am lucky enough that I am able to do this because it lies at the heart of what I do every day. But most people have neither the time nor the opportunity to do so, therefore tales in the media drive their knowledge, often built on half-truths and misinformation.

Ignorance breeds fear.

Fear breeds censorship and defensiveness.

This does not help people make better, more-informed decisions.

I am also announcing the launch of Rewired State’s DATA CITIZEN PROJECT. Our premise is to help people make better decisions by running a five-year long, deeply researched programme looking at how we all interact with data, what it means to us and how we can all be given the knowledge we need to feel like we have control over the information we knowingly provide. Right now there is naff all information on the website, but I have a nice little information pack that can tell you more about what, where, who, when and how (email me emma@rewiredstate.org if you want a copy or want to be a part of it not just sponsorship, natch).

Standing ovation for Martha tonight, do watch it and watch out for what happens when she steps down from her podium – thank goodness people like her use her platforms for the benefit of everyone else. Kudos, my friend.

clap animated GIF

One reason why we all want to be politicians, and 5 why we don’t!

One of the stand out messages from the evidence we received during the course of The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy last year was that everyone was very disillusioned with politicians, and wanted to vote for policies not people. Great!! We cried, and then Representative Democracy (and the fact that we don’t actually all want to vote on all policies) came into play.

One reason why we all want to be politicians:

WE WANT TO VOTE ON POLICIES WE CARE ABOUT

Five reasons why we don’t:

1. We don’t have time to hear all the arguments for and against, we just want to say what we personally think

2. We quite like our privacy

3. We don’t want to stand up and yell at people surrounded by green leather, mahogany and gold (well…)

4. We don’t like being generally judged because of our job (parking ticket inspectors notwithstanding)

5. We want to do stuff we are good at – usually not politics (politicians take note) and we prefer job security

There are many more…

In representative democracy we vote for people and we have to trust them to vote generally in line with what we believe, or we toss out representative democracy. So this year when you are working out who to vote for, use one of the very many apps and websites out there that will tell you which way party politicians vote for in areas that you care about – and bite the bullet (ballot). I like using Vote for Policies https://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ but I have to say, I have done this a couple of times in the last few months, and I always get different results! My views are not changing, but the party politics are – nothing stands still. (This is kind of why it is so important to sense check who you are voting for and stop calling yourself a Tory or a Liberal – or whatever, because you might just not be!).

Also, get engaged with consultations on topics you care about when they are at the stage that you can influence the outcome.

Sod the horses, ride the algorithm!

Last night I was explaining representative democracy in the digital age, in a bar, shouting over loud music, jaegerbomb in hand – because that’s how dull exciting I am!! Anyway, I thought it was good to write down here because it might help make sense of why everyone is banging on about digital democracy.

In the olden days men would ride to Parliament from towns and villages across the land, to bring the wishes of the people. They would return with news of what was happening in Parliament. And so representative democracy worked (in a very crude explanation!).

Nowadays the algorithms are the horses.

This is why marked up content, open data and social media – all the digital shizzle, is SO important for representative democracy.

And girls can ride algorithms too.

Digital democracy, online voting and divorce

Yesterday heralded the publishing of the report by the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, I was part of the team that worked on it for the last year – and loved every moment. The report is here should you fancy a quick read, there is a lot in there, but it is all pretty sane – although I am biased (and proud!).

In my last post on this topic, written the evening before the report publication, I mentioned how the work we did became far more about how you re-settle democracy in a digital age, rather than just chucking digital at the democratic system and processes we have in place at the moment. Systems and processes that are not really engaging anyone and have not embraced the digital communities in any immediately obvious fashion.

This has led to people not feeling particularly well-represented, despondent and completely disengaged from what actually happens in Parliament, other than shouting at each other and roaring old fashioned expletives at each other across the floor of the House of Commons. This is an issue that cannot be wholly addressed by a Commission charged with “investigating the opportunities digital technology can bring for parliamentary democracy in the UK”, but one that is pretty easy to recognise.

Heading for the divorce courts

Throughout the last year, conversations have run rife around Commissioners’ kitchen tables, official round tables, formal meetings in Parliament and sports stadiums (stadia for the insistent) around the UK about what is driving everyone nuts. And most of the time this came down to a mismatch in what people were saying in their digital communities and online social spaces, and what they were hearing in Parliament. There was a breakdown in communication and this was really divorcing the people from their elected representatives.

It often felt like we were the marriage counsellors in the initial grumpy meetings of two very unhappy souls: Mr People and Mrs Parliament. Both really want the marriage to work – but neither party were really hearing each other. One had a whole digital life that was being completely ignored, or inappropriately engaged with, by the other. And we had to just sit back and listen for a year before we sketched out a route to resolving the digital element of this.

I know: online voting!!

I will write about a few of the recommendations as I have time over the coming weeks, but I would like to really refocus one conversation thread that has been the almost sole focus of the press reporting recently: online voting.

It was not something that people really complained about, it was just an assumption that one day they would be able to and that this ability would be there. We spoke to a *lot* of experts around the world about this, and it is a focus for many democratic countries but has great challenges for security and anonymity online; as anyone who knows anything about cyber-security will tell you. (Yes we spoke to Estonia!). Nevertheless, it is something that people just expect, and so it is in the report as something that needs to be given priority and attention, under the heading: by the 2020 election people should have the option to vote digitally.

Being able to digitally approve or disapprove of annual marriage check-ins is not the answer to the current crisis in democracy. A change in the way we communicate with our representatives, and the way they communicate back to us is what will make the biggest difference. And digital means can go a huge way to addressing this breakdown, mainly through communication and community, openness and transparency.

The trust has left the marriage. Only vigilance, truth, openness and honesty will bring back the democratic dream.

If there is democracy, there has to be digital…

… and voting is a key element of representative democracy. Therefore digital voting must be incorporated into representative democracy in a digital age. It is not by any means a top story solution, but it is an easy headline, and an easy topic to chew the fat over with digital types – please can we not let it derail or skew the rest of the recommendations?

 

At 00:01 26th January 2015 the first UK report on Digital Democracy will be live

Tomorrow morning sees the launch of the report: Open Up! by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. I have been lucky enough to be a commissioner on this alongside the Rt. Hon. John Bercow MPRobert Halfon MP, Meg Hillier MP, Paul Kane, Helen Milner, Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Femi Oyeniran and Toni Pearce. It has been quite a journey to here, so tomorrow is hugely exciting. In the coming weeks I will write about some of the recommendations we have made and why, but for now I just wanted to remind you what it was we were charged with.

What was the Commission actually doing?

Set up by the Speaker, the Commission was “investigating the opportunities digital technology can bring for parliamentary democracy in the UK”. We were to focus on specific areas:

Electronic voting

Engagement and facilitating dialogue

Representation

Digital scrutiny

Making laws in a digital age

We spent a year hearing from experts from around the world with results of research, pilots and live activities in each of these areas – to help us learn and make recommendations for what Parliament, specifically the House of Commons, could do to maintain representative democracy in a digital age. All of the contributions and evidence gathered over the year can be read here.

What happens next?

We have made a number of recommendations that will be available for you to read from the links at the end of this page from 00:01 26th January 2015. Those recommendations have dates against many of them, that we feel are reasonable for delivery of the most important activities. Some are easy, some are hard – most are building on work already happening in Parliament, but perhaps not identified as so critical to democracy, and/or could do with renewed vigour and attention.

But it has also become really apparent that this is just the very beginning, and the coming years will see a great change in the way people learn, share and influence, as digital communities become a greater representative voice of the people. If nothing else the breadth of the work covered by the commission and in the report will serve as a heads up that there is a lot to consider once you embrace digital. And the digital communities deserve as much of a voice as those who engage with Parliament through traditional channels.

This is the first time a Commission has been set up in this country to look specifically at democracy in a digital age, indeed anywhere, and I hope that the output tomorrow will lead to a wider conversation with other democratic countries. I am totally up for that and keen to do more.

Repesentative democracy in a borderless age

One of the greatest opportunities and challenges afforded by the digital renaissance is the removal of geographical boundaries and limitations. Borders are physical, the web transcends these. In representative democracies this is a fundamental shift.

It changes and challenges the modus operandi for everything we have become comfortable with. There has been no evidence that I have seen that a representative democracy cannot work in a digital age, but there are challenges that were thrown up during the course of the last year, that went way beyond the remit of the commission – but I think cannot remain unaddressed.

I am passionate about living in a democracy, and being a part of the work of this Commission has been one of the most important things I have ever done. I know a lot about digital, but until last year I did not know enough about democracy and the journey of the last 12 months of learning, listening and finding workable solutions has been what can only be described as passionately challenging! I have read lots of books, watched many online lectures and spoken to many people who know everything that can be known about democracy and have way too many bits and pieces saved on my computer, but I have copied some quote here for you here that I think need to be thought about in relation to digital communities and their voice (these are all from Political Philosophy – A Complete Introduction: Teach Yourself by Phil Parvin, Clare Chambers):

The representative model retains the idea of popular sovereignty (that sovereignty should lie with the citizen body) without requiring every individual citizen to engage in the affairs of state. The business of government is handled by representatives who are charged with the responsibility of legislating in accordance with the will of the people. On such a model citizen participation is limited to certain key activities, such as voting, by which political power is transferred to the representatives…

…. Democracy is a method for making decisions when people disagree. Given the diversity of modern liberal democratic states, it is unrealistic to expect consensus on most political issues. Indeed, populations of democratic states like Britain or the USA rarely, if ever, reach unanimous consensus. People disagree about almost everything: state provision of healthcare, immigration, state funding of the arts, sentencing of criminals, religion and so on. Consequently, the best that democratic states can do is enact the will of the majority of the people. But this means that there will be winners and losers: some people get the leaders and the laws that they want, and others do not. The losers must accede to laws and leaders with which they may profoundly disagree….

In democratic societies we think that everyone should have an equal right to influence decisions about state action. Why? It is not as if political matters are straightforward or easy. On the contrary, states require incredibly complicated and difficult decisions on a range of complex topics which have national and international implications. Democracy seems to hold that there is no role for expertise in the realm of politics, but this seems implausible…

the representative model puts decision-making power in the hands of people who are charged with thinking about these issues on a full-time basis, without abandoning the idea that ultimate power lies in the hands of the citizen body at large. But still, politicians in a representative system are broadly required to act in accordance with the will of their constituents, even if only out of a desire to get re-elected.

This is democracy’s next ‘printing press’ moment, it is not about putting the digital in democracy, it is about re-settling representative democracy in the digital renaissance.

Every single person who strode or stumbled into conversation with me or with the other Commissioners on the topic of Digital Democracy was worked up about some or many aspects of it. I saw no apathy anywhere. Dismay and disillusion, yes – but apathy no.

And so I am really looking forward to everyone seeing our real recommendations, against challenges they will recognise in their every day lives. And more so, I am looking forward to everyone feeling more and more engaged and represented over the coming five years; feeling that their voice has a place to be heard and that they can easily find out what is happening on topics they care about.

Important links for tomorrow:

The launch is live-streamed from 08:45 tomorrow here

The report will be available live from 00:01 Monday 26 January at http://www.digitaldemocracy.parliament.uk and http://digitaldemocracy.parliament.uk

Digital voting and democracy: a Q&A with myself

Yesterday I was on a panel as part of the BBC Democracy day, discussing all things digital and democratic. I was there partly because I like to hack government and have set up a business based on doing just that, and because I also sit on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy.

(For those who did not click on the link explaining what I mean by hacking government, I suggest you do before freaking out!)

Much was discussed of course, but I was not able to process fully or comment thoughtfully on the extended discussion about online voting. (Stuart Dredge has written this conversation up very well on the Guardian site here but I would like to continue the discussion after having slept on it.)

Those who have read my blog posts over the years will know that I tend to write when I am in the process of noodling stuff, rather than after I have fully formed an opinion. It helps my brain but also your input really helps me understand what it is I am not considering – so please do pile in.

This topic is very clearly divided into:

1. Should it happen? and

2. How will it happen?

The how is the technical conversation, and quickly becomes a topic that few can follow with full understanding of the words people are using; it starts with encryption and gets worse from there. I cannot add to this, nor can I hand on heart take part in this discussion with full knowledge of the facts, examples and technology required, so I would rather leave that to those who do. And I do hear your impassioned pleas to understand more, I am doing my best (the Commission has had a *lot* of input from experts on this).

So let’s stick to the should question… I am going to write this in the form of a Q&A just because it makes the most logical sense in my head right now, feel free to write it up more thoughtfully!

Should people be allowed to vote online, with their phones, tablets or laptops?

I believe that the answer to this is definitely yes

Is this just to increase voter participation?

No. Not at all.

Why then?

This is to ensure that those who prefer to use digital tools are able to, and that the feel-good factor of sharing participation in a representative democracy is extended to the community tools we use in all other aspects of our digital lives. I am passionate about bridging the digital divide: not the one between those who do digital and those who don’t. I mean the perceived separation between online life and offline life. Community interaction, influence, learning and celebration is as valid online as it is offline – and the needs of the multiple digital communities must be met in their own space. This includes being able to vote digitally.

The analogue process of voting is not perfect, indeed as Bill Thompson said on the panel yesterday: “… paper ballots are broken in ways that we understand”, but it does the job and we are familiar with it. But there needs to be a digital way to participate in voting for a representative, because otherwise the most important part people play who live in a democracy is totally absent from where many of us choose to interact, learn, share, influence: in online community spaces.

Will being able to click-vote cheapen the whole process of democracy?

No more so than some of the behaviour we are familiar with in Parliament!! I would hasten to add that (especially young people) voting would be far more rigorously researched in an online environment. I would suggest that actually being able to vote online would do the opposite of cheapening the whole process, I think it would (or could), make people take it more seriously.

How do you stop undue influence being brought to bear with people standing behind others and forcing voting a certain way?

I mean, in the same way that someone could influence you walking into a booth and ticking a box, I see no difference because it is online. It is an illegal practice, and the person who was forced to vote online a certain way will have the same recourse to law as their offline persona has. It’s this old digital divide again – why does digital suddenly make illegal practice OK? It doesn’t.

In conclusion

It is up to those who are a part of a democracy to take their role seriously, both the representatives and the represented – and that has nothing to do with technology. But technology and digital information, communication and tools can greatly enhance and amplify active participation, and it is unthinkable that this could be ignored because it is a technical challenge.

Do we really have such little faith in the behaviour and morals of those in the democracy that they cannot be trusted to play their part unless forced to walk somewhere and be watched over by GUARDIANS OF THE VOTING PROCESS with their flip board and pens? If so, I think we have a greater challenge on our hands than representative democracy in a digital age.

The podcast of the BBC panel is available here for you to listen to the whole debate, should you fancy.

PostScript and disclaimer

I am writing this just purely from riffing the thoughts in my head, I am not writing this as Commissioner for Digital Democracy, although obviously my thoughts on this have fed into the Commission’s discussions. The report on Digital Democracy is being published next Monday, and covers many topics – I shall write more after it is launched about all of the other many ways that a representative democracy can work in a digital age.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers