Time to rebrand Parliament for the digital age

Our long democratic heritage is something to be proud of - but to preserve it we need to evolve to meet society's changing needs, writes Justin Cooke, UK CEO of Possible.

Digital democracy: time to make politics accessible
Digital democracy: time to make politics accessible

This week, the Digital Democracy Commission released a report full of sensible, bold and practical recommendations on what Parliament needs to do to stay true to its founding democratic principles in an increasingly interactive, social and mobile age.

That ranges from allowing members of the public to bring mobile devices into the House of Commons, to using Facebook to advertise Select Committees based on peoples’ interests. What else can we learn from the report?

Change will require innovation, and making these improvements means accepting that not all projects will succeed, but some failure is an inevitable part of innovation.

Start as you mean to go on

The entire process in writing this document has been representative, inclusive and open. Not only has the panel been made up of people from every walk of life, but the general public has been encouraged to be involved at launch events right across the country, and also to engage and follow the Commission on social media – providing an open forum to share concerns or offer up suggestions.

Break down silos and create a digital strategy

The Commission welcomes the merging of Parliament’s web and ICT functions into one digital service and the appointment of a new head of digital to lead it. But it goes further in its recommendation of a digital strategy to enable Parliament to deliver excellent digital services for the public, MPs and parliamentary staff.

Content is king

Few would argue against the Commission’s recommendation to reduce jargon and make parliamentary language more accessible. Speaking in plain English and using interactive, infographic and visual data is far more effective in making content engaging and accessible.

Follow the people

I look forward to seeing Parliament ‘going to where people are,’ connecting in the digital spaces where they spend their time and in the way they like to connect - expect to see more video and interactive content on Facebook and Twitter.

Tackle online voting

While everything the report contains is common sense it would have had little credibility unless it had tackled the one thing that everyone would associate with a report on digital democracy and the challenge of overcoming the digital divide - online voting. So yes, the Commission recommends that secure online voting (in spite of all of its challenges) should be available in time for the 2020 election.

Open it up

You can’t talk about democracy without free and open access to all. The Commission has recommended that opening up data and making all information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament freely available in reusable formats online.

Test and learn

Some of these recommendations haven’t been done before. Estonia is the only country to have introduced national online voting. Change will require innovation, and making these improvements (as well as increased efficiency) means accepting that not all projects will succeed, but some failure is an inevitable part of innovation.

The Commission recommends that the House of Commons should pilot and test new online activities, working with national and local partners, to target and engage specific groups who are not currently engaged in democratic processes.  It is great to see this recommendation as well as the proposal to adopt an incremental approach which is much more likely to succeed than putting all digital development efforts into one grand scheme.

Parliament and Government both get a lot of stick (much of it no doubt deserved) but it’s initiatives like this, and the pioneering work done by the Government Digital Service, that shows that not only is democracy alive and kicking but Britain is leading the way. The one thing that’s missing is having the support of the man at the top @David_Cameron – what are you waiting for?

 

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