Background to digital scrutiny

Digital Democracy Commission: Scrutiny Theme (Background)

1. Select Committees

Select Committees are increasingly aware of the need to engage the public and include inputs from a much more diverse cross-section of society.  Working digitally can be one of the most effective ways of achieving this.  The Liaison Committee report on Select committee effectiveness, resources and powers provides some background.  One well-known example is the use by a number of select committees of crowd-sourced questions for Ministers using Twitter (such as #AskGove or #AskPickles).  Is this helpful and could it be extended? What other digitally-based methods, if any, could committees use to increase the effectiveness or impact of scrutiny of government?

2. Examples from other countries

Leaving aside legislative scrutiny, which the Commission looked at in March, what examples of online scrutiny in other countries or institutions are worthy of consideration?

3. Open Data

Open data – making non-confidential public sector data freely available for bulk download and reuse – is crucial to digital scrutiny and the arguments for open data do not seem to be seriously challenged these days.  The Public Administration Committee recently reviewed the open data policy in its report Statistics and Open Data: Harvesting unused knowledge, empowering citizens and improving public services. 

Parliament’s own open data platform data.parliament is nearing completion.  What kinds of additional data and information about Parliament should be made available through the open data platform or the Parliament website?

4. Information from government

Data may be open, but official information for the public or MPs may still be confusing or overwhelming due to obscure language, duplicated or overlapping documents etc.  Is there scope for doing better, and where is best practice to be found?

5. Parliamentary Monitoring Organisations (PMOs)

theyworkforyou.com pioneered the intelligent and accessible use of Parliamentary data in the UK.  More recently Parliament Watch in Germany established a very popular service for sending questions to elected representatives.  However, concerns have been expressed that some features of PMOs’ activities may provide perverse incentives for MPs to behave in particular ways that are driven by statistics and the appearance of activity rather than the needs of the people they were elected to represent.  What should be the relationship between PMOs and Parliament?  Should Parliament aim to adopt successful digital initiatives developed by PMOs or leave them to the PMOs?  Should Parliament offer to fund PMOs’ websites to protect the services offered, or would that fatally undermine their independence?

6. KPIs for MPs

A related but broader area.  With the increasing availability and use of bulk parliamentary data, the possibility of constructing comprehensive online KPIs (key performance indicators) for MPs’ activity has been contemplated.  Is this a good thing, or would KPIs for MPs necessarily be reductive and potentially misleading?  Could they be made sophisticated enough to reflect the many and varied roles which MPs assume on behalf of their constituents, or is the ballot box the only performance indicator that is necessary?  What about qualitative data – how well an MP challenges a policy, for example, rather than how many speeches he or she makes.