Key points from discussion:
"We're politically interested, but not politically active here."
The difficulty of engaging on issues, not party politics was seen as problematic: “Representatives are so tied to their parties in Northern Ireland that engagement and perception is difficult.”
Many participants felt that politics wasn't "mature enough" in Northern Ireland to realise the potential of digital democracy.
Accessibility to representatives
On a local level, Northern Ireland politicians were generally seen as accessible, (although one participate had only ever seen their MP in photographs). Seeing the impact of, and follow up from, communications however was generally viewed as more difficult.
The group generally felt that Digital Democracy had the potential to salvage the reputation of representatives by providing immediate accessibility, rather than having to wait until an election.
The success of Obama’s social media campaign was discussed. The challenge of social media was viewed as difficult and representatives needed to use it responsibly.
Participants thought that social media could reflect political problems in Northern Ireland; some used it negatively and blocked people when they were challenged on an issue.
"You'll never get participation without education."
The Northern Ireland Assembly website was felt to be accessible but only if you were educated and familiar with how it worked.
The group agreed that most people didn't know how to connect and that they wouldn't unless the issue was relevant.
“You can't expect engagement with people on issues unless you make it relevant. This is easier to do on a local level.”
It was felt that people needed to be asked how they wanted to engage. Young people didn’t all want to do things the same way – they should be asked first: “To make consultations accessible to vulnerable groups you need 100% participation from them on what they need to be able to participate.”
The value of using trusted intermediaries for consultations was discussed as a way to help with the problem of people not trusting the Government or Parliament and vice versa.
"The problem is not that citizens are disengaging with politics, but that politics is disengaging from citizens."
Citizens were seen to be starting to break through. The success of Una Crudden in getting her Ovarian campaign to Stormont was seen as a very successful citizen initiative, helped through the use of social media.
“Digital is helping society move ahead of politicians in Northern Ireland.”
And a final thought ...
"Eventually all politicians will be younger than the internet."
Special thanks to Chris Brown at MCE Public Relations and all those who attended.