Digital Democracy discussion event in Leicester

On Thursday 4 September 2014 the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy held a roundtable discussion event in Leicester at the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) HQ

Below is a summary of the points made during the discussion:

Perceptions of Parliament

  • The perception of Parliament is poor following events such as the lobbying bill and expenses.
  • Parliament is seen as a big old institution which is out of reach from ‘normal’ people.
  • Select Committees appear to only scrutinise the government after something has happened; more research should be done so that proactive rather than reactive legislation can be made.

Engagement

  • Parliament should be clear of its motives for engaging with people – what does it want to do with that engagement?
  • Young people don’t know how to reach out; Parliament needs to reach out to them. The process needs to be one sided to start with.
  • A lot of people don’t have the skills to write online and worry that what they write can be misinterpreted so therefore don’t get involved.
  • Feedback and automatic responses are really important to keep people up to date with what is going on. Suggestion: when you’ve expressed an interested in a Select Committee inquiry, you should receive regular updates in the form of a time line to follow its progress and track any outcomes.
  • Select Committee reports, Government responses and any follow up or actions taken should be clearly illustrated for people to understand.
  • Parliament should approach groups which people already engage with in their communities.

Political education and information

  • People don't know the difference between Government and Parliament. Parliament should be seen as your friend.
  • Parliament should take the initiative and lead on educating everyone on how it works.
  • The curriculum should include party politics so students can understand what they will be voting for.
  • More programmes about Parliament should be available: documentaries from the BBC and narrative programmes about parliamentary and political processes.
  • It’s difficult to know online whether what you are looking at is correct or not for example people rely heavily on sites such as Wikipedia. Parliament could be providing more quality impartial information for the public (if it was easy to search and digest).
  • People learn and understand information in different ways, not everyone can read lengthy documents – different media needs to be used so that everyone can understand such as short digestible videos.

Elections and voting

  • It's the paid-up members of parties who decide who their candidates are which means it’s always the same people voting—the public should have a say in this process.
  • Information on what parties and candidates stand for is really difficult to find and digest making it almost impossible to decide who to vote for. ‘I don’t vote because I don’t understand it’.

Technology

  • Suggestion: Parliament should have an app like the BBC news pitched at level 2 language which would have everything that's been done that week—not just what has been debated but all the decisions made, actions taken, inquiries launched. It should be promoted on all main news broadcasters.
  • Suggestion: a red button to vote on different issues on your television.

Transparency

  • More transparency is needed with regards to lobby groups – it’s not always clear how much influence industries such as the Tabaco and alcohol industries have.
  • True transparency is not just releasing complex information but releasing information which is understandable to the average person.

Representation

  • MPs should make more visits to places and meet as many constituents as possible. Ministers should also try to visit more; for example, the education minister should try and visit every school.
  • MPs don’t represent young or ordinary people. Even the youth parliament is difficult to engage with and aren’t seen to reflect a wide variety of young people from a variety of backgrounds, with different problems and perspectives. Diversity isn’t just about ethnicity or gender.

Participants:
11 students from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) were in attendance.