Summary of London Technology Week Roundtable on 17 June 2014

On 17 June 2014 a round table event took place at London Technology Week 2014 chaired by Digital Democracy Commission member Paul Kane.

Topics discussed:

  1. How can digital be used to encourage engagement with Parliament among people and groups who are not engaged (eg, young people)?
  2. To what extent will opening up parliamentary data help organisations and individuals to scrutinise the work of Parliament and government?
  3. How can digital facilitate interactions and discussions between MPs, parliamentary Committees, Parliament and the public?

Main conclusions and recommendations

Current engagement

It was suggested that Parliament and its processes were a little mysterious and had the air of a private club. There was a feeling that opportunities for genuine engagement were limited and that some people would like to have more involvement in the work of Parliament.
Participants agreed that Parliament’s digital material tended to be: 

  • unengaging and not built for the web
  • one-way and passive (focused on pushing out information from Parliament rather than on what users’ needs were)

Enabling successful engagement

Participants agreed that for engagement to be successful, people needed to feel that they had been listened to and that their engagement had a purpose, otherwise they could be left feeling more disillusioned by and distant from the political process.
Digital tools could aid the process of engagement and interaction, but this was not the main issue – a change in culture was needed to enable genuine engagement. This would mean:

  • politicians trusting that members of the public could have greater input into processes that were currently difficult for them to influence
  • opening opportunities for genuine engagement
  • increasing transparency
  • providing information in more user-friendly formats (for example, Bills annotated with explanations of the drafting in layman’s terms)

Written material could be improved by making it:

  • better designed to meet users’ needs
  • easy to understand and use
  • attractive
  • social and timely (for example, enabling conversation and instant response)

Enhancing and increasing opportunities for the public to interact with MPs, Committees and Parliament more widely

Opportunities for the public to interact with MPs, Committees or Parliament more widely could be enhanced and increased, and digital tools could help with this. Any such tools should:

  • be more user-focused and help people to achieve what they want to achieve from their interactions with Parliament (eg, enable users to search whether a particular subject is to be considered in any Bills, Committees or debates in the near future)
  • be customised and designed from scratch if necessary

When implementing new digital initiatives, Parliament should:

  • ensure that there is first a clear idea of what it is intended to achieve
  • adopt an iterative, step-by-step approach with regular assessments of how work is progressing so that any problems can be caught early
  • accept that it is OK to experiment and fail (it was suggested that this would be a big change in attitude and culture for Parliament)
  • look to the private and third sector for technical solutions rather than trying to do everything in-house

Widening access to parliamentary data

Attendees welcomed the moves by Parliament towards publishing open data.  However, this raised many questions, such as:

  • simply publishing raw bulk data was not enough – Parliament should find ways of presenting the data to make it more accessible (for example, using infographics)
  • what was the scope of the data which should be published under Parliament’s open data platform – as part of its scrutiny role, should Parliament have a role in helping the public to access information produced by Government?
  • whose responsibility was it to interpret public sector data published through the open data policy?  Would the public trust Parliament to do this, or would the BBC (for example) be more trusted? 
  • cultural change was needed to increase the extent to which public sector bodies, including Parliament, were comfortable about working in an open and transparent manner
  • it would be useful to collect a wider range of data to fully reflect MPs’ diverse roles in Parliament and in the community, to supplement the very limited amount of readily available data at present
  • annual reports from all MPs would be desirable
  • more data about parliament as an institution – environmental data, etc – would be of interest

Blog posts

Participants’ own summaries of the roundtable can be viewed at:

Attendees

Facilitators

Asif Noorani, Epiphany Productions and DDC Champion; Edward Wood, Secretary, DDC; Luanne Middleton, Commission Specialist, DDC.

Attendees

Andrew Pleming; Ben Fowkes, Delib; Carl Miller, Demos; Dan Barrett, Parliamentary ICT; Debbie Wicks, Rewired State; Emma Smith, myEnvolve; James Smith, Open Data Institute; Luke Ashby, Digital Consultant, Electoral Reform Services, and DDC Champion; Luke Flegg, Change the Future; Peter Lewis, Voxup; Richard Stephenson, YUDU Media; Sabah Hussain, DataShaka; Stevie Benton, Wikimedia; Tara Mulholland, Sky; Tineka Smith, Bite; Tracy Green, Web and Intranet Services, Parliament

Image: London Technology Week