Continuing my obsession with the Parliamentary Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. I genuinely think it’s one of the most important discussions currently happening in this country. In a previous blog post I’ve said that many of the people speaking at the select committees have taken that opportunity to speak about fundamental changes in the structure of democracy rather than the ‘digital’ remit of the Commission. That said – it can be hard to separate the two in some circumstances given that, as I’ve said before, it’s just a set of tools.

The Parliamentary website is still using Silverlight for videos (yes, really) so I can’t embed them here – even assuming that there’s anyone out there besides me that wants to watch going on for five hours of select committees (probably longer than any one person involved in the process given people entering and leaving during the proceedings).

Anway – the first session can be found here, the second here. The next one is in mid September and will be discussing online voting.

There were a few particular points from each session that did stand out for me.

In the first session the gentleman from Populous saying that the whole concept was pointless as all current polling shows that people simply have no interest in taking part in more of the democratic process than they currently do. I think this shows the gulf between the traditional political / polling landscape and the amount people want to engage, not with parties and necessarily even representatives, but about specific issues (a-la 38 Degrees) or just about the things that are of concern to them – such as education or the NHS. Just after him the person speaking (the video doesn’t indicate who they are so apologies for not knowing) was also very interesting but in the other, much more positive direction.

In the second session I was impressed by the pragmatic people from Change.org much more than I was by the chap from 38 Degrees. I felt for the MP who said valued casework was buried in 38 Degrees emails so that even when she agreed with them they still made her angry (highlighting the need for either a high-profile polling tool or a decent casework tool for MPs – or both). I very much agreed with the person that said that forums like 38 Degrees should have internal debates and then put forward a consensus opinion backed by a number of people (c.f. my post of Delegate Democracy). I also agreed with those people who repeatedly spoke of a current ‘democracy defect’.

There was mention during the sessions that the minutes would be publish but there’s not, as yet, been any sign of that happening. What I would really like, apart obviously from the video being on a decent platform, would be access to subtitle transcripts that could then be used for useful data mining.

Anyway – if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from watching these select committees it’s very much Don’t Build Another Damn Tool. There’s so many people, including a number of people asking questions from the audience, who are building the “one tool that will fix everything”. It’s not just the irritating diversity of the tools when such motivated people could be working together – it’s also that the don’t have a view on how they are going to get people to actually use their shiny new toy. If there’s one thing GDS has shown it’s the helping people slowly become more confident about using digital is much harder than just knocking out a new website.

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