Start off by reading Emma Mulqueeny’s blog post Digital unicorns and democratic rainbows. Done that? Good isn’t it?

The key quote is : “It is waaaay beyond the remit of the Commission to address the Constitution of this country, and I am not suggesting that representative democracy can’t work – but what I am saying, is that it is fundamental that we all understand exactly how it all fits back together again.”

This is why the most important take-away from the Digital Democracy Commission is that this kind of work can’t be a periodic set of long-running investigations. Instead it needs to become a endless continuous improvement programme that the fundamental needs of the people involved in these relationships – including, but probably not limited to. the government, the civil service, MPs, people who work at Parliament and citizens.

We need to understand what the needs are of each of those sets of people and be vary aware that digital is only the correct solution to some of them. The best way to do this is to hire some top-flight user researchers to provide permanent ongoing investigation.

Once Parliament knows what the needs are they can potentially be groups into sets of services – each with it’s own Service Manager. Services could be everything from:

  • As a citizen I need to communicate with my representative about my housing issue
  • As an MP I want to know what my constituents think about this bill
  • As the government I want to do a consultation about this regulation
  • As a citizen I want to recall my representative
  • As a citizen I want to know when something I care about is discussed in Parliament
  • As a citizen I want to know when something I care about is being discussed by the policy units of the civil service as much policy and regulation is decided far from Parliament
  • As a citizen I want my voice to be heard by my representative on the subjects I care about without the channel for doing so stopping them from being able to do their work (web based opinion collection vs. mass emailing)

Digital can provide excellent platforms for some of these, and help with data analysis and publishing of the conclusions, but it’s a channel – not a thing in-and-of-itself.

If this pattern sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve been hanging around GDS people or those folks in government who’ve been working as part of the digital transformation programme.

It will be very interesting to see how the new Head of Digital for Parliament approaches their new role. However, they will be owning the channel not the fundamental services. Each of the potential services needs to be owned by someone in “the business”. That can’t be someone in government, any individual representative or committee. Partly because it needs to be one accountable person but mostly because those people might not be there in 5 years time.

Instead there needs to be genuinely empowered senior members of staff at Parliament and the Civil Service who are given long term control of these services and are tasked with ensuring they provide the best experience possible for all types of users . This must include the capability and budget to provide frequent and never-ending improvements whether those are to the channel or to the process itself.