I recently watched the following video from the Digital Leaders Programme.

BBC Click’s Kate Russell discussed Digital Democracy with Helen Milner (Tinder Foundation and The Digital Democracy Commission), Kulveer Ranger (Atos) and Anthony Zacharzewski (DemSoc).

It’s well worth watching and covers a lot of the areas that I hear people frequently discussing. However, as I was watching the discussion it became obvious that something was missing from the language the participants were using. This was any reference to user needs. This is not something I’m picking on from this particular conversation but something I’m become aware of across the whole of the digital democracy debate.

At GDS, when we approach a new topic for investigation we start by undergoing a period of discovery. During that time we identify the people that may be impacted by the work and then undertake extensive user research to identify their user needs.

For digital democracy in the UK it’s not fully clear who would undertake such a piece of work – although I’m personally in favour of PDS at least significantly contributing to it.

What would be immensely useful about such a catalogue of needs is that it would help crystallize discussions around whether those needs are valid and, for the ones that are generally agreed on, how they should be met – and by whom.

For example, fully understanding MPs ways of working may help them better deal with their caseloads, partially by providing ways to deal reasonably the with “clicktivist spamming” method of interaction but also potentially by streamlining the way their specific constituent-related questions are handled by departments.

It would also hopefully help the current situation of significant duplication of tools in the civic technology space that are designed to help with digital democracy. If the providers of those tools were to indicate which of the specified needs their software addresses, it would be easy to show areas of overlap.

While thinking about this I came back to a previous issue but from a different point of view. What are the user needs for those of us involved in the discussion related to digital democracy? As usual I’m somewhat frustrated that, as far as I am aware, there is no commonly acknowledged online forum for the discussion of this topic – which never ceases to be an ongoing irony.

Now, from a point of user needs, I find myself wondering – would such a forum need a community manager (or managers)? Would it need to have a code of conduct policy? Would it be open to everyone or invite only?

I’m hoping that some of my user research friends and colleagues will accept the challenge to draft a first set of user needs for this community of interest after speaking to, at least to start with, some of its more well known members.

Once we have those in place I’m very keen to prompt those same well known people to indicate an online forum where they can be discussed – or work with them to set one up.

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