On the face of it, you could say it’s a simple case of government doing something a bit whizzier and more user-friendly than publishing thousands of PDFs on hundreds of websites for people to find, comprehend and comment on by email. And it was tempting to build that whizzy something, pooling the best current practice from forward-thinking departments (like mine) as a baseline to push things further.
But scratch the surface and you quickly find yourself dealing with big issues around democracy, the delicate balance of trust between citizens and the state, the complexities of our constitution, and the culture of the civil service.
You find yourself touching on every opportunity for citizens, businesses and organisations to interface with any part of the state online, be it to give feedback, ask a question, seek help, present an argument, influence thinking or help solve a problem. And – most importantly of all – you touch on the capability and capacity of the state to process all this user feedback, to analyse, respond and interact.
A chunky quote, but there’s still more good stuff on the original post – go take a look.
Steph followed up with his own post, which again is worth reading in full, though here’s a useful list he provides of things to do to get engagement right:
1. treat people with respect: if you spend time contributing constructively, that should be worth a proper acknowledgement, at least
2. treat different people differently: there’s not a ‘general public’ who have views on policy: there are service users, their relatives, people who work in public services, people who lobby about them, people who have oddly expert experience or niche specialisms. Consultation should be layered, asking people to give feedback on different aspects of the same thing, based on how much they know and care
3. combine customer and citizen roles: boost participation and improve public services by asking people for ideas when it’s relevant, connecting a public service experience with feedback on the policy behind it
It’s great to have some proper thinking done on this subject, though as Neil and Steph themselves have said, this is a start rather than the finish.
Some interesting bits came out of yesterday’s digital engagement workshop that we ran in Peterborough yesterday, and once I get my head together I’ll post them up here.
I’m always going on about how, if you want people to give up their time to help you out, then you need to make it easy for them to do so, else they won’t bother.
I have laboured all of this probably more than the example is worth to make a point. None of this is impossibly difficult to find and use, but none of it is as straightforward as it could be and should be. If there is a serious desire to collect and respond to views, there are better ways of doing it than this.
Now, when I started writing about micro-participation, I never envisaged the possibility of micro-farming, but there we are!
MyFarm is a great initiative from the National Trust, effectively making games like Facebook’s Farmville real.
Participants pay £30 a year to be involved, and get to vote on various decisions affecting the farm. It’s a bit like an agricultural version of MyFootballClub, which saw a bunch of people from the internet buy Ebbsfleet United.
The benefits are increasing knowledge about farming and the countryside – and also to help people understand where food comes from.
It’ a great idea – and a brave one too.
Recently I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the ‘participation deficit’ – the fact that too few people are contributing too much to society. It’s what informed my post about my view that we need more councillors.
No even half baked views or ideas yet, I’m afraid, though I’m mulling over whether to have a discussion session about this on Saturday’s GovCamp.
In discussion on Twitter about this, though, Anthony pointed me to an excellent (if lengthy!) slidedeck he has put together which includes stacks of interesting research.
Also relevant is his paper on how better engagement can save money for councils:
Democracy Pays White Paper
It strikes me, collecting these online resources and chatting online with people about issues, that we lack a decent platform to really discuss and collaborate on ideas like this. A sort of mixture between a research tool and a discussion platform.
What does it need?
- The ability to clip, store and share articles, posts and documents like Evernote
- The ability to easily share thoughts ideas and arguments blog-style
- The ability to draw in discussions on other platforms, whether twitter, external blogs etc
- To be able to comment on any of the above
- A neat way of browsing through content and examine how it all relates to each other, similar to a mind map or Google’s wonder wheel
Does this already exist? Am not sure it does!