Archive for the 'P4tF' Category

Social media for social change?

The next ten years could open up a huge opportunity to create a new generation of civic organisations and campaigns based on the way the ‘social web’ – the tools, software and business models, including social networking, known as Web 2.0 – allows people to find new ways to organise themselves at scale. That could breathe new life into civic activism, third sector organisations and our flagging public domain.

That’s how Charlie Leadbeater opens his ‘Social software for social change‘ discussion paper for the Office of the Third Sector. It is a welcome rallying-call and debate-primer for the Third Sector organisations, but it makes for important reading for the Whitehall and Westminster institutions, who themselves have much to learn about impact of social media on their core business areas.

Download Social software for social change.


New Statesman New Media Awards 2007

Interactivity, usability and accessibility were the buzz-words of this year’s New Statesman New Media Awards, and the engagement opportunities created by the winners were commended by the judges. Amongst the front-runners were those who encouraged high levels of user-generated content (Futurelab – winners of the ‘education’ category did this with their website as well as those who harnessed new technologies to spread the word on particular issues (Stopthetraffkik – winners of the ‘advocacy’ award have managed to do so with their website

Before the ‘elected representative’ award was presented, we were reminded of recent headline-grabbing stories about politicians’ use of new media – topically, the fact that the US Primaries have recently been part-contested on YouTube highlights the extent to which campaigns and elections benefit from social networking sites. Finalists for this category were:

The blog of Counselor Andrew Burns (
The vodcasts of David Cameron, MP (
The website of Ed Miliband, MP (
The website of Jo Swinson, MP (

The fact that the award was presented by one of the nominees for this category, Barry Sheerman (, suggests that the competition was hard-fought. There were 52 entries in total for the ‘elected representative’ award (out of a possible list of hundreds). David Cameron won the award on the basis that he’d been the most consistent in his use of new media to revamp his party’s image.

It’s good to see so many elected representatives online! Here’s hoping that word continues to spread in both Houses and that Parliament itself can next year receive a nomination as a new innovator, modernising government.


Windows on Democratic Engagement – MPs and Web 2.0

When online news sites in the UK receive between 250,000 and 1 million messages a month and a Downing Street web-petition attracts even more signatures in less time, it is tempting to imagine that we are witnessing the dawn of an electronically enabled age of social engagement. After all, we want to believe that the internet can deliver on its promise of connectivity rather than increasing the amount of green ink emanating from the virtual pens of the disgruntled. However, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) conference on the Social Impact of the Web, May 25th 2007, a constant refrain was that new technologies do not yet live up to their democratising potential.

The conference touched on many of the issues that are raised by our Parliament for the Future (P4tF) brief. Georgina Henry, editor of The Guardian’s Comment is Free noted that although MPs and campaigners can draw attention to themselves through blogging and social networking online, their endeavours do not necessarily enhance democracy. Technology makes it easier to form a vocal opposition but those who govern still need to find ways of engaging with and speaking to those they represent. Speakers discussing the Communications Allowance of MPs at the New Statesman New Media Awards meeting on 18th May 2007 made a similar point when they discussed the need to find ways of using technologies to galvanise engagement rather than promote partisan agendas.

The danger of misdirected online strategies ran through the various presentations made during the RSA conference: Andrew Chadwick, of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College warned that a blind devotion to technology may result in sound-bite politics and public solipsism. According to keynote speaker Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, the opportunities for developing dialogue across ideological and digital divides were only possible when communicative norms were established: even then, particular aspects of human behaviour (the desire to be seen to be right or to achieve consensus around one’s beliefs) mean that people tend to flock to opinion-affirming sites rather than to those that challenge their perceptions.

Social networks, according to Bronwyn Kundhardt – former Director of Citizenship of Microsoft and co-founder of Polecat, an agency supporting not-for-profit organisations online – can deliver on the promise of like-mindedness, but only within communities that share the same outlook. The problem is that opinions become polarised and the internet is Balkanised. The question, then, is whether MPs as representatives of the people can harness new technologies in ways that allow for true deliberation and engagement. Can we create the tools to allow MPs and the electorate to transcend party politics and is that desirable?


Parliament for the Future – The Global Edition?

The UK’s Parliament is not the only one to be interested in innovation. At a recent Council of Europe symposium on eDemocracy, the Hansard Society came across African i-Parliaments.

Established by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA), the programme aims to foster transparency, accountability, democratic participation, and good governance in Africa by empowering African Parliaments through ICT. The Programme helps by building information and knowledge management capacities, creating information services, and developing Parliamentary Information Systems and collaborative tools in African Parliaments.

This struck us as an interesting project for a variety of reasons. Principally, we were interested in the comparisons that might be drawn between capacity and appetite for parliamentary innovation in African countries and the UK. There’s nothing like a compelling international example to stir the imagination.

The Internet and Political Campaigning: engagement or cynicism?

At the Hansard Society’s seminar on the internet and political participation (Portcullis House, 18th April 2007), the panel and audience discussed the impact of online campaigning. A summary is available on the Hansard Society website. Alternatively you can view the slides here: Professor John Curtice and Professor Rachel Gibson.

Whether in the case of electoral campaigning or the parliamentary process between elections several important challenges were raised, five of which we raise here:

1. Online campaigning strategies that reflect traditional campaigns engage those already interested in politics. How can politicians harness technology to connect with the disengaged?

2. Those who are cynical about politics can be made more so by negative online campaign strategies. How can politicians develop innovative approaches that build trust?

3. Young people are least connected to parliamentary processes. How can Parliament, its committees and individual MPs and Peers develop meaningful connections using new technologies?

4. Derek Wyatt MP showed various international examples to highlight election campaigns that reach out beyond party agendas, and, in some cases, geographical boundaries. How might political institutions benefit from technology that dissolves traditional political territories?

5. Steve Webb MP described how different sites attract specific demographic and interest groups. Are there technologies or techniques which can help MPs to manage this disaggregated engagement activity?

These are exactly the sorts of challenges we posed to the Incubator Group and we look forward to seeing how they go about tackling them. But we are also very interested in other people using this space to unpick these challenges and throw around some ideas.