What can digital do for politics? Just ask the user

Summarising our group’s thoughts on digital

A few thoughts from the Parliament Week event put on by the RSA entitled ‘Do We Get The Politics We Deserve?’. The main event was a panel discussion with author Matthew Flinders, Gloria De Piero (MP for Ashfield) and Nadhim Zahawi (MP for Stratford-on-Avon, and founder of YouGov). There then followed some mini-workshops, one of which I facilitated.

You can get the low-down of the whole event on Storify, but there were some interesting outcomes from my workshop. The question asked to my group was ‘Can digital help improve our politics for the better?’, and it was really encouraging to see the attendees flock overwhelmingly towards this subject (and not just because my corner was nearest the wine).

Now, we should bare in mind that this group was not scientifically picked and included people whose attendance suggested a certain engagement with politics. That said, there was a fantastic range of ages, political preferences, and digital experience, and it was really heartening to hear so much opinion so willingly offered. And personally, as a creator of digital services, I was also reminded just how important (and how easy) it is to get feedback from users when trying to solve problems.

The outcome? In short, the response was an overwhelming Yes – digital can help improve our politics for the better. But many in the group were not without their concerns. Specifically;

  • Digital services must be easy to use – designed for all levels (this was a bug-bear for almost everyone in the group and regardless of age!)
  • Digital services needs the same credibility to compete with established channels (especially surveys, for example).

And if we address those concerns, what can digital offer our politics?

  • It allows us to change the narrative (away from politicians’ to to one of our own)
  • Digital is brilliant for reaching / engaging young people and first time voters.

OK, so nothing ground breaking you could argue, but in a 15-minute session I was impressed with the enthusiasm and thought that came back – especially as the workshop was only an add-on to the main panel discussion. All in all it was yet another welcome reminder about the value of participation: from focus groups to feedback forms – don’t forget to ask the user.

Matt Chocqueel-Mangan

Digital producer, agile practitioner, scrum master. Pursuing sustainable democracy and social change.

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