Keeping mum

April 27, 2010

I frequently cringe when I see Mumsnet established as a standard for e-government style engagement. This was confirmed by a piece in the New Statesman of the 26 April 2010 by Alice Miles entitled “Don’t kid yourself about Mumsnet“.

Alice clearly picks out the iffiyness around those who believe social media are making headway in politics when she says “The strange relationship people have with “online” is a challenge for adherents of “e-democracy” and undermines the fashionable theme of the “Mumsnet election”. Will Mumsnet make such a difference on 6 May?”

She’s also done her research when she looks at the usage proportions of the various media and states “Compare these with the proportions expecting to get information from blogs (3 per cent) or social networking sites (2 per cent).” This and research from Professor Graham Smith results in “a distinctly limited role for mature online political debate.”

This is also supported by the comment on my “The twittering parties” by Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society who stated “the latest Audit of Political engagement asks some of these questions and shows that 4% of the general electorate follow a politician on Facebook and 2% on Twitter.”

We’ll soon see the results, but how much of this is directly down to the Internet I believe will be little and remain unclear.

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The twittering parties

April 11, 2010

There are two new reports from the Hansard Society on the hot topic of the Internet and politics. The first is a modest three page “digital paper” entitled “Politicians get their clicks” by Dr Andy Williamson which challenges the assumption that the Internet will make a similar difference in the UK elections, as it was claimed occurred in the U.S. The second, at 64 pages, is named “Behind the digital campaign“, and largely supports this, with the tag line that in the UK “parties are digital followers not leaders.”

These rather contrast with a separate study from Sitemorse and Alterian which aligns political party web sites with their claims about the Internet. In fact it’s more a review of the party web sites and government web sites, as assessed by Sitemorse. I suppose it does analyze and attempt to compare the amount of effort that the mainstream political groups have put into their sites. In contrast, the Hansard Society reports recognize that the web sites may probably be less important than the energy they employ in maintaining sophisticated back office systems of supporters and potentials voters.

Sitemorse’s distraction with government web sites may assume that politicians have some control over Whitehall web sites, but personally I remain sceptical. The main recent, and continuing, drive has been a cull of the excessive number of them, as identified in the operational efficiency programme, which does seem to be working and, as the report flags up, brings direct.gov to the top.

Can I suggest a random survey in the street asking how many citizens actually look at a political party or politicians web site? Politicians may be relevant in community and local politics, but less so in distant Parliament. I also probably share concerns about digital exclusion and remain confident that pushing leaflets through letter boxes and generally door-stepping will occupy the parties most.


Passive democracy

February 14, 2010

The latest publication from the Hansard Society is by Andy Williamson, director of the Hansard Society eDemocracy Programme. The research study is entitled “Digital Citizens and Democratic Participation – An analysis of how citizens participate online and connect with MPs and Parliament.

This 21-page report compares national data for those who use the Internet, with what he labels the ‘digital leaders’, or the early adopters of social media who also declare an interest in politics.

Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is that people want to use the new media to engage with their politicians, not for one-way traffic . However, I imagine this was always the case before the Internet, but that town hall and Whitehall were even more physically and emotionally detached from those they represented and, as with shopping and information, it’s all been brought truly home, or potentially so.

I hope our representatives pay heed to the recommendations on page 16, and that these are also paid attention to nearer home at town hall level. They could also do with being observed by all our representatives, everywhere, since there now being rather a lot of unelected representatives in organizations that manage services for us.

Whilst one can email one’s MP one frequently gets a letter back, as happens with some service organizations. This is also one of the recommendations – that digital interactions are made two-way.

I still have concerns that representative democracy is intended to be one way and that we need to change the system to get two-way communications. I am also concerned that whilst it will be the younger and more educated minority that employ their skills to chivvy politicians, those without those skills and abilities will be excluded doubly so.