Connecting knowledge to power: the future of digital democracy in the UK

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Wikimedia UK and Demos are encouraging participation in an attempt to crowdsource a submission to a call for evidence on digital democracy from the Speaker of the House of Commons. This page has been updated with the second theme of the consultation - digital representation. You can still view the work done on the submission to the first theme, along with the edit history and talk page, at https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Connecting_knowledge_to_power:_the_future_of_digital_democracy_in_the_UK_(Archive_1)

The Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament

Introduction - Theme 2, Representation in a Digital Age[edit]

How is technology changing the way citizens can be democratically represented? The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has established a Commission on Digital Democracy. It will report to Parliament in early 2015 with recommendations on how Parliament can use technology to better represent and engage with the electorate, make laws and hold the powerful to account. As part of their work, the Commission have issued a series of calls for evidence. They want to hear from the widest range and largest number of people possible to help inform their work.

This wiki page is devoted to creating a consensus-based document to formally submit to the Commission as evidence. This was done for the first theme – digital scrutiny (see below on this page). The results are available on Parliament’s website. The enthusiasm of the Commission for these efforts is very encouraging and there is already a sense that creating evidence in this way is worthwhile. Thank you to everyone that has taken part so far.

This round of evidence is based on the theme of representation in a digital age. The questions for this round of evidence are below. Please do jump straight in and feel free to write and edit content in answer to the questions. Please do also make use of the talk page as the discussion is just as valid as the answers to the questions and forms a valuable part of the evidence.

In addition, we are posing an additional question. Does using Wikis to source evidence work? How could it be made more effective? What should we do differently? To answer these questions, we have created a separate page which can be seen here (link will follow later on).

Wikimedia UK and Demos are also very happy to answer any questions you may have about this piece of work, its background and what happens next. Please do leave messages on the talk page and we will happily get back to you.

Questions we are asking[edit]

Elected representatives[edit]

  • What will democracy look like in 15 – 20 years?
  • Will the digital era lead to pressure for more direct democracy, such as crowd-sourcing, referendums and citizens’ initiatives?
  • How can MPs make better use of the internet and social media to represent their constituents – and how can constituents use these tools to ensure they are being represented in the way they wish?
  • Does social media enhance the local link for MPs, or undermine it by involving them in more national and international discussions?
  • Can new tools which draw on social media data provide our elected representatives with a better and more up-to-date understanding of public opinion?

Information about politics[edit]

  • How can online provision of information about elections be improved, including details of where to vote, how to vote and the results?
  • The news media is changing rapidly - and the ways that people consume information, including news, is changing fast too. Will objective information about the political process continue to be easily available, and even if it is, will citizens be willing to seek it out?

Political campaigning[edit]

  • Can we expect continuous election campaigning through digital channels – what would citizens feel about that and would it undermine or strengthen representative democracy?

Note: The Commission will be consulting separately on the issue of online voting in elections in September, but if you have thoughts you wish to share before then, we would be pleased to hear from you.

Please add any content here, in any format you wish.

Responses[edit]

Elected representatives[edit]

  • It's quite difficult to forecast how democracy look in 15-20 years - however, what is clear is that for democracy to flourish there needs to be an upswing in participation. Whether technology is the most effective driver for that is unclear although it will certainly have a role to play. Addressing the fall in election turnout should be viewed as a priority task.
  • Technology will increase pressure on direct democracy. We are already seeing a proliferation of online petitions. But it is unclear how much initiatives like these are contributing? Without other action, simply clicking a button on a website to sign a survey represents a shallow level of engagement. It requires so little thought and effort that it could be argues that it lacks genuine meaning.
  • MPs who use Twitter and other ‘conversational’ media are immediately making themselves more accessible to their constituents. And if people can have their voice heard by commenting on a newspaper article online or a blog post or by tweeting that’s an excellent thing.
  • Using data mining to help MPs analyse ‘big data’ on social media could be interesting. You could mine Twitter for example to see what political topics are trending.
  • Digital democracy excludes those who don’t own a digital device and/or people who don’t know how to use them. Digital literacy needs to be a bigger priority in schools.

Information about politics[edit]

I think the Guardian and other newspapers have adapted quite well to digital media. However blogs now compete with newspapers as reliable, up-to-date sources of information. As for people’s information seeking behavior, I think people will continue to be attracted to the informal nature of social media. The way in which Twitter is a part of many people’s social lives already makes it a convenient way of staying informed about politics. And the brevity of tweets is surely a big part of why Twitter is so popular. The ease of looking something up on Wikipedia or Google also means that more people will probably look for information about politics more of the time. However, whether they try and retrieve reliable information and/or have the tools to do this online is less certain.

Political campaigning[edit]

It could be said that a question about continuous election campaigning is somewhat redundant as we already live in an age of permanent polling and canvassing. Whether this environment is conducive to the democratic process or actually leads to disengagement remains to be seen. A piece of research looking at this could be worthwhile.