Thursday, May 22, 2003

MPs online.gov.uk

I was spurred by a link on Voxpolitics to Tom Watson’s blog and from there to a list of Labour MP’s with online presence. I ploughed through a few of them and was a bit startled about the variety – some nicely done sites, some amateur sites, just the one blog as far as I could tell. The other night I had the briefest of chats with a couple of MPs. They were clearly enthusiastic about the Internet and its potential - and were able to recite stats on how many emails they received per week (stil in the hundreds, even though the spam is filtered out now) ... but they didn't know the answer to "what next?" So I wondered if there was a deal to be done with DotP here. I give an instance of DotP to each political party (got to be fair here I assume), at cost price plus refresh costs. We design an information architecture for a political party – so cabinet ministers, ministers, MPs, prospective candidates etc get their own areas where they can publish their bio, their contact information, their thoughts on key issues, even a blog if they so wish. We could even get clever and pull in some outside data (I guess, but I don’t know the rules around this kind of thing) to couple it with voting records or gifts received, or whatever is available. Maybe even individual discussion forums and so on. The commonality of format would, I think, allow us (the citizens) to compare different MPs and what their thoughts were on issues that were important to us. And, after all, one of the strongest points of the Internet is the ability to make comparison information available quickly and easily. Then, drawing on James Crabtree’s biro-introspection post, where Paul Waller (he of OeE e-democracy and an all-round pretty smart guy) ponders whether e-voting would be of democratic benefit because it "realigns the temporal and deliberative act of voting" If he’s right, then people with more and better information available at home than they would get at the polling booth might either make a different (more informed) choice or, ideally, be more encouraged to vote and increase overall turnout - which ought to be the root measure of e-democracy. The common architecture that we’d built for every party would allow someone to type in their postcode (or, more likely, their address as I think postcodes don’t map exactly to ward boundaries) and get detail on the candidates standing, what their background was and so on. The technology should not be the differentiator here – but what certainly should differentiate candidates or MPs is whether they have used what is there to create a presence, foster a sense of community and keep the local people informed. Friends could mail links around noting their MP’s site and his/her views on a given topic and that might get some viral marketing effect going that would bolster e-voting. Now wouldn’t that be a thing to behold? Admittedly, I haven’t the faintest idea how to make something like that happen … but it sounds great to me.

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