Ahead of this weekend's Not in Westminster event, our feature writer Suzanne Danon examines a report launched by the Digital Democracy Commission, designed to help people engage with the democratic process by recognising society’s greater interaction with technology.
The report Open Up! recognises that the growth of digital technology has to be taken account of when looking to the future of how people will engage with democracy.
There are five key recommendations within the report, all of which are designed to bridge the gap between Parliament and the public.
Set up by Speaker of the House of Commons the Rt Hon John Bercow, the Digital Democracy Commission has tasked itself with giving people better ways of communicating with Parliament that take advantage of the speed and accessibility of today’s technology.
Over the past year the Commission has engaged with people across the country from a variety of backgrounds and age groups about how to use digital technology to improve parliamentary democracy and communication.
Launching the report Mr Bercow added: “We have to take account of the growth of digital technology. People do business and gain information and engage with each other in very different ways now to how they did quarter of a century ago.”
He explained that there were concrete themes in the report which looked at how Parliament could, through the use of technology “legislate better, scrutinise better and represent people better”.
The reports five key targets and recommendations are:
By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does.
By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital.
The 2015 newly elected House of Commons should create immediately a new forum for public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons.
By 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.
By 2016, all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for reuse. Hansard should be available as open data by the end of 2015.
The report recognises that the House of Commons needs a new communications strategy to both increase public awareness of the role of Parliament and MPs and increase public participation in the work of Parliament. The simplification and clarification of parliamentary language is key to this being a success.
In terms of digital use, a number of suggestions have been made for the House of Commons, including: the House of Commons should experiment with new ways for the public to put forward questions to ministers, make greater use of social media, pilot and test new online activities to reach specific groups not engaged in the democratic service, and identify more areas where a digital-first approach can lead to service improvements as well as increased efficiency.
The use of a regular digital discussion forum, which could be known as the “Cyber Chamber” or “Open House” could inform debates held in Westminster Hall and could increase public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons.
Mr Bercow added: “I set up the Digital Democracy Commission to explore how Parliament could make better use of digital technology to enhance and improve its work.”
“I am grateful to all those who contributed to the Commission’s work and have been particularly struck by the enthusiastic contributions from those who expressed a desire to participate in the democratic process, but felt that barriers exited that prevented them from doing so.”
“This report provides a comprehensive roadmap to break down barriers to public participation. It also makes recommendations to facilitate better scrutiny and improve the legislative process.
In a year where we reflect on our long democratic heritage, it is imperative that we look also to the future and how we can modernise our democracy to meet the changing needs of modern society."
How do you think technology could be used to engage people in democracy? Could we use the Knowledge Hub as that 'cyber chamber'/'open house'? What are your thoughts on developing online voting? Is there too much focus on Westminster and not enough focus locally about how we engage? It would be great to hear your views!