Digital Democracy Event Comment Piece.

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Digital Democracy Event Comment Piece.

Model Westminster were commissioned to stage an event that gave young people a chance to respond to the call for evidence from the Digital Democracy Commission.  The commission was set up by the Speaker of the House of Commons to collect evidence as to how British Democracy could be improved using technology. The end product of the commission will be a report with recommendations for the Government.

The agenda for the day included the following highlights:

  • Playing an interactive board game called ‘legislate’
  • An un-conference
  • A presentation on parliament week
  • Group work designing a democratic system fit for the 21st  century
  • A chance to make a short film.

We started off the day by playing a board game called Legislate. The game had been produced by a member from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. One of their roles is to draft legislation and the board game was designed to be an educational tool to explain the process by which a bill becomes a law. Each group got to play the board game which was facilitated by government lawyers who guided us through the game. This was a lot of fun and we learned much about the various complexities and hazards of getting a bill through parliament and onto the statute books. As part of their presentation, they talked about how laws are drafted and how in recent decades, a lot of work has gone into making laws more accessible, readable and simple to interpret.

The un-conference was a particularly spirited part of the day. But before it could begin, some explaining was required as to exactly what an un-conference was. Simply, the idea behind an un-conference is that whereas at a typical conference, the agenda is decided by the organisers, at an un-conference, the agenda is thrown open to the delegates. So in this case, we all gathered against the wall and shouted out ideas for discussion. The most popular ideas where then allocated different spaces around the room. Delegates could then chose which discussion to take part in by going to that part of the room. I ended up mediating a feisty debate about the Israel/Palastine conflict. It was amazing how smart and knowledgeable these young people were and how much they cared about these things.

The real meat of the day came when each group had to discuss ideas for how technology could be used to improve the democratic process. Each group was then required to present their idea to two members of the digital democracy commission who would provide feedback and finally agree a winning group.

My group started by discussing the main problems that the UK faces with regard to the quality of its democracy. These were:

  • Voter apathy and disengagement
  • A sense that people did not understand how politics affected them and therefore      why they should bother with it
  • Trust in politicians
  • Lack of opportunities to engage with parliament and government
  • Lack of scrutiny in the legislative process

The idea that we proposed as a group was a tracking system, which would enable voters to see where their MP was easily and monitor their activities. Obviously there were potential security concerns with this and it would only be able when the MP was ‘on the clock’. But the main principle behind the idea was an improvement in accountability and transparency.

We also proposed the idea of a website which would bring together all the data available about each MPs voting record, activities and interests in parliament so that a member of the public could generate easy to read reports on voting records and such.

Other solutions that groups proposed included:

  • Crowd sourcing questions for the Prime Minister
  • Crowd sourcing policy ideas
  • Giving MPs the ability to vote on parliamentary matters with their phone without      physically being in parliament, which is the current requirement.
  • Using  ‘software’ to track changes to bills as they progress through parliament as currently, any changes are physically typed up and the page with the  amendment is attached to the bill. This makes it very confusing to keep up  with all the changes and makes it overly difficult and time consuming for  MPs to scrutinise legislation that they are not directly interested in


The group that won proposed an idea called ‘Ebook’. Which would have a similar interface to facebook, which would allow citizens to manage all their interactions with parliament and government from paying tax to voting. As their prize they were awarded a tour around Microsoft as they were partner sponsors of the day.

The final task was for each group to make a short film, with devices provided by Microsoft. The short film, which would also be submitted to the commission could be anything from a staged interview, an advert or a drama piece that in some way revolved around the topic of digital democracy.  Our group made an advert for digital voting. It featured myself and another ‘old guy’ talking about how young people were so disengaged with the political process. We then pointed out a girl sitting near us who had been on her mobile the entire time of our conversation. As we talk she hears us and gets annoyed and suddenly interrupts to say “while you two where whining about young people, I just used my phone to vote for change.”

Overall, it was a very interesting day and great to meet so many different people and talk about things that each of us were interested in.


Grant Fisher.

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