A report has outlined how parliament should embrace digital technology to become more transparent, inclusive, and better able to engage the public.
Written by the Commission on Digital Democracy, the report calls for a fully digital and interactive Parliament by 2020, which includes the requirement for a secure online voting platform.
The report entitled Open Up! is intended to promote Parliamentary engagement with the general public. It suggests the current restriction on using mobile devices in the public galleries is outdated and should be removed. The Commission also recommends that the House of Commons should experiment with live social media coverage of debates.
Other innovations include creating an online forum to enable the public to participate in House of Commons debates, as well as crowd sourcing questions from the public to engage ministers.
The Commission on Digital Democracy wants Parliament to help the public understand what it does by simplifying its language and procedures, as well as using digital tools, visual data and infographics.
House of commons speaker John Bercow announced the investigation into the use of modern technology in parliament in November 2013.
At the launch of the report, he said: “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 very 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 existed that prevented them from doing so.
“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."
Additionally, with the impending general election, Bercow was clear to point out that the report doesn’t depend on any political parties. He said there is quite a lot that can be done without administrative action, and some moves will just need co-operation of staff rather than a vote from Parliament.
Femi Oyeniran – a member of the commission, as well as an actor and filmmaker – said the UK doesn’t have a democratic deficit, but a communication deficit.
“People communicate online and on social media, while MPs are debating in parliament, but there is no bridge between to the two things,” he said at the launch of the report. “It’s a stereotype that young people aren’t engaged in politics – young people are, but the conversations young people are having are not being plugged into by MPs. Our hope is these conversations can be married somehow.”
The commission commends the data.parliament.uk open data platform, and suggests it should be a priority to make more data available in downloadable formats, including Hansard and the register of MP’s interests, by the end of 2015. This should then be followed by data from bills passed through the house.
While the report champions digital technologies for the future of parliament, it also warns that measures must be taken to avoid alienating non-digital savvy members of the public.
Another member of the Commission and CEO of digital divide campaign Tinder Helen Milner said it is important that the digital changes made in the report are done in tandem with the non-digital community.
In the same way the Government Digital Service (GDS) is transforming public services by improving the whole end-to-end process, back-end, and usability. We’re hoping for the same,” she said noting how the digitally exclusded could be informed of what’s available and possibly taught how to use the online services.
But Milner told Computer Weekly she hopes that online voting won’t be the only aspect of the report to be remembered. “That’s for 2020 and we have five years to work out how we do it,” she said. But making Parliament more accessible for everyone can start being done today, through things like using Facebook to advertise Select Commuttees based on peoples’ interests, such as tuition fees or food banks.