Working in the digital and political sphere, it’s great to see the published recommendations of the National Assembly for Wales Digital Taskforce.
As one of our newest institutions, it is vital that the Assembly looks to improve and expand the way it interacts with the Welsh electorate and visitors.
The remit of the Taskforce was to understand how the National Assembly can use modern digital communications and social media to identify concerns, collect evidence and opinions, generate real time engagement and see how representatives seek to respond to voters. It also looked to increase awareness and interest in the National Assembly, analysing how and if the current digital services are meeting user needs, as well as critiquing Senedd TV, social media output, current content creation and the possibility of the National Assembly producing and distributing its own content.
Broadly, the recommendations of the Taskforce make for encouraging reading. A commitment to storytelling in content. A user friendly Senedd TV. A dedicated open data team. Collaboration with external organisations and the civil society.
The report forces the National Assembly and its users to critically look at the current output and use of digital services and what needs to be improved to reach a wider audience and address the democratic deficit.
All services and communications should be designed with the interests and needs of the citizen at their core. Too often there is an awareness that content should be created, but the needs and location of the user aren’t considered.
With many of the Welsh electorate having a poor understanding of the Assembly’s role and responsibilities, digital technology should be exploited to reach the ‘furthest first’ to improve awareness of democracy and the Assembly’s various functions. Working on the Powering Up Your MP programme, I was a Digital Mentor to Matt Warman MP. I sought to understand the needs and opinions of his electorate, and how digital and social media could be used to increase engagement and dialogue for him and Parliament as a whole.
With improvements to his website, the use of infographics, polling and live video, we soon saw an increase in the levels of engagement with constituents via social media. Facebook posts for example, went from a reach of 3000 to 10,000 views after using video, and over 2,700 responses were received through online polling.
To overcome low levels of digital democracy, the Assembly, in my opinion should look to implement the following:
- Head back to basics, and critically analyse the many different types of audiences that have a stake in the Assembly and what their specific needs are.
- Create personalised and tailored content based on the needs and expectations of Assembly audiences.
- Form a group of digital leads that can champion the digital and social media needs of the Assembly. For example, an Assembly Member, commission staff representative and external stakeholders and users should work together to feed in best practice and feedback from the Assembly’s various groups.
- Invest in continual improvements to the digital literacy and skills of Assembly Members and the commission. Working with a cross section of digital experts, entrepreneurs and outside the box thinkers, the Assembly can really test out and experiment the best tools and techniques that the tech community has to offer.
- Investigate and implement best practice from other political institutions, elected officials, parties and organisations to see how they excel at digital communications and engagement. Australian politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Tanya Plibersek for example are particularly effective at creating engaging social media content.
- Consider schemes like the doteveryone/UK Parliament ‘Powering Up Your MP.’ Programmes like this can break down barriers and help elected officials and institutions to engage with wider numbers of the electorate.
For the recommendations of the Assembly taskforce to be a success, there must be a conscious effort to work with stakeholders outside the Assembly estate. Collaborative working with digital entrepreneurs like myself should be considered, as well as the utilization of the very best Welsh technology to break down barriers and engage the electorate.
With the right attitude, skillset and experience, the National Assembly for Wales can be a truly digital institution that benefits and enhances the democratic environment for all of us living in this great nation.
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