Let’s talk about Government Consultations with Joss Winn
Being a student and possibly sometimes out of the loop on innovative things like this, it was refreshing to listen to Joss Winn talk about WriteToReply.org.
A site for commenting on public reports in considerable detail. Texts are broken down into their respective sections for easier consumption. Rather than comment on the text as a whole, you are encouraged to direct comments to specific paragraphs. The full texts for comment are listed on the right under ‘Texts’.
I think this is great, however, I wonder if I would even know that it was possible to comment on public reports while they are still in the draft versions before I got involved in this community. I mean, there’s no doubt this is a useful exercise and certainly encourages e-participation in its truest sense, but how many normal citizens actually do know about this? Though I am an optimist on everything that’s good, it’s quite hard not to once in a while ask those tough questions to ensure that we can get more ideas to make it work better. And of course, I’m sure with time and collaborative efforts across the sectors, efforts such as this will gain its recognition and be usable when the time calls for action.
The Right to Reply at WriteToReply.org
Quite often I find when it comes to government, having a radical change or effective impact on services usually does come from the hard work of volunteers or people who care. And quite often the old saying is true “The best things in life are free” because people act on what they feel and not what they’re told. Same goes here, where Joss Winn and his colleague Tony Hirst, who exchanged a few thoughts on twitter, then saw the Digital Britain – Interim Report and thought people might like a way to respond to it in detail. To learn exactly how WriteToReply.org was founded, take a look here.
Government, not Twitter-friendly costing them loss in valuable innovations?
Its interesting here to see that dynamic collaborations can be created through social networking sites such as twitter that talk about real issues and real solutions for the government and at the same time, a lot of local councils are blocking down these sites. Is it possible by doing so, the government is losing out on possible low-cost and innovative solutions to improve government? Just look at how the conversation between Joss Winn and Tony Hirst unfolded in front of our eyes…And if you want the full details of how all of this came about, read all about it here.
Local Government Consultations…
Saying that, it’s been my own as well as other citizens frustrations watching local councils chuck out online consultations in PDF formats basically asking citizens to help them deliver better services but making it as hard as possible for us to do so.
Lame attempts to engage and encourage citizen e-participation.
If you look at it in terms of trying to create a harmonious relationship between citizens and government, its seems like a pretty lame attempt doesn’t it, rather insincere and does not connect with the average citizens who need to spend the least amount of time thinking about how they can help their government because they’re too busy thinking about how they can make improve their own lives on a day-to-day basis. And the funny thing is, these are the people whose opinion probably means the most and lives have a significant impact on all those decisions made.
Other ways to conduct online consultations???
Earlier this year I blogged about how Coventry City Council took its billion-pound city centre planning consultation to Facebook. Now I know a lot of people are still trying to figure out how do we actually start using social networking sites such as Facebook to benefit local councils and their citizens. Well, this is a great example of how existing practices of local government consultation can go hand in hand with all the social technologies available publicly and freely to us. The problem here might be the ability to change with the net and not resist the tide.
I feel it is a matter of WHEN and not IF for the government to start being brave and embracing the new face of public engagement online.
It’s interesting to see how a simple idea has come quite a long way now where CommentPress was a theme has now evolved into a plugin called Digress.it. Now anybody using WordPress using any theme can use it! Certainly a more attractive option for those who are image-conscious.
Using WriteToReply.org to actually read between the lines in legislation documents, using layman terms…
Something that was quite interesting that came out of this discussion was the idea to somehow combine writetoreply.org and simplyunderstand.com (translates consultations into plain English). I think this is a great idea and does make it easier for citizens to relate to without having to have a local gov dictionary!
The challenge is… once we get this done, how do we get citizens to find out about this? Will local councils help to promote this? Will it still be on the outskirts or underground and beyond reach to some citizens? Will there be a digital exclusion within the digitally included community? And here comes the questions!!!;o)
Hope this post sparked a few questions or comments in our heads. Thanks to Joss Winn for the interview and also hope it was useful! ;o)
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.