UK e-democracy project fails democracy

I’m a massive advocate of e-democracy and have been putting my words into practice ever since being elected as a local councillor in 1999. First of all with a traditional website that included the ability to sign up to an ezine and participate in online polls. In early 2003 I was the first councillor to start a blog (and only the second UK politician as Tom Watson MP just beat me to it). Professionally I’ve also been advising clients on community engagement, consultation and online communications for many years.

Despite this (actually no because of this) I have serious misgivings about the national e-democracy project. It stikes me as being far too cumbersome and totally fails to inspire.

Next week I’m attending one of three roadshows organised by the IDeA to promote the project. Although after listening to this webcast of the first event on Tuesday I’m now having my doubts. It must qualify as the worst webcast I’ve ever seen. A talking head isn’t a webcast. If you just wanted audio then a podcast would be much more sensible delivery mechanism then I could listen to it on the move instead of tied to my PC. If you must do a webcast then give me the talking head in one window and the PowerPoint slides in another.

The e-democracy blog is another wonderful example of how not to do it. It’s hard to know which page to link to as its such a mess and really hard to find the RSS feed. It doesn’t have trackbacks either.

I’m also not impressed by the ReadMyDay and  projects. Mainly because both are politics free zones and a councillor’s blog without politics might as well be done by an officer. There is a difference. Blogs have fantastic potential for local authorities and there are hundreds of ways officers could use them. There are also hundreds of ways that councillors could use them in their official roles as leaders, chairs and executive board members.

But for their ward role councillors have to be able to be political so projects such as ReadMyDay and while worthy are ultimately going down the wrong road. I understand and support the rules that say local authorities can’t fund political activity but it does mean that these projects can’t work. The very idea that you can have democracy without politics is ludicrous.

More effort should be put into encouraging officers to use the technology. I have some really exciting thoughts and ideas about how blogs could be used to improve such things as district partnerships, local area management, planning consultation etc and that’s what the project should be looking at.

Cross-posted to Stuart’s Soapbox, my councillor blog.

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