Today was sizing up to be an important day. ‘eDemocracy Scotland: Creating a National Conversation?‘ was going to Scotland’s first ever eDemocracy conference and I was going to be there giving a presentation on the nation’s readiness for an e-enabled polity. But it didn’t come off – pulled due to a lack of tickets sales.
So is that the ‘national conversation’ over? Far from it! In fact, I’m going to up the ante.
Back in the day, Scottish eDemocracy was looked upon as an example of best practice by British and international peers. Now we’re lapsed – a straggler, a wee bit backward even. But the opportunity to get back to the front has not passed us by. We can be a crucible of democratic innovation again – if our Government and Parliament get their acts together.
- Set up ‘Democratic Innovations’ Funds available to Scottish businesses, VCOs and universities. Set aside a small annual budget for up to 10 small-scale pilots over a period of at least 5 years. This would be managed by participation teams in both the Government and Parliament and awarded on a competitive basis in allotments of up to £15k. Evaluations should be carried out for each pilot, and made available in the public domain.
- Run a ‘Holyrood 360’ exercise – a pilot where the Government would set up an online community of stakeholders and/or members of the public, consult them on a particular Green Paper, then again at White Paper stage and when the Bill goes over to Parliament the community is opened up to MSPs to consult with. From there, both Government and Parliament should be able to engage with the community at various stages of the policy cycle as they, respectively, carry out their reviews and scrutiny. I wrote about this idea in more detail in the January 2008 edition of Parliamentary Affairs.
- Establish an annual ‘Engagement Register’ containing a set of desirable and achievable awareness and participation targets for the year ahead and the results of the previous year’s activity. The Hansard Society’s ‘Audit of Political Engagement‘ has a useful set of six indicators that could get you started. Of course, the evaluation would need to be carried out by an independent body.
By teaming up in these ways Government and Parliament can spread the burden and send out a clear message to the Scottish people about their commitment and transparency.
And to put my money where my mouth is, I too will pledge to do three things:
- Coordinate a ‘community of practice’ dedicated to eDemocracy and open to those operating in the Scottish polity, the purpose of which will be to help each other along by sharing data, experience and skills. [Actually, I can tick this one off, really. Watch this space.]
- Write to my elected representatives asking them to articulate their vision for a more connected and active polity.
- Put my own skills and experience at the disposal of those institutions and organisations who want to invigorate the way we do democracy up here.
Is it settled then?