Consultation, eh?

Been taking a keener-than-usual interest in Canadian politics online; I’ve written an article for a Canadian journal discussing different national experiences of eDemocracy.

I didn’t write about this specific site, but I found CitizenVoices interesting. Ostensibly it’s a platform for Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, to bring young citizens together for dialogue with politicians.

Four elements caught my attention:

  1. The dashboard model – I tested this approach with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner as part of the Digital Dialogues project last year. It was developed in partnership with Vohm, and brought profiles, forums, blogs, polls and an ‘Ask & Answer’ module all underpinned by Drupal. The idea is to give participants control over what functionality they use, in the interest of seeing whether their participation frequency rises or falls in comparison with sites where the functionality is pre-determined by its managers.
  2. The design – thought and effort have been put into the design of CitizenVoices (produced by Plank)… that’s good. It’s also rare; very few consultation sites pay the necessary attention to layout and look and feel, which I believe has an impact on registration rates and participation frequencies. As with the Children’s Commissioner site, the core users are young people so it’s especially important to get the image right.
  3. The lack of orientation – I came straight to CitizenVoices through a search and couldn’t find out the who, when or why of this site in sufficient time. This lack of transparency and instruction is a problem; easily dealt with but an unfortunate oversight.
  4. The persistence of old media thinking – the site incorporates blogging but the entries come as large set-piece articles, lacking the character and brevity required by blogs. Although there’s still a place for the ‘set-piece’ in politics, it doesn’t square up with the stated aim of this site, which is to appeal to younger web users. This may get sorted as the Governor General becomes more familiar with the medium, but there might not be an audience if the process takes too long.

An evaluation of the Children Commissioner’s site will be out in summer ’08 (though you’ll need to ask the Hansard Society for a definite date). It would be cool to get one for the CitizenVoices site too.

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