Ministers are pretty chatty on average

Visualisation of ministerial webchat replies
Visualisation of ministerial webchat replies

I’ve managed and evaluated a few ministerial webchats in my time, and I’m expecting to run a few more.

When organising a webchat two questions always pop up.

One, how many questions will be received? The answer has to be: how long is a piece of string, or more accurately, how interesting is a piece of string. Sometimes you get 50, sometimes 5000.

Two, how many questions can the Minister expect to answer in the time (usually 60 minutes)? That’s an easier question to answer with an inclination, but recently I’ve been wanting to give a more precise answer. So, I thought I’d try to get one.

The aim was to get an average number, not produce a league table. A league table is pointless because each webchat attracts different questions requiring different answers that take different lengths of time to satisfy.

I restricted myself to ministerial webchats (no senior civil servants) and those run on departmental websites or channels. All webchats were text-based (practically all are) and run after 2005. Some ministers appear more than once, because they’ve done more than one webchat (dates available if you want). All the webchats had to be public-facing to count.

I found the transcripts through site archives and allowed myself to search back as far as three pages into a Google search. I think it was a pretty exhaustive search, but please let me know if I’ve missed any. I then counted the ‘replies’, which in webchat parlance count as answers. I did the count manually but thoroughly, though I accept there may be a reply missed or added here and there.

The answer: on average a minister manages to answer 21 questions in a webchat.

MINISTER REPLIES
Alan Johnson 14
Alan Johnson 22
Alistair Darling 22
Andy Burnham 15
Anne McGuire 19
Baroness Ashton 19
Beverley Hughes 29
Caroline Flint 9
David Miliband 30
David Miliband 32
David Miliband 21
Des Browne 18
Douglas Alexander 13
Ed Balls 24
Geoff Hoon 39
Hazel Blears 23
Hilary Benn 22
Hilary Benn 27
Ivan Lewis 24
Ivan Lewis 47
Jacqui Smith 16
Jacqui Smith 15
Jacqui Smith 17
James Purnell 23
James Purnell 26
Jim Fitzpatrick 25
Jim Murphy 20
Jim Murphy 15
Jim Murphy 17
John Denham 18
John Hutton 20
John Hutton 17
John Reid 17
John Reid 16
Liam Byrne 16
Lord Adonis 21
Lord Darzi 13
Lord Darzi 18
Lord Sainsbury 30
Malcolm Wicks 25
Malcolm Wicks 29
Patricia Hewitt 20
Peter Hain 25
Phil Hope 37
Phil Woolas 19
Ruth Kelly 19
Ruth Kelly 18
Shahid Malik 10
Shriti Vadera 8
Stephen Ladyman 12
Stephen Ladyman 35
Stephen Ladyman 18
Yvette Cooper 21
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8 thoughts on “Ministers are pretty chatty on average

  1. Goodness, that must have been a labour of love!

    Interesting findings – presumably there’s some sort of correlation with the personal IT skills of the minister and the seriousness with which they take online engagement…?

    For your next trick, analysis of ministerial answers by Twitter?

  2. Individual IT skills are definitely part of the picture; though some Ministers type themselves, others bring in a touch-typist. What suprises most people is that the Ministers do actually participate directly :) I think this is a good reason for moving more toward webcasts, or at least offering live svideo streaming wherever possible.

  3. I don’t think live streaming would be possible and video would probably take up too much editing time. I think I’m right in saying that the output has to abide by Civil Service Code (as they’re on neutral gov websites), so no party political stuff allowed, when being ‘interviewed’/filmed they cannot resist – hence text much easier.

  4. You’re right on the Code, Seb. I’m a bit of an optimist and I think that there are some lightweight tools and techniques that we could try out to help bring a bit of richness in to the traditionally flat – but informative – webchat.

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