The Hansard Society has published an interesting report, #futurenews – The Communication of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World, that examines the ways in which Parliament can (and should) adapt to social media to enhance its communication and engagement with the public.
The reports main findings are that:
- Parliament needs to adopt to social, mobile, data and video-led digital communications
- Parliament has the potential to play a crucial part as “authoritative place at the apex of our democracy” – but one which is largely absent from popular political debate
- Parliament needs to spend time identifying key online communities and developing ways to communicate better with them (i.e. faster and using more granular, social content)
In order to step up and start meeting these challenges, the reports authors argue that the following actions must be prioritised and implemented:
- “Appoint a Community Team (for each House or on a bi-cameral basis) to build links with online communities with specific audience interests and an AV media officer to produce rich in-house content to populate the website and be disseminated to a variety of audiences
- Invest in its broadcasting and digital infrastructure to enable a wider range of online sites to take its material
- Produce contextualised video news releases and make video of up to two minutes’ duration available copyright free, with attribution for any user to download and embed
- Revise the broadcasting rules, particularly for regional select committee visits
- Live-log, time-code, tag and key-word Hansard, and improve the website search functionality in order to enable people to access relevant material more quickly”
These findings and recommendations are interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think it’s fair to say that none of results and outcomes are particularly ground-breaking – at least if you work in a digital PR or social media agency. But it is striking that none of the, even fundamental steps, have yet to be considered let alone implemented by an institution described by the report authors as the “apex of our democracy”!
Secondly, a lot of this reminds me of the work I delivered with We Are Social as part of a project with Parliamentary Outreach, the marketing arm – if you will – of Parliament*. This project was focused on opening up the work and processes of Parliamentary committees – and as an aside, it’s interesting to note that the report intimates the ethos and perhaps some of the original actions from the project have filtered through to a practical level within Committee business (see p.37 and the #askgove example). One key learning from this project – and something commonly experienced across established institutions – was that while the recommended actions were widely recognised as imperative for engaging digitally and opening up the organisation, dominant cultures and stakeholders prevailed, limiting the potential of the project.
This latter point is one issue that the report needs to consider as a next step for ensuring its accurate recommendations become reality. There are, of course, many ways to embed social norms within traditionally hierarchical organisations but I think another factor that the Hansard Society and Parliament need to consider is the presumption of centrality and self-importance of Parliament and by extension, democracy.
The report itself describes Parliament as occupying an “authoritative place at the apex of our democracy”. But is this a risky start point for socialising Parliament’s communication (and by necessity, Parliament itself)? Based on both the disintegration of public trust in Parliament and democratic institutions as well as the empowering of ‘ordinary citizens’ through social technologies surely a more appropriate starting point would one of deference and a recognition that both in terms of political purpose and social media knowledge and practice, Parliament has a lot of catching up to with wider society.
* It always amused me that Parliamentary Outreach’s portcullis logo on We Are Social’s client page was consistently mistaken for Ministry of Sound!