Funny that you tend never to notice things in your own back yard! After scouring the world for good examples of Gov 2.0, I realised that the 10 Downing Street web site is pretty good.
It is a good clean looking site with blogs, speeches and transcripts, press notices, webchats, a Number10 Web TV Channel, flickr photos, a YouTube channel and they are happily twittering away. It is all good stuff, on a clean modern looking site.
One of the pieces that struck me was the YouTube channel. It allows people to upload questions and have the Prime Minister answer – pretty good. The embedded clips is someone asking about state pension with a response from the Prime Minister.
Another feature that has been around for a while is the ability to create e-Petitions. This was started late in 2006 and citizens can create petitions online for whatever they want (within a set of constraints) and get people to vote on it. The petition can be refused by number 10 if it is out of their remit, offensive or party political – this allows them to ignore petitions such as allowing trolls to live under every bridge in London (I rather liked that one…). So far there have been over 24,000 petitions (however over 27,000 have been rejected) which starts to show the issues that Gov 2.0 can present.
It has not always been plain sailing either. The most high profile petition was one against introducing road-tolls with over 1.25 million supporters which caused the Government to backtrack on the proposal. However, there was significant criticism about the e-petition process with one senior Minister quoted as saying “whoever came up with this idea was a prat”. The concern was that a well organised minority group, and in this case backed by a national newspaper could be seen to force the Government agenda, effectively circumvent the democratic process. I think this quote from the BBC website is spot on about the difference between an online petition and the actual desire of a nation.
Petitions are not meant to be representative of the country like an opinion poll, they just indicate what one group of people think on a subject, and they are a powerful way to make politicians aware of an issue which is important to that particular group of people
Just because 1.25 million people say they did not want road tolls where was the debate? Where could those people who wanted it express their opinion? Democracy is not about who can shout the loudest.
Similar issues can be seen with Obama’s Citizens Briefing Book where the most supported proposition was to end marijuana prohibition. There is always a risk when polling that population that ideas like this take the lead. The UK has a national census every 10 years, and during the last one the rumour circulated that if enough people put ‘Jedi Knight’ down as their religion it would have to become an officially recognised religion – 390,000 people put it down (2% of people in Oxford are apparently Jedi’s).
Engaging with citizens is vital, but it is not as easy as it may first look.