Comment on government: How should I be interacting?

I’ve just been reading the commentable version of  the Coalition: our programme for government document, and, given some of the content, I couldn’t help but head for the comment box to drop in some reflections on different aspects of the proposed policies.

However, as I started to type in a comment or two, I quickly found I wasn’t certain what sort of interaction was being invited. The front page of the site states “This website gives you the opportunity to enter public discussion on the programme. We’ll take all your comments and suggestions on board and publish the Government’s response to those policy areas receiving the most feedback”, but it goes no further to explain who will be reading the comments, what sort of feedback to expect, and whether the goal is discussion between members of the public, or dialogue between the public and government.

Which makes writing a comment difficult.

Should I be constructively unpicking policy and pointing to useful resources that, in the hands of a Minister or policy official would be useful? Should I be replying to other posters, engaging in debate with them on the strengths or weakness of their argument? If so, are they getting e-mail updates about my replies, or can threaded discussions emerge? Should I be gaming the system and getting as many people to post on the topics I feel post passionate about, given the statement that only the “policy areas receiving the most feedback” are to get a response from the Government? Will track-backs to posts (so I can write a more considered comment on policy areas on this blog) be picked up and fed into the dialogue?

All these things affect the sort of dialogue that can take place – and the nature of relationship between citizen and government that can be established. Whilst it’s positive that the new government have opted for opening up comments on the coalition plan, and Simon Dickson’s work to turnaround a basic site for such comments in a short space of time is impressive, comment boxes alone do not a dialogue make. There are bit techno-social challenges to be solved to effective online participation, and we all need to get a lot smarter in solving them.

As the Government team behind this online document, and, hopefully future online documents, iterate the development of such spaces, it would be good to see a lot more attention paid to the forms of interaction between citizen and state that are to be facilitated. Personally, I’d like to see a clear statement about exactly who will be reading and summarising the comments; how that will take place; and who the summary will be shared with. And it would be good to have something more nuanced than simply a numbers game for knowing what will get considered.

What would you like to see to encourage effective dialogue on government hosted spaces around documents like the coalition agreement?

P.S. There’s one more big problem with the current commentable coalition agreement: the moderation policy suggests wants 16s to have parental consent before posting. There is no legal basis for this and its outrageous age discrimination. By all means encourage young people to discuss issues with parents before posting – but to exclude young people who are  from posting without parental consent cannot be justified.

Exploring Social Network Sites for HIV/AIDS communication: online forum

Communication for Social Change: Future Connect ForumA while back I worked on a report for AIDS2031 with Pete Cranston about the potential for Social Network Sites to play a role in HIV/AIDS education. As a follow up from that, Ann Kao, from the Southeast Asia, Frontier Foundation has been running a number of workshops in Asia on Social Networking and HIV/AIDS education, and today we launched an online forum – running between now and the end of June, to host dialogue around the issue.

You can find more information on the forum and how to take part over on the Communications Initiative site where it is hosted.

If you know anyone specialising in work on HIV/AIDS education or sexual health education who might be interested in taking part, then do pass them the link.

Have you explored open government data?

If you’ve looked at any sites such as or the London Datastore website, where you can browse and access datasets recently released by government, then I need your help.

As part of my MSc dissertation research I’m carrying out a survey into the use of open government data.

If you can spare 10 or 15 minutes to respond, then please do take a look here.

(Oh, and there is a draw for one of four £25 Amazon vouchers as a way of thanking contributors to the survey…)

And if you’re interested in the wider research, I’m blogging that over on the Open Data Impacts project blog.

Explaining commissioning…

More and more services for young people are arranged through commissioning, as opposed to being delivered directly by local authorities or other agencies. Last year Practical Participation did some work supporting Bradford with the commissioning of their new Connexions Service, and for that we had to find a way of explaining the commissioning process in an accessible way. The result was the slide-show below:

A recent e-mail from an NHS trust interested in using the slide-show in their own youth involvement around commissioning services made me think that other’s may also find it useful. Please consider it to be under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA and as such feel free to adapt for your own contexts.

And of course, if you’ve been exploring youth participation in commissioning and have other ways to explain and explore the issues, do share your insights in the comments below…