Afternoon papers….

Three presentations at the Young People, New Technologies and Political Enagement conference looking at different ways of engaging citizens and young people online:

Google turns up over a billion online forums – and there has been a lot of rhetoric in the past about using online forums to support e-democracy deliberation – but Kerill Duanne's research seems to show online forums are not working to help political deliberation online. They're inactive or inneffective. So do we need better designed spaces?

Sophia Collins told us about the more structured, time limited and fascilitated 'I'm a Councillor'. Can this engage young people in democracy? What about beyond the time when I'm a Councillor is running? It seems to have been successful at engaging 'the greys' – those who wouldn't otherwise be getting involved. It seems that the 'big brother' time-limited vote-one-person-out-a-week interaction of I'm a Councillor engages young people and meets a need young people feel in getting to know and trust political representatives – but should we always be having to manufacture these opportunities to build trust? How can they be made an organic part of the political process? How can we build on the positive experience of I'm a Councillor?
Also look at:

Anna McDermott from Brisol shared information about Bristol's 'Viewfinder' video consultation project (drupal based by the look of it..) where video was used to launch an online consultation process. Responses to a consultation can be sent in by text, through the online forum, or as video. The project team seeded the site with content gathered through outreach work creating video interviews (it would be interesting to know how many videos were directly submitted to the site…). The site hosted an discussion on the Bristol young people's manifesto which fed into the Bristol young people's select committee. Some reflections on video below.

From the discussion that followed:

  • We can move away from a defecit model – 'this technology is the panacea for engaging this particular group' – and can simply admit we all have different access preferences – and we need multiple-channels of communication to be able to engage people with different communication preferences. (And we need these to be integrated – with different pathways into the same process.)
  • Video inputs might be used to 'back up decisions that are made' – rather than influencing the decisions. It's a equivelent the the 'free text' option on a survey. But is the free-text analysed well enough? Is it consultation-lite without the substative element? How can we make sure people going down the video input route still get the option and are encouraged to contribute to consulation-stats after inputting via video/free-text discussion?

Short reflections:

  • There's a lot of looking at the role of citizenship in promoting e-democracy – but there seems to be a lack of looking at spaces where young people should have power and a right to input. The way to build in e-democracy seems to me to be to build it around Setion 6 rights of young people to influence Local Offer provision, and other local activities. Where power is given, it's harder for it to be taken away.
  • Video can carry a lot of information – but I wonder if its not too much. I can't process 15 video inputs as quickly as I can 15 text-inputs to a consultation or a dialougue – and so the risk is I can hear less views… Do we need better technology to allow analysis of video? Or is video mainly a red-herring technology in consultation and e-engagement – useful only in a limited range of situations? It certainly seems useful to give information – but how is it for gathering information? Bristol transcribe video inputs into text reports – but also make the videos available for decision makers to watch to understand an issue on a deeper level.
  • The design of tools matters. In the same way physical space affects the way interaction works – the 'public digital architecture' (by which I mean how it works for the user, not back-end systems architecture) really matters. But the power matters as well (if not most of all…)