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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The need to listen on-line

I am currently representing the Assembly Presiding Officer at a European working group on e-government in Seville. It is not as good as it sounds. There are two days of travel and one day in the working group. I will not see much of the City at all.

The discussion though has been very interesting, involving a look at the results of a survey of 21 regional Parliaments and how they use new technology to engage with their citizens, as well as a presentation by three Spanish Professors.

Some of the points I picked out include the diverse way Parliaments use information and communications technology. It is used to convey information, to deliver organisational change, to consult, to enable participation and as part of democratic deliberation.

The challenge we all face is to put into place strategies and tools to secure the effective participation of citizens in the decision-making process. We have to listen and to engage.

The points I made were that ICT is a tool not a solution. There are dangers with an institutional approach, not least that you will fail to properly listen to those you are seeking to engage with. If we are to get added value from the use of information and communication technology then we need to use it to improve access to politicians and to the bodies they serve in. That access has to be two way.

Like any other tool, ICT is at its best when it is used skilfully. That does not pre-suppose any technical ability. A politician's main skill, when s/he bothers to use it, is in communication. ICT can be used to re-engage with our roots, to listen better and to respond. But it is not the only tool in the box and must be used alongside other tools as well.

Mobility is the key. It means that we can respond on the move. But we must not use social media, for example, as a broadcast tool. It is an interactive medium and if we are not going to use it properly then we might as well not use it at all.

Finally, we need to remember that most people do not want to routinely engage with politicians. They are happy to be kept informed and to see us about but will only want to contact us when they need us. What they need is reassurance that when they need help they can get it, and quickly.

An active presence on social media alongside other more traditional methods of communication is a means of offering that reassurance.
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