Building Britain’s Digital Future: ‘a chance to reinvent deliberative democracy for the modern age’

This is supposed to be about action more than words so I’ll kick off with my proposed outcome and you can read the rationale if you want to: let’s get some interested people together and help design the future of digital deliberative democracy for the government. It’ll be faster, better and, with any luck, more pubby.

Updated update: looks like we’re going ahead with this on Friday April 30th. Please sign up at if you’re planning on coming!

The thinking: just had a first read of Gordon Brown’s speech on Building Britain’s Digital Future from this morning. Lots of open/linked data (generally ‘a good thing’, certainly indicative of an interesting culture change but in danger of becoming disproportionately overhyped in my opinion) and broadband access chat (certainly ‘a good thing’ but hardly radical, you’d hope) but I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, particularly interested in this section:

The web and the internet offers us a chance to reinvent “deliberative democracy” for the modern age.

Digital government will help open the door to new ways of enabling people to influence and even decide public policy. And it will give them better and more comprehensive access to the information they need to make informed choices.

Ultimately this can provide the basis for them to participate in deliberative processes to formulate policy – setting off a historic shift in the way public policy is made…

So what I am talking about is in essence a new partnership to govern – an invitation for people to directly share in the task of government that is there to serve them.

And I am today tasking every department to identify the far wider scope for deliberative engagements with the public, specifying the outcome expected from such engagement.

That sounds like a mandate right from the top to start thinking productively and positively about how to use the internet to better connect people with decision-making – and in a way that’s appropriate to the internet, not just ported across from offline techniques (though obviously how much impact any ‘mandate’ will have with an election looming is debatable – though the Conservatives are talking about similar things in their technology manifesto).

Basically, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to advocate since we started in 2004 (you might notice our name is taken from ‘deliberative’) – and if it does turn into an opportunity to actually make this stuff happen far more widely, regularly and effectively, I don’t want to miss it. I also think there’s more to this than the particular examples referenced in the speech (iPhone apps, Twitter and Flickr are more often, in my experience, bandied about because of their trendy digital comms cachet rather than actually as considered channels for better public engagement).

Well, that’s fine, well done us for all this lovely and laudable thinking – but I’m interested in what we can actually do about it. My first thought is to get people who are interested in and good at this stuff together in a room/pub and actually come up with some proposed designs for an ideal implementation – a bit like IdealGov’s WIBBIs or Sunlight Foundation’s redesigns. (It’d be lovely if we could do this in Bristol as well, too many of these events are London-centric). Is anyone else up for it? Or maybe you have other thoughts about ‘action plans going forward’. Anyway, like I say (when I’ve been watching too much West Wing), I don’t want to let the pitch go by. Who else wants to get involved?

10 thoughts on “Building Britain’s Digital Future: ‘a chance to reinvent deliberative democracy for the modern age’

  1. I’m definitely interested in this, and can hopefully be involved on behalf of the Citizenship Foundation rather than just in my own right. Bristol’s as easy to get to for me as London, so I’ve no problem with that 🙂

  2. Cool, thanks all! Appreciate the interest and offers of help. Looks like we might have the germ of something here. When I get a minute, I’ll try and firm up a plan with 1) venue 2) agenda/programme 3) date (that’ll be fun :s). Then we can attempt the alchemy of turning words into action…

  3. Looks like we’re going ahead with this. Sign up here if you’re planning on coming:

    The what: a fairly lo-fi/barcamp-style gathering of people interested in using the internet to improve deliberative democracy, working in small groups to come up with solutions that could really work faster than the government will be able to 🙂 By the end of the day, we’d hope to have some plans/ideas that a civil servant could pick up and use straight away, as well as some more general guidance/advice in this area.

    The where: central Bristol – we’ll finalise a venue when we’re a bit more sure of numbers but it’s likely to be some kind of pub near our office (King Street, BS1 4DZ)

    The when: Friday April 30th. We’re thinking something like 11.30 for a 12pm start – we figure that’ll give people opportunity to get here but leave enough time to come up with some great answers.

  4. Thanks, Alex, great to hear from you! Ofcom certainly have an interesting role/position in this stuff so would be fantastic to get your input; hope you can come along on the 30th as I’d love to hear/chat more about your experiences and the work you’re doing…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *