Examination of Witnesses (Questions 72
WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL 2009
Mr David Bowen, Mr Ivo Gormley, Mr Ben Hammersley,
Mr Tim Hood and Mr Tom Loosemore
Q72 Chairman: Very
many thanks to the five of you for coming this afternoon. I am
particularly grateful that when we lost the Minister, because
he was involved in the G20 preparations for tomorrow, you were
able to change the time from 5.00 to 4.15. We are very grateful
for that. I am sorry if we kept you waiting for a little while.
Could I just remind you that we are now in public evidence session
and that a full transcript of the public evidence session will
be taken, which will be posted on the website and published with
the Committee's report. We will send you a draft of it so that
if there are obvious mistakes in it, or corrections which you
wish to make, you will have an opportunity to do so. That is the
normal process for inquiries. Can I suggest that you each say
just a few words, who you are representing, who you are, and if
any of you would like to make a short statement before we get
down to the questions, please do so. We will start with you on
the left, Ben.
Mr Hammersley: I am Ben Hammersley and I am
the Associate Editor of Wired magazine, which is the new
magazine on innovation and technology, and so on from Conde Nast,
which launches tomorrow, but previously I was a technologist for
the Guardian, for the Times, for the BBC, for the
Foreign Office, and for many private clients.
Mr Bowen: I am David Bowen. I work for a company
called Bowen Craggs. We are a very specialist small consultancy
which helps large organisations, principally in the private sector
but some public sector as well, to work out what they should be
doing online. So I am a consultant. My background, however, is
in business journalism.
Mr Gormley: I have just directed a film about
participatory culture and government and I work at a company called
thinkpublic and we work in the public sector trying to involve
the users of public services more in the way they are designed
Mr Loosemore: I am Tom Loosemore. I work for
Channel 4. I am Head of 4iP,which is a new public service website
initiative. Previously I worked for many years helping to run
a BBC website and in my spare time I have helped launch a number
of eDemocracy initiatives, including a site called TheyWorkForYou.com.
Mr Hood: My name is Steve Hood. I am the Manager
of Yoosk.com. It is a web platform which allows the public to
interact directly with politicians. Prior to that, I worked for
the British Council and I did some social media consulting for
how the British Council could build relationships with people
Thank you very much indeed. As you know, this inquiry is about
Parliament and people and how we feel we could relate better with
people, particularly from the House of Lords, and we very much
wanted to get evidence, views and ideas from you all to see if
people can come up with things so that we say to ourselves, "Why
didn't we think about that?" It is up to you who wants to
get in and talk. Which aspects of Parliament's online communication
work well and enable better engagement between Parliament and
the public? So there we are looking at the good side of it. What
works well? You must have something to say that is good!
Mr Loosemore: There are some elements on the
site that explain the basics of how Parliament is meant to work,
okay to good. I would not say they are best of breed, but some
of the guides about how this institution is meant to function
Mr Bowen: I think some of the educational stuff
is quite good and also there is the intention of having interactive
stuff. There are forums around the place, things like Lords of
the Blog. If you look hard enough, you can find them, so there
is plenty of good intention there.
How did you learn about the intentions?
Mr Bowen: Well, I look and see what there is
and then guess. If they are going something, they have probably
got the intention to do it.
Do you look on the Web and see what we are advertising?
Mr Bowen: Yes, you look around. You start off
by going into the Parliament website and then look around. Maybe
if you do not find something, you skip over to Google and look
that way, which I think is probably the way a lot of people would
Mr Hammersley: To be fair, though, we would
do that because we are interested in finding the thing in the
first place. I do not think anybody is ever going to have a look
at the House of Lords website because they are bored one Friday
Q76 Baroness Billingham:
You never know. Come on!
Mr Hammersley: You are right, you never know.
Q77 Baroness Billingham:
We might have some good movies on there!
Mr Hammersley: That is true, and there could
be some good gossip. People who are very interested in civil society
and who are part of this sort of community may well search it
out and may well be knowledgeable about the subject, but the average
person on the street?
Mr Bowen: I suspect a lot of journalists would
go there. There is a piece of paper with huge amounts on MPs'
Mr Hammersley: They are paid to do that.
Mr Bowen: Exactly, but there is a lot of raw
material there if you are prepared to go and dig around and look
Mr Gormley: Quite a lot of people must be looking
at it. It comes up pretty high on Google, I think, above the Wikipedia
entry for the House of Lords, so you must be doing something right
to be able to get those hits.
Mr Hood: I think it is fair to say that the
website seems to have embraced most of the newest innovations
in Web 2.0, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et cetera. What is very
encouraging is that they have started to blog on the development
of the parliamentary website, which suggests a great deal of openness
and it gives a very positive image as well. I would also add to
what David has said that the education section is very strong,
I think, partly because they probably have a little bit more freedom
to experiment. The stakes are not so high in terms of reputation.
Chairman: Lady Coussins, I know that,
sadly, you have to leave us in a few minutes.
Q78 Baroness Coussins:
Yes. I am sorry about that, but I would like to get a couple of
questions in first. It does sound to me as if we have got exactly
the right people here, I think, judging by your introductions,
so I am glad to have the opportunity. The first thing I want to
ask is about our visibility online. What should we be doing to
make ourselvesby which I mean Members of both Housesmore
visible and also more accessible for online dialogue or interchange
of any kind? Should people be able to ask us questions online?
How else should we be interacting with them and be visible online?
Mr Hammersley: I think there is going to be
a theme throughout the evidence everybody here gives, which isif
I might pre-empt everybody elsethat there is a core of
stuff which the Members of both Houses do, the business that you
do, which is the fundamental things that should be dealt with
first, the legislation, expenses, all of the core stuff like your
day to day work. That is the core thing that everybody is interested
in, which you are just not doing at the moment. The stuff around
the outside, the "How can I interact with you? How can we
be seen to be friendly? Should I have my picture much bigger on
my home page?" all that sort of stuff is trivial, utterly
trivial to me technologically, utterly trivial to me socially
and basically meaningless. The core stuff, the really important
stuff, the civically important things, the fundamental basics
that we should be talking aboutthe agenda, the Open Day,
that sort of stuffthat is also technically very easy to
do, it is just that in terms of the business of Parliament nobody
has ever done it before and it would cause a few resignations,
but that is the core thing that we are going to have to get to
the heart of.
Mr Loosemore: I would like to add to that as
an area to start with. I would like to reiterate what Ben said
about there being a core of information that you have to get right
and I would just like to stress what I think that information
is. It is the legislation you are passing, the legislation you
have passed, the debates you are having, the votes you are taking,
the information essence of Parliament. I think there is more to
it than taking a sort of digitised analogue of the printed version
of Hansard and putting it online, which is what you currently
do. That is useful, but it is about an order of magnitude less
useful than it could and should be. So if I come to the parliamentary
website I would want to see everything that Baroness Coussins
has done and said within these Houses, and I cannot do that. I
have to look in 20 places.
You would like to know exactly what she is talking about, what
is her background, where she comes from?
Mr Loosemore: Online nowadays it is utterly
inconceivable that I could not do that.
Mr Hammersley: Yes, and it is not a matter of
liking, it is your responsibility as our representatives in Parliament.
It is not only inconceivable that you do not, it is actually morally
and ethically wrong that you do not.