Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament - Information Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 72 - 79)

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 and delivered.

  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 overseas.

  Q73  Chairman: 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 are useful.

  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.

  Q74  Chairman: 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.

  Q75  Chairman: 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 do it.

  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 morning.

  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' expenses.

  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 for it.

  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 ourselves—by which I mean Members of both Houses—more 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 is—if I might pre-empt everybody else—that 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 about—the agenda, the Open Day, that sort of stuff—that 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.

  Q79  Chairman: 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.


 
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