1.Lord McFall introduced the seminar highlighting the need for the Liaison Committee review to consider the future, with specific reference to increasing use of and introducing new technology. He also highlighted the oral evidence the Liaison Committee had received from both Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Clement-Jones.
2.Lord Mendelsohn noted that communications and technology are consistently changing, and whilst all change is not necessarily good change, we must become more open in order to thrive. He explained that in 10 years newspaper circulations have halved and now news is more frequently being consumed digitally, which is not necessarily represented in the way the House of Lords communicates.
3.Lord Mendelsohn highlighted that committees must now consider how people have conversations and tap in to that. This included the use of social media, which Lord Mendelsohn emphasised is wider than just Twitter and Facebook and includes everything from Reddit to Linkedin. The amount of data that is seen and consumed through these media is far greater than TV consumption, and therefore cannot be ignored by the House of Lords. These online platforms now have the ability to reach almost half of the world’s population; whilst opening up opportunity Lord Mendelsohn noted their use does not come without risk.
4.In his initial remarks Lord Clement-Jones endorsed Lord Mendelsohn’s points, particularly the need to be risk aware. Lord Clement-Jones aimed to draw on his experience as the Chair of the Artificial Intelligence Committee in 2017–18, and split his thoughts in to three areas:
(a)Utilising existing technology. Technology can and should be assistive rather than substitutional and can help to improve basic committee actions. These suggestions included circulating committee papers entirely digitally, making interactive screens available in committee meetings to enable live editing of reports, and instant messaging to edit questions during evidence sessions. Lord Clement-Jones explained that some technology is already being used such as parliamentlive.tv and video conferencing, but this could be expanded considerably.
(b)Committee communication and engagement. Lord Clement-Jones explained a series of actions he believes should be instilled within committees including, communications strategies, including social media where necessary to cultivate a community throughout an inquiry; a wider variety of report formats including short versions and presentations for different audiences; chatbots to engage further and educate; and innovative ways of launching committee reports.
(c)What members can do. Lord Clement-Jones highlighted that in order for these things to happen members of committee must be willing to go digital by default, trial new technologies on committees, introduce ideas and technologies from other areas of their life and be open minded to change.
5.Lord Mendelsohn covered a number of other ideas that could be introduced to committees which included:
(a)Engage the public through online forms, surveys and social media, to develop greater conversation.
(b)Use video conferencing more extensively.
(c)Use further video marketing.
(d)Be ambitious with marketing, using the expansion of documentary popularity to take control of self-promotion.
(e)Public evaluation of select committee reports through social media.
6.Lord Mendelsohn caveated much of this with the idea that committees and members must be willing and prepared to look for an audience. It was highlighted that the way many influencers and online presences have thrived is by finding a relevant audience and catering to their needs. Therefore, the House of Lords cannot just expect individuals to find them, we must actively search for an audience. One example that was used was the focus on using newspapers and trade press, which limits the possible audience a committee could use, and that looking for other avenues to engage gives a wider range of possible audiences.
7.The session was then opened up to comments and questions from members of the House. The following questions and comments were amongst those raised:
(a)How could a committee go about building a community around their inquiries to develop engagement?
Lord Mendelsohn suggested using greater targeting, not just for report publication, but throughout an inquiry, and using tools such as Linkedin to develop a community. However this needs members who are willing to put in the time to create this.
Lord Clement-Jones noted that it is easier for the longer-running special inquiry (formerly ad hoc) committees to be focused when it comes to building a community around their inquiries, however other committees should use their calls for evidence as a first chance to target as wide an audience as possible.
(b)It was pointed out that one of the clear risks that comes from increased usage of online tools and platforms is the way that data can be misused.
Lord Mendelsohn noted the different views that are held globally and intergenerationally about data privacy, and that people today are often aware and more relaxed about how this data is used. Despite this, it is important to stay live to possible consequences of using these online tools, however if we do not use them then we risk being behind the curve.
(c)It was noted as something to consider, that whilst the increased use of video and streaming would be a positive at allowing more people to access the work of the House of Lords, this could also demonstrate a lack of diversity amongst members, which may work against the aim of building a wider and more diverse audience. Lord Clement-Jones suggested that incorporating the video of witnesses giving evidence rather than just members would be helpful to illustrate text of reports in respect of this.
(d)Should committees have technology specialists to assist with these issues?
It was suggested that rather than have committee technology specialists there should be a drive in the House to educate members on new technologies, how to use them and the impact they may have on committees.
(e)As the House prepares for restoration and renewal which is to prepare the Palace of Westminster for the next 100 years of service, the challenges that have been discussed must be represented to ensure that committees are relevant and technologically ready.
Lord Mendelsohn agreed with this point and noted that the best way to ensure this happens is to make sure that we are setting objectives that look beyond the present for how we communicate, learn and relate. Lord Clement-Jones noted that we must be investing in the future.
8.The session ended with closing remarks from Lord McFall.