I spent the morning at Reboot Britain today, and was part of a panel convened by Paul Evans on The Future of Policymaking along with David Price of Debategraph and Deborah Szebeko of Think Public. It was an interesting, if slightly random, canter through the fields of policy deliberation online, and the role of visualisation and design in improving public engagement with it.
In a nutshell, my central thesis was that although enlightened departments (and I should also have mentioned the innovators outside government) are using commentable documents, blogs and video to bring policy to life online and make it easier to engage with, we’re still not breaking through in terms of numbers or incentives for people to participate – or for policymakers to listen. I defined three goals we’re working towards: a wider range of participants in the policymaking process; better ideas emerging from it; and conversations that translate into coalitions of the willing to deliver policy, and not just talk about it.
For me, the future lies in bringing policy to life in different ways for different audiences, embracing idea generation and online feedback communities, and making policy debates more accessible through visualisation, radical transparency (who’s lobbying whom) and plain english.
Steve Moore and his team are phenomenal curators of events like these – Steve and Nesta are able to bring together remarkable coalitions of diverse and interesting people. But today they were very much preaching to the converted, with people talking frustratedly about doing rather than… doing. To me, the grass roots learning of open space events like Tim Davies’ Connected Generation (second event coming up this weekend) which inspires youth workers across the country and keeps them talking all year, the social support and practical tips of the informal monthly Teacamps for government webbies, or at the other end of the scale, the world-class presentations of events like TED are more effective at enthusing and challenging their audiences.
So following the rest of the day online, I was troubled about the premise of Reboot Britain – and Ross seems to have felt it too. There were some great thinkers and excellent do-ers taking part too, but somehow the early talk of monumental change betrayed the fact that most people participating today have probably been involved with half a dozen similar events over the last year, and the ‘new audiences’ for the message – civil servants, say, IT managers or politicians – numbered in the low tens out of a crowd of several hundred.
Still, as Ross says, it was still a worthwhile morning, I met some interesting people in the breaks and the provocative essays commissioned for the event are a great read.