Report from the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy

The photo shows the Palace of Westminster seen across the River Thames on a sunny day
The Palace of Westminster, home to Parliament

This post was written by Stevie Benton, Head of External Relations

This morning I attended the launch of Open Up! – Report of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. Having been involved in the work of the Commission I was very interested to hear its recommendations.

The report is a substantial document (PDF) which I need to read in more detail, but there are five key targets and recommendations highlighted in the summary (P3 of the report). Some of these appear to be significant wins for the open knowledge movement. These are quoted below:

  • By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does
  • By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital
  • The 2015 newly elected House of Commons should create immediately a new forum for public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons
  • By 2020 secure online voting should be an option for all voters
  • By 2016 all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for re-use. Hansard should be available as open data by the end of 2015.

It is the final recommendation that is of most interest here, and I’ll address this first. I very much welcome this step to make more of Parliament’s information freely available, especially as this is already paid for from the public purse, although the choice of open license is crucial to the impact this move will have. I encourage Parliament to use the most open license possible. For example, the use of the Open Government Licence would allow for footage of parliamentary debates to be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and inserted into appropriate Wikipedia articles. I find this quite exciting and it would enhance Wikipedia as a learning and teaching tool for those interested in Parliament.

The other key recommendation I find particularly noteworthy is the third, the new forum for debate which is tentatively dubbed the “Cyber Chamber”. This is to be created as soon as the 2015-16 session of Parliament opens and will provide the public with opportunities to digitally participate in debates that take place at Westminster Hall. If this experiment is successful, the scheme will extend to include debates in both Houses. If Parliament can find a way to make this workable, with a high “signal to noise” ratio it could be an effective way of increasing engagement between the electorate and those they elect.

Among the other recommendations from the full report there are proposals to simplify parliamentary language (recommendation 4 in the report) and, to my mind more importantly, an encouragement to the Department of Education to improve the provision of political education within schools using digital means (recommendation 3).

The key test will be to see how these recommendations are implemented but so far, the signs are very promising. The desire of Parliament to move the digital democracy agenda onward is laudable and could lead to great progress.

I would be very interested to know what others think of the report so please do share your thoughts, either as comments here or via email – stevie.benton(at)wikimedia.org.uk

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