I am involved with an innovative political social networking site, Digital Democracy. We launched it this month at the House of Commons, where MPs were encouraged to be the first to sign up. March 1st saw the free website start to give people a platform to get their voice heard in their community, letting them put forward their ideas on solving the UK’s toughest issues directly to their neighbours, as well as their MPs.
Digital Democracy was created out of a frustration with how little say communities actually have over the decisions that affect people’s everyday lives. It is the brainchild of Jonathan Elmer, Managing Director of Democratise and it is funded by two independent charities the Nominet Trust and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
The new platform lets people put their ideas directly to the people who make the decisions and challenges them to respond to the issues that they decide are the most important.
Clearly Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing pictures and gossip, but there is no social network designed to be part of our political system. That’s where Digital Democracy comes in. It aims to do two key things. Firstly, create an ‘online parliament’ which enables individuals to collaborate on what they decide are the greatest priorities for their constituencies. Secondly, it gives MPs a single and simple platform for responding to the issues which stir up the greatest passions in their constituency. So as well as creating local forums for every community in Great Britain, Digital Democracy encourages users to engage in nationwide debate and challenge MPs to respond to the most popular ideas
Dr Roberta Blackman Woods MP was an early adopter of Digital Democracy and supported its initial testing in her constituency, City of Durham. She was keen on the idea as it “champions more effective communication with MPs” and “is a powerful tool for a better, more transparent and more engaged democracy”.
It’s been much talked about that the UK has seen a massive decline in political participation in recent decades and various attempts to address this. What makes Digital Democracy different from other campaigns to re-engage people with politics is that, crucially, it works with the current Westminster system, but uses a social networking platform to deliver. It’s a method of political discussion and organisation more reflective of the way people live their lives today.
Lots of people don’t have the time or the inclination to get involved in local or national politics in the traditional ways, but they want to do more than just vote every 5 years. To help people realise the real power they can exercise, Digital Democracy offers a unique geographic link to official Westminster boundaries. So it has the power to put local, everyday issues that matter to people right on the agenda – and challenges MPs to respond to the priorities of their constituents.
The biggest challenge will be to get people to submit their ideas and concerts – and then to ensure MPs sign up to respond to their constituents. Digital Democracy is currently undertaking a 6 month pilot phase with the backing of MPs and MEPs in England, Scotland and Wales. And already, users are signed up from 137 constituencies. Momentum is building...