Can Parliament seize the opportunity to better communicate parliamentary democracy in a digital world?
The landscape of print, broadcasting and social media is changing rapidly and how it alters affects Parliament’s ability to communicate and engage with the public it serves. A new report from the Hansard Society – #futurenews: The Communication of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World – explores these strategic communication trends and how Parliament needs to respond in order to keep pace and ensure it has a voice in the political debate commensurate with its role at the apex of our democracy.
#futurenews examines changing patterns of news consumption, the public’s attitude to news about politics in general, and Parliament in particular, and how and where they access such news. The report finds that, given the UK’s position at the forefront of mobile device and smart-phone ownership, and with one of the highest penetration rates for social networks anywhere in the world, Westminster has a huge opportunity to enhance public knowledge and understanding of its work. But if it gets it wrong, there could be serious consequences for public engagement in the future.
Key findings include:
- Parliament’s approach must evolve in response to the developing ‘social’, ‘mobile’, ‘local’, ‘data’ and ‘video’ trends.
- Parliament’s unique selling-point is its authoritative place at the apex of our democracy but at present it does not get a hearing commensurate with its role. It could and should be one of the most trusted sources for high-quality political and public policy information.
- It can insert itself into public debate in a legitimate and appropriate way, and add value to the political conversation, by creating a useful pathway through what would otherwise be an avalanche of information. It can be more ‘anticipatory’ in its approach, providing advance warning and foresight of interesting issues coming up and seeding links to relevant parliamentary content. On the most topical issues of the day more effort should be made to curate material from across Parliament in order to create an essential ‘go to’ online resource hub for any person or organisation that is interested in it – e.g. phone hacking or House of Lords reform.
- It has to be quicker and more topical, providing ready access to granular, micro-themed content packaged to people’s issue-driven interests, and offer a greater variety of ‘glance-able’ content in the form of graphics, pictures and video designed to garner people’s attention.
- It needs to better identify online communities with a specific audience interest with whom it can build connections and seed content. There is a potentially large audience for current and historic material which needs to be proactively disseminated and shared to sites where it can be contextualised to meet the needs of that particular audience interest.
But Parliament must prioritise and focus: it cannot do everything across all platforms and devices for all forms of media. Specifically, it should:
- Appoint a Community Team (for each House or on a bi-cameral basis) to build links with online communities with specific audience interests and an AV media officer to produce rich in-house content to populate the website and be disseminated to a variety of audiences.
- Invest in its broadcasting and digital infrastructure to enable a wider range of online sites to take its material.
- Produce contextualised video news releases and make video of up to two minutes’ duration available copyright free, with attribution for any user to download and embed.
- Revise the broadcasting rules, particularly for regional select committee visits.
- Live-log, time-code, tag and key-word Hansard, and improve the website search functionality in order to enable people to access relevant material more quickly.
Dr Ruth Fox, Director and Head of Research at the Hansard Society and joint author of #futurenews: The Communication of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World, commented:
‘The public have a right to expect Parliament to communicate its work quickly and clearly and to make information freely accessible in ways that keep pace with how we all access news today, particularly through mobile devices and video. The news cycle has changed and information is now disseminated and exchanged at lightning speed and Parliament can’t afford to fall behind.
‘In an online, networked world in which people are overwhelmed with an avalanche of information, Parliament could and should be one of the most trusted sources of high-quality political and policy information. It has the content at its disposal; it is a massive storehouse of interesting facts and information but most of it isn’t being used effectively. What it needs are the communication strategies and infrastructure to bring all the building blocks of content – text, sound, image, video – together to develop compelling news and information packages that will be of genuine interest to the public.
‘Given the UK’s position at the forefront of mobile device and smart-phone ownership, and with one of the highest penetration rates for social networks anywhere in the world, Parliament has a huge opportunity to enhance knowledge and understanding of its work. But if it fails to grasp the challenge there could be serious consequences for public engagement in the future.’
For further information, contact Virginia Gibbons at the Hansard Society on 020 7710 6079 or 07812 765 552 or email email@example.com.