Author: Tom Longley
What NEED does this meet?
“The government asks us questions all the time, but doesn’t make it easy for us to answer.”
Government consultation is a massive process. Right now, government departments have over 225 “open consultations” on issues like the impact of Crossrail, the independence of national statistics and how to increase skills for lifelong learning.
Yet, not a single site allows an interested party to submit comments online and view the comments of others. Not a single site has a feed or email sign-up to tell you when there are new consultations, or (perhaps more importantly), remind you to check back to see the results.
What is the APPROACH?
Features of TheyAskedYou.com could include:
i) Poolling the “active consultations” data into a feed or email alert service containing a link to the consultation document and the contact point/means of submitting comments. Allow users to sign up – customise alerts by keyword, department or topic.
ii) Building on “Comment on Power” or the BBC Charter Review site. Start parsing all the .pdfs/.docs into straight text and add the ability to comment at some meaningful level, such as by paragraph, chapter. Even use spanky widgetry allowing users the ability to add comments anywhere on the document.
iii) The single, most accessible history of modern government consultation and public engagement therein. Erm, not sure what to add.
What are the BENEFITS to people?
i) Reduce sense of powerlessness. Even the smallest obstacles to getting involved in civic life can fuel the cynical view that government is remote, inaccessible and uninterested in our opinions. Enable comment and let people feel connected.
ii) Create a superb platform for group action. TheyAskedYou.com, like WriteToThem.com could be a great tool and focal point for groups to leverage opinons and help their supporters remain connected to a campaign.
iii) Give government what it asks for. Statutory obligations aside, departments genuinely seek to learn about the impact and dimensions of their decision-making. By widening the scope for comment, consultations become more democratic, their integrity and potential value increased dramatically.
iv) A source of revenue for MySociety. More advanced features could be sold as a service to the department running the consultation. These could include provision of the raw data for analysis by geographical location, or simply the collation of all comments into a standalone document of some sort.
What is the COMPETITION?
No top predators, as far I can tell – happy to be proved wrong though.
The Cabinet Office sits on the site http://www.consultations.gov.uk/, which leads to a page of links to other departmental consultation sites.
Specific interest groups, associations and networking organisations link to consultations and make their members/users aware of the fact of consultations. They also publish their responses. Wouldn’t it be easier for such groups simply to refer their members/users to TheyAskedYou.com rather than track the issue themselves?
What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?
The challenge seems to be maintaining a single repository of metadata about all consultations, but it seems unlikely to me that somewhere like the Cabinet Office does not do this already. Time to make some calls, Tom!