Question famous powerful people…

Ask the PM a question on Youtube – he will then reply to the most-voted for ones apparently…. quite a cool idea – but would like to see more of this at local government and parish/town council level where it might connect more closely to the impacts of the answers …

This sort of public pressure for answers  is something that Yoosk have also been trying to get up and running by using their site as a gathering point for questions for prominent figures to be posted up – then voted on by the public to gain momentum behind them.

These are innovative and interesting ideas, but hard to see where this will connect into the democratic process in any meaningful way. Sure, its an example of social software for public interest, but without a satisfying answer – what changes? Also, without the public figure being in a position to give time and energy to interacting in this way this could frustrate the questioners still further rather than produce some positive result.

However, not wanting to be too gloomy about these things – I do believe that these examples are just the beginning of a re-shaping of interaction between citizen and decision-maker which will mature into something more focused and therefore with greater impact. With initiatives like Downing St. YouTube and Yoosk leading the way its a good first step into more meaningful interactions in future…

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8 Comments

  1. I think its understandable to be cynical about this stuff. I feel similarly whenever I see a Minister or some Govt. Department Head at conferences – some of them have been interesting to listen to but I don’t think I’ve ever seriously got the impression they’ve taken on board anything from the audience in a way that will lead to some sort of change.

    At the Innovation Exchange Festival of Ideas I was bemused by the opening Government Person (sorry forgot his name) who said they were really keen to hear of as many innovative ideas as possible, but then went on to say but we can’t fund any of them directly. This sort of thing gives an impression of not seriously wanting input, instead its just ‘waving hands to the people to keep them happy’ – if you seriously want input you won’t just ask questions you will also indicate what possibilities there are to contribute to change. Personally I don’t want to just demand that people do things for me, I want to be involved in doing them even if at a small level.

    I like the http://www.writetothem.com site because they follow up with your letters to check if you got a response and then also publish the stats to show which parties are responding etc. Maybe something like this could take the youtube approach a step further and build in some sort of accountability instead of just reporting back.

  2. Thanks for the comment masyomo. I know exactly what you mean regarding those keynote speeches :) although I wouldn’t say I’m cynical about the ideas behind these initiatives. I do think that they are heading in the right direction. The point is that there needs to be a culture change in Whitehall and the other bastions of power before things like this can ever make a real difference….

  3. Cased, thanks for this, although it’s a bittersweet feeling to see Yoosk mentioned in the same article as the Downing Street You Tube interviews.

    At Yoosk we’ve been trying without success for a year now to get government ministers to commit to answering the public’s questions on our site. So, in a way, the YouTube experiment with the PM is a vindication of sorts- but on the other hand, it’s sad to see that they insist on using a US giant rather than the UK minnow that first pioneered crowd sourced interviews.

    Nevermind. The experience has helped us refine our model and we are just a week or so away from launching our new service- a content management system that can be used to set up and run local Yoosks. So soon there will be (to take a hypothetical example) yoosk.com/kent, allowing local residents to put questions to councillors and senior officers. Our intention is not to run these sites ourselves but to partner with local newspapers or councils to help them manage the database of public figures. Once it’s set up, it should to a certain extent run itself, since answers can be submitted remotely by webcam or email. Questions can be gathered using widgets placed on local websites.

    Masyomo, we don’t yet have stats in the same way as writetothem, but we do have a way to feedback on the answers our users receive- hopefully meaning that at least we can tell those Ministers you refer to that it is clear they are not taking on board anything we are saying!

  4. “it’s sad to see that they insist on using a US giant rather than the UK minnow”

    — couldn’t agree more! I think the local angle – a content management system that can be used to set up and run local Yoosks – sounds like a great way of taking it forward.

    Good luck!

  5. There is certainly a big ‘expectations gap’ issue in government opening up to more questions. When there are more people asking than answering there are inevitably going to be people who don’t get the level of reply or engagement in return that they want.

    It strikes me that the involvement process needs a mechanism for better agregating issues from open calls for questions and input – so that invidividuals can trace their own input and question to a response – even if that response is an aggregate responses to 500 questions and related questions.

    I think it’s important though also that we don’t see Downing St’s foray onto YouTube as solely a channel for citizen to talk to government – but also as a space for citizen to talk to citizen. I put up a clip there on Friday asking about the governments action on the Millennium Development Goals – and coming back from the bank holiday I see it has over 800 views.

    Of course, ideally the online platforms for people to have their public political voice in this way should be civic spaces – not governmental or corporately owned – but I think this is an area to watch with interest….

  6. Tim’s reference to citizen to citizen conversation seems to me to point to the way the social web will have deepest impact.

    While I love the MySociety stuff like writetothem, i think there’s a quart-in-to-a-pint-pot aspect to mixing direct p2p communication with our current electoral system.

    As an example of a different view, i just stumbled on this post by an Edelman PR pundit on “What anarchism can teach us about organisations in the internet age”
    http://simoncollister.typepad.com/simonsays/2008/04/what-anarchism.html

    Having said that, Yoosk looks like a great project, and one I hadn’t come across. I like the sound of the local Yoosks. I would humbly suggest that Yoosk enter the UK catalyst awards (disclaimer: i’m running them) at http://ukcatalystawards.com/

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