With the Festival of Politics taking place in Edinburgh 17-21 Aug, it has got me wondering about the use of technology, especially online tools, to titillate, amuse, connect and converse – in an attempt to engage with ‘hard to reach’ audiences in Scotland and beyond. How are these tools being used to engage audiences that are conventionally difficult to attract via traditional means in politics?
Answer: They’re being used simply, creatively, humourously and cleverly. This makes sense when you think that those who don’t engage in the political process often find politics complicated and difficult to get to grips with or extremely dull and boring. So the key is to make things simple – i.e. make it easier to access information and to understand stuff. Or makes things a little more fun.
Creative and humourous
Well, the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC) is asking young people to ‘adopt an MP’ to push climate change further up the political agenda. How does a young person go about this? First they register onto this website and then each month they get recommended actions (which are only guides). The organisers just request that these ‘trackers’ use social media to share their stories i.e. blog about their activities and experiences on the Adopt an MP website. A resource pack outlines first steps which include: sending your MP a letter informing them of their upcoming ‘adoption’, meeting the MP, then grabbing a photo of them being handed their ‘Adoption Certificate’!
It’s supposed to be a fun way to engage with MPs and recognises that they’re ‘only human’ and just need our help. The campaign was launched in May 2010 I believe, and aims to get at least one young person from each constituency (at least 650 all over the UK) to adopt and track their MP. It looks to me like they’ve done it…and it’s barely been 3 months! That’s extremely well done methinks, for an organisation run by a passionate group of small people, no wait, a small group of passionate people, who all have day jobs and run UKYCC as volunteers in their spare time (hmmm, reminds me of a certain StartupCafe crew…) But I digress…
In March this year, the Canadian organisation Apathy is Boring launched their website Citizen Factory which is aimed at Canadian youth, and hopes to make information about Parliament accessible and meaningful in order to aid understanding of how government works. I can’t tell what uptake has been like on this site but it had a clean and simple look and feel despite being packed full of information. It just seemed easy and I wanted to stay on it for longer to explore.
Back in the UK we’ve got the similar website TheyWorkForYou.com except that it is aimed at everyone. Here you can find out about debates in the Scottish Parliament and look up what MSPs have been up to. I have to admit, I had difficulty sticking to this site. Not sure why. I mean, it’s neat and informative. Definitely looks like it would be interesting and useful. Just didn’t grab me. It’s functional. But I guess that without quirk, personality and humour or just a hint of the absurd, it had a harder job of keeping me there.
Clever but simple all at once
On the other hand, I think Tweetminster is f*king awesome. It’s an aggregator that organises political tweets. It helps you make sense of the overwhelming conversation taking place out there about politics and current affairs. I like the channels that have been created for different topics, and allow you to follow debate on: the economy, society, environment or whatever else tickles your fancy. I also enjoy playing with the search tool. The tool analyses the network of people on twitter who tweet about politics – whether they are MPs, the general public, journalists etc – and then produces a representative sample of search results. You can view trends about the search term you enter and see how people feel about it.
They’ve got over 20,000 followers on Twitter. I think this site was launched in 2009. It’s aimed at anyone who has an interest in politics. Tweetminster claim not to be affiliated with any party. They want to make politics more social and accessible to everyone. My description isn’t doing it any justice. I’ll just end by saying I find it pretty engaging.
None of the above?
Do you remember June Sarpong, the T4 presenter? She launched a website in July 2008 called Politics in the City that was designed to engage young, fashionable females in politics and current affairs. It was a fantastic idea and received a great deal of media coverage – helped by the fact that she was going to have high profile contributors like model Lily Cole, Kylie & Danni Minogue, actress Anna Friel and other celebrity friends – but seems to have crashed and burned. I spent ages looking for the site and info about it but only found promotional interviews and reviews from around 2yrs ago….the link to the website goes nowhere. It just goes to show that having high profile supporters doesn’t necessarily mean success.
If you’re interested in exploring the subject of engagement in politics then there is a free event at the Scottish Parliament on Friday 20th August 11.15 – 12.15 where The Hansard Society (a political research and educational charity) will be hosting an interactive event asking “Where do young people get their political news from?”. The following is from their website:
“With newspaper sales declining and readership growing ever older, where do young people obtain information about, and discuss politics? Have blogs and social networks become the political forums of choice for the under 25s? This lively and interactive event will pit ‘old’ against ‘new’ media in deciding which is most relevant in forming young people’s political perspectives…” (click here for further details)
To get a full programme of Festival of Politics events go to: http://www.festivalofpolitics.org.uk/