Launching the ‘Political Innovation’ project

When bloggers meet, I often find that old allegiances (be they left right, or Unionist/Republican) often dissolve into a different political spilt. Those of us who imagine that we ‘get’ the read-write web against the political colleagues that we have who, we believe, fail to foresee the possibilities or the threats.

I’ve occasionally witnessed left-right-and-centrist bloggers in (non) violent agreement with each other – not about political direction, but about what is possible in harnessing the power of the web. About how a more effective participative political culture can bring about a range of subtle changes – to reverse the broken politico/media relationship out of some of the cul-de-sacs that it appears to have stuck in.

Today, a few of us have come together to launch a project called ‘Political Innovation’. It’s for anyone who has ever asked themselves ‘why is politics still done like this?’

We’ve put a call out through our personal networks for initial contributions and we’ve already had promises of more than ten essays suggesting serious political innovations that are based upon an understanding of what interactive social media and the web can achieve.

All of our proposers have been asked to ensure that their proposed innovation is one that could realistically garner support from all sides of the political spectrum.

The project is being managed in conjunction with political blogs of all hues. So from the right our largest media partner, The Telegraph will carry each essay which will be also be carried here, on Left Foot Forward, Lib-Dem Voice and SNP Tactical Voter.

Tweetminster will be helping us publicise each essay more widely and we’ll be doing some podcasting with The House of Comments. Other bloggers are welcome to get involved.

The essays will touch on a range of questions, including

  • a proposed recasting of the whole FOI-based understanding of open government into something more ‘interactive’,
  • a pop at the political problems that underlie dysfunctional government procurement,
  • a version of ID cards that may suit both supporters and opponents of ‘the database state’,
  • a proposal that could create a serious ‘reputational cost’ to politicians, journalists and campaigners who misuse facts and spin
  • a measure to help bloggers get more influence over public policy in their roles as conversation-convenors

…. and a range of other ideas (let’s not spoil the surprises, eh?)

The (short) essays will start appearing on all of these sites shortly. We plan to follow it up with open gatherings in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Dublin and London in due course – as long as we can find some local partners there who will help us with the get-togethers.

In Northern Ireland, we’re going to want to blend this project in with our Awards – we’ve always framed them as a positive political project (more on that later this week though).

We’d be very interested to hear any ideas that you have for an essay of your own – we’ll need an email and we’ll want to discuss it with you before it goes on the site. All contributions will be archived on – along with details of what we’re looking for from essayists and a bunch of FAQs and a guide to how we hope the whole thing will play out.

I hope you’ll get involved in this as a commenter, participant or maybe even as an essayist. Make sure you don’t miss anything by joining our Google Group, subscribing to the blog RSS feed, getting each post emailed to you and, of course, following us on Twitter and Facebook.


  • JH

    Very interesting, looking forward to seeing what people come up with!

  • Dewi

    I’m sure the people at WalesHome would be interested in helping with a Cardiff session Mick.

  • Johnny Boy

    “New Media” is going to become political strategists most powerful tool for disinformation. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Looks good.


  • Cynic

    Speaking of innovation its good to see the Bel Tel leading the way advocating selling NI to the Republic. Now what did we used to call that ….oh yes…slavery

  • RepublicanStones

    I’ll be interested to hear about this idea of 1984 cards that both advocates and opponents of Big brother can agree on -perhaps the author could then turn his attention to our wee bun fight and come up with a way we can all feel like winners. The propoasal for a innovation dealing with ‘reputational cost’ for those caught lying or spinning is interesting, not least because then it’ll force a spotlight on those running it, because even the police need policing.

  • RS, the question I genuinely don’t know the answer to is the one about politicians hacks and bureaucrats lying to us. Do we *really* want them to stop? As Jack Nicholson’s character in that filum (???) says, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

    If you could anatomise every utterance that a politician / bureaucrat / journalist came out with, highlight every concrete statement that it contained and test the veracity or reasonableness of it, would those who do badly get damaged?

    And – equally interestingly – would we be able to cope with a world in which we had to face all of the harsh contradictions that spin shields us from?

  • lamhdearg

    when i read eesay i think of schoool( i did not like schoool) however if you are to be sussessfufull you will need a terrorist/freedome fighter/ bottle througging wing. I IS IN. Good Luck. UP THE ?

  • Coll Ciotach

    Yes indeed – it is a bit silly as the English should be paying reparations but however I wonder who the Alaskans view being sold into US slavery?

  • RepublicanStones

    Intersting point Paul, because by testing the veracity or truthfulness of a claim by one of the above, it isn’t just what they have said or claimed which needs to be investigated, but the manner in which the politician/journo came into possession of the information he/she imported and whether or not he/she believed it to be true at the time. Because obviously those who wilfully set out to mis-inform should be dragged through the coals, but honest foopahs do happen. Of course if its just left to investage the claim and not the manner in which they came to understand ‘the facts’ then that may in itself encourage politicos/journos to police themselves and their research(ers) a bit more – which would be no bad thing. I hope the days of the likes of Reagan’s ‘Office of Public Dilpomacy’ are long gone, as such operations would be harder to run in this age of internet/new media, however that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t guard against it. As regards being shielded from the harsh realities, they wouldn’t be so harsh if we weren’t completely molly coddled from them most of the time, remembering also that its spin which establishes the ground for some of these harsh realties to take place.

  • Working on some ideas about transparency, one of which is about compulsory free publication of all publicly funded research, as an antidote to press-release based articles which cannot be checked.

    We don’t need journalists as mediators any more than politicians.

  • The real problem is the ‘prisoners dilemma’ that politicians find themselves in. If they don’t sugar-coat a particular situation, they know damn well that their rivals will do so – and take an advantage from it.

    I hope that this project introduces the idea that – if we don’t like the way politics is done – it’s not an appropriate response to *just* complain about it and to nurse some kind of world-weary cynicism. We’re not reflexive ‘consumers’ of politics in the way that we may consume other commodities. We have to work out why it isn’t working and agree to fix it.

  • Is publication enough Matt? If I’m a civil servant and I commission you – a think tank or an academic – to write a report, you will write it for my understanding only – that of a semi-expert. Academics have long been required to factor in ‘dissemination’ into their bids – but that only includes distribution of a document that is incomprehensible to a lot of its potential audience.

    I’d say that a more participative culture would require more by way of creative explanation so that a wider body of the public can avail of the research. One of the essays that we’re going to be carrying is touching on this already but anything you have to add would be v interesting?

  • Mack

    Paul, is it fair to say they are semi-experts?

    I don’t know many senior civil servants, but in my imagination they’d be experts in their field. They may not expert the same way as an academic, i.e. it’s not their job to keep on top of the state of the art wrt to academic research into an academic topic – but surely they are expert in terms of implementing, appraising, assessing policy?

    Or to put it another way, the job of the academic shouldn’t be to dumb down their report, but they should acknowledge the reader doesn’t care what this study or that says about Ricardian Equivalence, a given encryption algorithm etc. but does care what the implications are of what the author feels is state of the art in their (narrow) field for government policy.

    Given that an academic is probably about as expert in policy as any of the rest of us (the civil servants are the experts here), the language used should be reasonably accessible for all us. We (the general public) should be able to interpret the policy recommendations, and other subject-matter-experts could critique the sumation of the state-of-the-art.

    So publication, in some form of moderated web forum, might be enough? Such that it facilitates interaction from people with different specialisms and (hopefully) both acknowledges expertise and the limits of said expertise (bearing in mind that as the Dunning-Kruger effect shows most people are completely unaware of their limits 🙂 )


    Civil Servant – reader, expert on policy
    Commisioned academic, think tank – writer, expert in a subject area, not expert in policy. Producing policy recommendations.
    General public – reader, not expert at all. Research should remain accessible to them, as it’s being produced by non-policy experts to explain a domain to non-experts
    Other academics, think tanks – Can critique the reccomendations wrt their are of expertise


  • Might have missed the House of Comments podcast boat … this week’s episode was their last …

  • The Civil Servants wouldn’t actually always be experts by any standards. This (fairly entertaining) PDF is worth a look if you have time:

    Incidentally, have you ever picked up Stumbling and Mumbling blog’s take on ‘experts’? A search against the word on his site will give you hours of quite entertaining ‘market socialist’ reading.

    It’s also less of a question of the continuum between very expert and very newbie, but some of the budget maximising tendencies to create administrative byways that everything has to go through – that research is commissioned *only* with a particular departmental grade in mind.

    One thing that unites the libertarian left and right is a suspicion of the way that policy areas are monopolised. You could put this down to ‘jargon’ or other exclusive devices.

    I take your point about a ‘moderated web forum’ solving some of this, but there’s lots of other little barriers that would need lifting as well.

  • Mack

    I knew there was a word that fitted the expert exclusion thing perfectly, couldn’t put my finger on it when writing that comment. Jargon. Could have said the same thing in half the space..

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    My own Blog has a faithful readership of about 8 people……but the majority are sane.
    Kelvin MacKenzie (not my favourite journalist and well on his way to rivalling Jon Gaunt as the worst kind of populist) was interviewed (?) by Kate Burley today.
    He described the online political community as nutters and conspiracy theorists.
    Of course the Blogging world in the underbelly of the Internet is a source for innuendo and downright lies……but lets be honest that underbelly is “used” by the mainstream media to highlight a story which they wouldnt touch on “principle”.
    Thus MacKenzie could lambast bloggers for their gross irresponsibility in spreading rumours and untruths….AND out of the other corner of his mouth wonder aloud if a politician was “wise” to do what he did….and out of the third corner (eh?) of his mouth appeal that the story be dropped.

    Any initiative that brings the more “respectable” end of the Blogosphereinto some kinda “alliance” would be welcome.
    To hold the line between the mendacity of the main Stream Media and the lunacy of the Blogosphere.
    But frankly it is the nature of the Blogosphere to be unpleasant and mean spirited.

    Ultimately the srious end of the Blogging World has a dilemna.
    “Im NOT a Blogger……Im a journalist” (said with contempt for bloggers)
    “Im not a Journalist….Im a blogger” (said with contempt for journalists).