Today was a good day for thinking about how the web can be used for better policy making.

I spent the morning helping with a workshop hosted by GDS, starring Demsoc and with a healthy cross section of people from across central government who work at the sharp end of policy making.

There were some neat examples from Health, Communities and DFID, but everyone agreed that much, much more could be done.

In the afternoon I ran a similar workshop with policy people at BIS, as part of our Social Media Week London activity. It was refreshing to discuss, in honest terms:

‘how should we use the web, together, to open up policy making to a wider group of people?’

‘how will we demonstrate that people’s participation has made a difference?’

‘once we’ve started this, how do we make sure it doesn’t fizzle out after a few consultations?’

The catalyst for a lot of this is the latest Civil Service Reform Plan, but there’s a more compelling case made in this post from Mike Harris.

I will be writing more about this as we go along, but in the meantime there were some common themes from both sessions:

  • who is actually responsible for the design of consultations?
  • lack of tools and platforms is not the issue…
  • …and even if it were, the web cannot deliver better policy making on its own
  • engaging with audiences is a 365-day-a-year task, not to be saved only for consultations (by which time it might be too late anyway)
  • engagement needs to happen wherever our audiences can be found, not in the town hall or Whitehall (online or otherwise)

If you have made it this far, you could be forgiven for shrugging your shoulders. I’ve only worked in government a few years, but this all sounds very familiar. However, as one colleague (who works in a policy team) said to me this afternoon ‘we have to keep trying new things and demonstrating the value’. A good day.

You can get involved in this project on the Open Policymaking blog.