The National Assembly for Wales Digital Taskforce Recommendations: what comes next?

Photo by Michail Sapiton on Unsplash

Working in the digital and political sphere, it’s great to see the published recommendations of the National Assembly for Wales Digital Taskforce.

As one of our newest institutions, it is vital that the Assembly looks to improve and expand the way it interacts with the Welsh electorate and visitors.

Having recently worked on the Doteveryone Powering Up Your MP programme, I am acutely aware of what our democratic institutions need to do to improve and effectively engage with the electorate.

The remit of the Taskforce was to understand how the National Assembly can use modern digital communications and social media to identify concerns, collect evidence and opinions, generate real time engagement and see how representatives seek to respond to voters. It also looked to increase awareness and interest in the National Assembly, analyzing how and if the current digital services are meeting user needs, as well as critiquing Senedd TV, social media output, current content creation and the possibility of the National Assembly producing and distributing its own content.

Naturally it is vital that all services and communications are designed with the interests and needs of the citizen at their core. Too often there is an awareness that content should be created, but the needs and location of the user aren’t considered.

The recommendations of the Taskforce make for encouraging reading:

- Commitment to storytelling in everything produced
- Produce content which address the democratic deficit
- Targeted identification of audiences
- Analysis of user needs and how content is consumed
- A user friendly Senedd TV
- Better use of analytical data
- Interactive media production
- Better collaborative working with stakeholders and communities
- Best practice sought from civil society organisations
- Engage with young people to create content
- A dedicated open data team and strategy
- CPD of digital training across the estate
- A Commissioner with responsibility for digital
- Potential Festival of Welsh Democracy to coincide with May 2019 anniversary
- Consensus and digital thinking across all departments and Assembly output

These points are vital for the future development of the National Assembly as an open, transparent and inclusive institution.

My work with Doteveryone and the UK Parliament similarly addressed these challenges, with an intensive three-month project focused on improving digital democracy and engagement.

Working with Matt Warman MP, I sought to understand the needs and opinions of his electorate, and how digital and social media could be used to increase engagement and dialogue.

I made practical changes including:

- improving the user experience of his website (e.g. FAQs section, mapping, interactive media)
- use of infographics to display work conducted by the Member, such as casework topics and locations visited in the constituency
- polling to gain views of the electorate on key policy and political issues
- use of video and Facebook Live to tap into popularity of interactive media and reach constituents where they consume content

We soon saw an increase in the levels of engagement with constituents via social media. Facebook posts for example, went from a reach of 3000 to 10,000 views after using video, and over 2,700 responses were received through online polling.

The project overall looked to reach ‘the furthest first,’ and addressed what mattered to communities and why they need to have direct communication with their MPs.

MPs and their staff told us their confidence in their own digital skills had increased, and more of them believed that using digital technology could help them save time. Security practices improved and they were confident about choosing the right tools to communicate with constituents. They were also more likely and willing to pass on their experience, boosting the digital skills and literacy of their fellow MPs and staff members.

For the recommendations of the Assembly taskforce to be a success, there must be a conscious effort to work with stakeholders outside the Assembly estate. Collaborative working with digital entrepreneurs like myself should be considered, as well as the utilization of the very best Welsh technology to break down barriers and engage the electorate.

With the right attitude, skillset and experience, the National Assembly for Wales can be a truly digital institution that benefits and enhances the democratic environment for all of us living in this great nation.