When the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) decided to investigate future energy technologies, they needed help scanning the horizon. This is because it's difficult to know where the next big thing will come from - a library, a lab, a garage? - and so we needed to get the invite to anyone with a good idea. This meant hearing from scientists, researchers, students and anyone who had an insight into what the future holds for energy tech.
In turn, this meant our campaign had to be open, accessible, and easy to enter.
Designing the campaign
Rather than a polished, lengthy research paper, we were looking for ideas, pure and simple.
Short videos, which you could record simply on a smartphone, offered an easy way for participants to tell us their idea without needing to write a lengthy document. Twitter, with its large user-base in the scientific community, presented a simple way for participants to share their videos with the committee.
Promoting the hashtag
We used the hashtag #NewEnergyTech to collate all the entries, choosing it for two reasons. Firstly, it wasn't already in use, making it simple to capture all the submissions once it was over. Secondly, it would make sense out of context when seen on Twitter away from our own tweets, helping us to reach a wider audience previously unconnected with the Committee.
As well as graphics, animations and videos, the #NewEnergyTech campaign was promoted through university networks, mailing lists, contacts, and friends of friends.
In total, we received 40 submissions, with ideas ranging from self-healing concrete to energy efficient superconductors. We received submissions from charities, startups, universities and PHD candidates.
There was a wide range of responses, some taken in the park, others right there in the lab. As a direct line to researchers, the campaign helped to side-step the often time-consuming process of writing up a formatted document.
Thanking the participants
In order to communicate that their responses had been received, heard and considered, MPs thanked the participants in a series of tweets.
What did the participants think?
We set up a survey to receive some feedback on how the participants found the experience of submitting their views in this way. Here are the key findings.
'Easy and fun'
As we'd hoped, participants found the process easy - and, what we'd not quite expected, actually quite fun:
"It was very easy to do. This is not necessarily a substitute for the more traditional route of written evidence, but on this occasion it provided another route to submit views that was easier due to time constraints."
"Submitting the video was very easy - it was done in under 5 minutes"
"Fun and important for us to do"
"It was a really fun experience"
'Short on time'
However, another recurring theme was that it was a real challenge to fit everything into 30 seconds, Twitter's time limit on videos:
"Challenging - 30 seconds is quite limiting compared to the word limit for written submissions"
"The main issue was refining the message we wanted to get across to fit into 30 seconds"
"A little short on time"
Twitter have recently increased their video length to 140 seconds rather than just 30. This should make the time constraint less of an issue in future video-based campaigns.
Would the participants do it again?
Yes - 100% of those who completed our survey said that they'd send in a video to a committee again.
What have we learned?
As seen here, there is an appetite for engaging with Committees' inquiries when participants have the opportunity to influence the direction of an inquiry. In this case, participants were engaged enough to go to the effort of creating what were often highly professional videos. In one case, a participant hired a professional company to create theirs. A smaller proportion used their smartphones to shoot something quickly and frills-free, suggesting that straightforward 'selfie-videos' aren't what stakeholders instinctively thought to produce. It's encouraging to see such well thought-out videos, but in future it is worth considering whether Twitter videos provide a simple and therefore accessible method of contribution.
This campaign will inform our ongoing efforts to lower the barrier to entry for contributing to inquiries - and, if possible, make it fun too.
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