The House of Commons Select Committees' Twitter following comprises a 100,000 person strong community. Some have a professional interest in committees' work, others a personal interest. Together, they are a highly-informed community - and, therefore, a unique and valuable resource.
In order to leverage this expertise and empower our communities, we have begun deploying 'Fact Check' forums. In these forums, participants are invited to scrutinise a document submitted to the Committee - in most cases, a piece of evidence from the government.
Utilising this combined expertise, Fact Checks enhance the scrutiny of Government.
The #SexualHarassmentinSchools Fact Check
The Women and Equalities Committee's Fact Check, on the Government's evidence on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, demonstrates what's possible when a community's collective intelligence and knowledge is made use of. The Department for Education had sent in their assessment of various aspects of this problem, and the Committee were interested in three key parts:
By splitting up the evidence into three smaller sections, we focused on receiving specific responses to the parts of the evidence that most warranted further scrutiny.
Promoting on Twitter
We experimented with a few different ways of promoting the Fact Check. For each one we used the same colour palette that we had been using throughout the inquiry, as part of our strategy to deliver a clear visual narrative for each inquiry.
In each one, we applied focus on the call-to-action, to make it explicitly clear what we were asking our followers to do.
In another, we brought one piece of evidence into the tweet itself, with a call-to-action on the left, and the evidence on the right. This gave followers a chance to understand what we were asking and to see an example before clicking onto the site. This was important for managing expectations: rather than broad comments about the topic, the tweet showed that we were looking for focused responses to a specific piece of evidence.
These tweets, with an explicit calls-to-action, began to drive responses. It was also significantly boosted by a retweet from the Education Committee, whose community are also well-informed on this subject.
We received 24 responses in total, with organisations such as Girl Guiding and the British Humanist Association contributing. But we received many more responses from individual members of the public, including doctoral researchers. Of these, most had not contributed to the inquiry before, meaning the initiative had offered a way for more people to get involved.
Quality over quantity
The objective of this initiative was established at the outset: utilise the public's expertise to enhance the scrutiny of the government. Out priority was not, therefore, the quantity of the submissions, but the quality. While mass participation is helpful for other digital engagement initiatives, in this case we wanted to avoid receiving the same points being raised multiple times.
In order to focus the responses, we separated the evidence into small sections. This helped to keep the responses directly relevant and even more forensic.
The Government amends their evidence
Only days after our Fact Check, the Government amended a key piece of evidence that was scrutinised by two of our participants. On the Government's claim that sexual bullying takes place in 5% of schools, Jo Sharpen wrote:
Reinforcing Jo Sharpen's remarks, Sarah Green wrote:
The Government went on to change this figure from 5% to 15%. You can see this in their second submission, with the changes highlighted in yellow.
Using the Fact Check responses
The Fact Check provided the Committee with a range of well-researched and referenced critiques of the Government's evidence. The Committee members used this information in conjunction with their other research and evidence when questioning Ministers. They also plan to use some of the responses in their final report.
- Fact Checks work best when they are directed at small pieces of text, as this generates focused, forensic responses
- The aim should be to collect a manageable amount of high-quality responses, rather than seeking high quantities
- Fact Checks directly involve the public in the scrutiny process, and make use of their collective knowledge and expertise
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