With MPs wanting to listen to the views of the public, and the public wanting to speak to MPs, the only thing that's missing is an interface for this interaction to take place. This is where Digital Debates come in.
What is a Digital Debate?
We always adapt the precise format of a digital debate to the needs of the community we’re trying to reach, and where and how they engage digitally. This means that it can take many forms, and on any interactive digital platform.
What is central to all Digital Debates is the ability to engage in a dialogue. The Petitions Site has given a voice to thousands of people, but we want to take this engagement one step further and create a space for two-way conversation. And then, once the debate is over, we can step up the engagement even further by using the public's comments to inform House of Commons Westminster Hall debates.
Over 230,000 people signed a petition arguing that we should stop paying 0.7% of our GDP towards foreign aid. In order to give them an opportunity to share why they signed, and open up a space for others to get involved too, we organised the #UKAidDebate.
The #UKAidDebate took the form of a Twitter discussion, engaging the general public, charities who benefit from the UK’s aid budget, the Petitions Committee, the International Development Committee, and was led by Steve Double MP and Stephen Twigg MP.
Steve Double MP and Stephen Twigg MP asked 6 questions between them over the space of an hour, all relating to the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of our GDP on foreign aid.
Lines of conversation then unfolded - below, Russ James responds to Steve Double's first question, and then Stephen Twigg responded back.
This is just one example of a series of conversational threads, where MPs agreed and disagreed with the points raised by participants, and were able to individually reply to many of them. This offered participants genuine interaction with the public, and they were able to share many important facts about UK aid spending in the process.
How many people took part?
This was one of our busiest digital debates to date, with just under 1000 tweets sent during the hour discussion, and a further 500 during the Westminster Hall debate, with the hashtag trending nationwide. Overall tweets using the hashtag #UKAidDebate reached 7,715,203 Twitter accounts.
We’ve hosted 19 digital debates since we launched them in June 2015, but this was the first in which a subject specialist Select Committee and its Chair took an active part alongside the MP leading the debate. Not only did this give a space for petitioners to explain and debate their views, but it was an opportunity to break down perceived barriers and show that the relevant people were listening.
If you want to catch up with this or other digital debates, take a look at the House of Commons Storify account. (https://storify.com/houseofcommons)
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