On Thursday 23 February, a selection of London's digital democracy experts crowded into a room to hear the findings of a new report, Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement.
This report, produced by Nesta, a charity that works to drive innovation across the UK, was the result of extensive primary research into groundbreaking digital democracy practices across the world. We were very pleased to discover that our 'crowdsourced scrutiny' initiative - also known as 'Fact Checks' - was featured as one of the leading examples.
What is 'crowdsourced scrutiny'?
Crowdsourced scrutiny is when experts on a topic work together, combining their knowledge and skills, to scrutinise something, in most cases a document. Sometimes these experts will be professionals working in the field. Or, they may be people who don't have professional qualifications, but have personal experience that's relevant to the topic at hand.
By combining the thoughts and opinions of a diverse group, we can incorporate more perspectives, which means more effective scrutiny of government policy.
What are 'Fact Checks'?
Fact checks are one way of crowdsourcing scrutiny. They involve uploading a document - for example, the Government's submission to a select committee inquiry - and inviting people to analyse it and offer comments.
Our most successful Fact Check to date was for the Women and Equalities Committee's inquiry into sexual harassment in schools. The Department for Education gave a submission to the inquiry which included, among other things, an appraisal of the scale of sexual harassment in schools. However, once we opened this up to the public, it soon became clear that the Department had significantly underestimated the scale. After the Fact Check, the Government retracted their submission and sent a new one, with updated figures.
This shows that public engagement can lead to concrete impact. It also taught us that small-scale engagement (there were only around 25 contributors) can be the most effective way to involve the public. In other words, digital needn't mean mass.
Nesta's set of case studies
"Our case studies look at initiatives that aim to engage citizens in deliberations, proposals and decision-making. We’ve learned that most of the best examples combine online and offline; that they break democracy down into stages, so that understanding and diagnosis precede prescription; that they encourage people to engage with others who disagree with them rather than just expressing views; and that they tap into expertise as well as opinion."
Nesta has compiled a set of case studies which includes our Fact Checks, and also many other examples of digital democracy across the globe, from Brazil to Taiwan. Have a browse through their case studies to find out more.