British MPs informing but not engaging with constituents: research
Perhaps vilifying the British government’s planned recruitment of a director of digital engagement, a recent study by the Hansard Society suggests that MPs are only using the Internet to inform their constituents rather than engaging with them.
The research suggests that, while 92% of MPs use email and 83% have a personal web site, just under a quarter use any form of social networking tools, and just one in ten blog. Many of these blogging MPs don’t enable reader comments.
MPs from London lead the way on social networks, with 43% using such services, and unsurprisingly it’s younger MPs (born after 1960) who also embrace such technology.
It also seems that MPs in safer seats (where their majority is above 30%) use such tools yet.
The main barriers to blogging appear to be a lack of time, resources, and the “abusive reputation” of the blogosphere.
Directory of the eDemocracy programme at the Hansard Society commented, “MPs are transmitting and not receiving. They use the internet as a tool for campaigning and for organising their supporters, rather than opening up two-way communication with constituents. The use of the internet for direct political engagement still remains a largely untapped area and, on the whole, one that is not well understood by MPs. One indication that this is changing comes in the rise of social networking tools, the use of which is up substantially in the past three years (from 3% in 2005 to 23% today) – suggesting the potential for greater engagement in the future.”
The survey was based on the responses of 168 MPs and then weighed to reflect the exact composition of the House of Commons.
Andy Merrett is a London-based full-time blogger writing for several Shiny Media technology blogs and various other projects. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Generally this is a good summary but I have to take issue with your opening statement ‘Perhaps vilifying the British government’s planned recruitment of a director of digital engagement’.
There are a number of problems in drawing any implications from our research with regard to the veracity or need for this position.
Foremost, our research is about how MPs communicate. This has nothing at all to do with how government communicates (it is a common mistake to confuse parliament and government but the two are not the same).
Secondly, as the report author, I would draw the opposite conclusion; it is clear that online can be an effective tool to engage and communicate and that it works when there are thought through, well articulated and joined up strategies. This is surely what the new Cabinet Office position in expected to do, only on a far larger and more challenging scale across government? Further, our Digital Dialogues research, which is about government engagement online would strongly support the creation of this position — Andy