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Think Tank Uses New Media To Open Up Politics - Mark Hanson [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Mark Hanson

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Think Tank Uses New Media To Open Up Politics [Sep. 22nd, 2009|10:04 am]
Mark Hanson
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I've been working with the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), dubbed 'New Labour's favourite think tank' and pioneers of some of the most progressive and forward-thinking policy ideas of recent years. My role is to assist them with the modernising of their communications, so that those cutting-edge discussions reach the right audience in an era when audiences are becoming ever more disperse and influence is becoming much less predictable.

We are midway through a body of work on how politics can be modernised in the context of the fall-out from MPs expenses, but also falling voter turn-out and general public apathy. One element of this is thinking about how Party conferences can be modernised to become more inclusive of Party members. Why should it only be those lucky enough to be given the golden lanyard through 'the ring of steel', mostly lobbyists, who are allowed to take part?
The ippr has a high-profile fringe discussion at each of the Party conferences, which all aim to debate key issues facing the Parties. Conference veterans will know that these events traditionally involve 'experts' sat on a panel, with an audience watching and receiving the wisdom. We wanted to make the sessions much more interactive, but, crucially, involve the grassroots of each Party, as it's they who the issues will affect and its they who will be asked to campaign on the doorstep in May, so their insight and opinion is vital and they badly need to be brought into the process.
So, we did deals with three of the biggest online communities i.e. one for each Party - Alex Smith (Labourlist),  Mark Pack (Lib Dem Voice) and Michael Rock (Conservative Future). Each agreed to promote and help create an online focus group and answer a set of 10 questions - both closed and open.

As Lib Dems are first, their stuff is the most complete. They trailed the survey, ran a guest post from ippr's co-director, Carey Oppenheim about why the ippr is doing this and then started to post about the results to build momentum. This is the Labourlist set-up and the Conservative Future stuff will follow in a couple of days.

Each survey generates around 200 responses, with in-depth views and information. The events are 'live-tweeted' so that people outside of the event can view what's being said and ask questions via Twitter. This enables the grassroots to almost be our extra panel member at each event, acting as a counter to the views of the experts on the podium.
We hope to show political parties how simple new media tools can involve vast swathes of people in discussion and decision making, regardless of whether they are able to afford the time and expense of attending the conference showpiece.

Let me know what you think...