Democracy Club Menu

The One Where We Don’t Have Much Time Left

by

”Pontypridd

The Old Bridge at Pontypridd, county town of Rhondda Cynon Taf, the latest Welsh council to provide polling station data. Hurrah! 5 down, 17 to go… and there are positive noises…

It’s just two weeks to demo day, and pitch practice at BGV towers is going into overdrive. Today, Tim stepped up to deliver a new pitch for Democracy Club with a rather good story about what happens when you can’t research your candidates in advance…

But beyond that deadline lies a more immutable, terrifying date. 5 May 2016. Less than two months away now. A veritable cornucopia of elections is coming.

To make brilliant tools for voters, we need to iron out some issues with the products, and get a whole lot more data.

At the same time, we need to work out how we tell the story of what we do - and what we want to do next - so we can keep the show on the road after May.

The good news is we’ve had a range of thoughtful chats this week, from funders and investors to potential clients and pals, who all seem more and more optimistic about what we’re doing. There’s a lot of encouragement for making the big play to be the people who make better digital services happen for democracy in the UK - with a grand vision for the General Election in 2020.

This means we need to clarify an ‘ask’ for the next four years: what’s the core funding required for a relatively FT team to experiment and iterate our way through May 2016, then the local elections in 2017, the European parliamentary elections in 2019, and anything in between, in order to deliver brilliant data services and voter information and engagement platforms for the GE2020. So watch out grantmakers.

Polling stations

The word is gradually spreading: Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT to their friends) have provided their data, there are positive noises from Swansea, and — without even prompting — councils in England have started alerting us about data they’ve published (thanks Calderdale!). Camden is on board, and we’ll chat to other London councils soon.

Candidates

We’ve had a good drip feed of candidates coming in…we’ve not pushed it to everyone, as we’re keen to try to improve the user experience first…but that might have to be abandoned in favour of getting it out in the world and getting data in. We’re also getting good user feedback on usability - keep it coming.

We’re also starting to get requests for the data by campaign groups, which is a good sign. Soon, everyone, soon.

Remember election leaflets?

Any excuse to hang out at the British Library is a good excuse. They’ve been quite interested in election leaflets for a while (as a lovely bit of contemporary political material). ElectionLeaflets.org hasn’t been updated for 2016, but it will still eat leaflets — nom nom nom — very clunky though.

If you, like a good archivist, really love leaflets and also happen to be a developer - do get in touch and we can try to update the thing for 2016.

Randomness

In the most unexpected results of the week, we met up with long-time civic tech good guy Julian Todd, and got hugely distracted and ended up designing 3D-printable ballot boxes. If we run a crowdfunder at some point, expect some amazing Democracy Club rewards.

Effectiveness

How do we know if we do any good? We’ve lightly blogged about this before - see our assumptions that make up our Theory of Change. This week we had a good chat with Rosie Campbell, Prof of Politics at Birkbeck, about how we should measure the effects of what we do. It’s hard to run controlled experiments when you’re building products for the whole country, but we could run lab experiments where we measure attitudes or knowledge before and after people use our product (and a placebo). It’d be great to try some of this out - even if as prototype research for the ‘real’ research we could do with some funding later on.

Next week

We’ll be introducing local elections into candidates.democracyclub.org.uk. This is a big challenge: c. 10,000 candidates. But this is somewhere where we can add value that has never existed before — when have you really been able to know anything of your candidates for your local council before you get to the ballot box?

It’ll also be crunch time for a trial project we’ve been developing with LGiU on open election results. Can we raise the money to hire a developer to build a real-time results recorder for volunteers going to the counts throughout the night of the 5-6 May? Find out next week on DemocraBlog.

And — they can’t keep us away — we’re back to Cardiff with NUS Wales and the Minister for Public Services to do one last big public push for polling station data.

Onward! Pronto.

Photo credit: Varitek