By David Cragg and Cristina Leston-Bandeira
Parliaments have been experimenting with public engagement initiatives for some years now. From general cultural and educational initiatives, to far more specific events. From these the main lesson has been that the public engages through issues, not politics per se. Adapting its approach to this principle, the UK parliament has recently been developing new ideas, which try to maximise the idea of engagement through issues, at the same time as using digital means for a wider communication, beyond the usual suspects. Below we present the reflections of someone involved in a recent example of this type of engagement initiative: a #ParliChat around a Westminster Hall debate on the Melbourne Declaration on Diabetes.
The #ParliChat principle consists of involving organisations external to parliament to engage into an online discussion of a topic linked to parliament, through Twitter with the hashtag of #ParliChat and an associated thematic hashtag; in this case, #OurD. On this occasion, parliament’s outreach team contacted Our Diabetes, an online community led group that is active in discussing issues affecting people with diabetes. Although organised with the support of the outreach team, the actual engagement activity here was led by an organisation external to parliament. As a consequence it may have reached a public who would not have usually engaged with parliament. Below we have pasted some of the reflections from David Cragg, the Our Diabetes representative who led the #OurD #ParliChat. The original blog post can be found here.
How the #ParliChat tweetchat came about
Earlier this year I was asked if I would be involved with a small (but growing!) group of people talking with the Parliament Outreach team about the use of social media. Since then I have attended a number of #ParliTeaCamp meetings at Portcullis House discussing a wide range of topics and, if you follow me on Twitter, I’m sure you would have seen a few tweets from me whilst attending these meetings!
These meetings have been extremely interesting and rewarding. By getting involved I’ve personally learnt a lot about Parliament, social media and how communities work and grow and I hope my own contributions have been useful to others too. Through this involvement I have also had the opportunity to meet some amazing people who do amazing work!
So, when the Parliament Outreach team asked if I’d be interested in Our Diabetes doing a live tweetchat, using the “Melbourne Declaration on Diabetes” debate at Westminster Hall, I jumped at the chance.
What actually happened
Being the first to attempt something like this inevitably means you hit a few barriers. We successfully managed to negotiate them with the help of the Outreach team and run the first live #ParliChat tweetchat during the debate.
The initial idea was to tweet directly from within the debating hall but unfortunately security at Parliament put the first roadblock in our way… members of the public aren’t (currently) allowed to take electronic devices in the debating chamber!
Hopefully this policy will change in the future. I feel it’s a great way to get people involved in (and understand) the workings of Parliament, sharing with a wider community what is being discussed there directly with the people it relates to. When filtered through mainstream media most of what Parliament does seems to gets lost…
…After all, how many people saw anything in the media about this debate? I didn’t see anything mentioned and yet around 3.2 million people in the UK would have a direct interest (having either type 1 or type 2) in this debate!
Plan B involved watching the debate via a Parliament TV live stream and this worked for most, but a few people had problems accessing the stream. I’m sure lessons will be learnt from this and any issues identified will be resolved in time for future chats… and I certainly hope future chats take place.
Who got involved in #ParliChat
Given the time of day, I wasn’t sure how much engagement we would get during the debate itself, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people joining rise as the debate continued: from diabetes consultants and diabetic specialist nurses to patients with diabetes and parents of those with diabetes; from Cardiff and Vale UHB (who are one of the largest NHS organisations in Wales – a pleasant surprise given health is a devolved power!) to JDRF UK (the largest type 1 diabetes charity in the UK); to diabetes device manufacturers and everything in between. We also had Jamie Reed MP (Shadow Health Minister) and Adrian Sanders MP (who moved the debate) engage in the chat.
In total 55 people got involved, creating 315 tweets reaching an estimated audience of nearly 375,000 people and approaching one million impacts on Twitter timelines. A fuller breakdown of these analytics can be found in this pdf document.
What did I take away from the debate?
Overall I came away with a much greater understanding of how many MPs are “blessed” (as Jamie Reed MP put it) by diabetes who have a real passion and commitment to tackling the issues around diabetes as well as how much work goes unnoticed by the public.
David Cragg is has social media responsibilities at @OurDiabetes. He tweets @davidcragg. Cristina Leston-Bandeira is Senior Lecturer in Legislative Studies at the University of Hull. She tweets @estrangeirada.