Politics-by-MMS pilot is (ahem) a partial success

Last summer I made cynical noises about Citizen Calling, the Home Affairs Select Committee’s idea to let The Kids voice their opinions on the criminal justice system. The Hansard Society has just published its report into the exercise, and it’s not good. Expectations were low to begin with, but the Evaluation Report (PDF) admits that the eventual response was still ‘disappointing’. That’s quite an optimistic choice of words.

In total, 12 messages were submitted via mobiles to the website by just eight contributors including two pieces of photographic evidence (see Appendix C). Additionally, a further five comments were made in response to the submissions.
Of the 101 people who registered with Citizen Calling just over half (52%) completed the pre-consultation questionnaire… At the end of the process those registered were asked to complete a post-consultation questionnaire asking about their experiences with the consultation exercise and the value they placed on them. Unfortunately very few people (12) completed the post consultation questionnaire thus negating statistical analysis.
Not surprisingly, there was general disappointment with both the quantity and depth of responses which were regarded as limited, especially when compared with the traffic and the interest in the pilot website generally. Given the quality of evidence submitted, the pilot was felt to have had little direct influence on the inquiry and the Committee decided not to request further evidence through an oral evidence hearing.

So what went wrong? The report blames a lack of promotion, highlighting in particular the need for active involvement by the MPs themselves; an ‘unfulfilling user experience’; ‘general scepticism about the point of contributing’; ‘cumbersome’ video uploading technology; and ‘costs of participation’.
Wouldn’t it have been better to just throw something up on YouTube? The report says: ‘the critical mass that was making (social networking) sites relevant was only beginning to develop after the pilot had been funded, project initiation documents had been agreed and the pilot was gearing up for launch. We also felt that there was a potential risk that inquiry content may have been too disaggregated and that the Select Committee needed a neutral, advertisement-free space to experiment.’
Ah well, I suppose at least we know not to do it this way again.