The new eConsultations website for Parliament is ‘the result of a great deal of effort from the Hansard Society over a number of years’ (according to Jeremy Gould); so it’s intriguing that in the end, they’ve gone (by the look of it) for an off-the-shelf discussion forum package. And so far, it seems to be working pretty well.
It’s running on the Phorum platform, which I don’t know at all but seems perfectly fit-for-purpose. And by taking an off-the-shelf product, they get some nice extra features including search and RSS. The debate on Medical Care for the Armed Forces is getting a lot of traffic, presumably as word gets round the forces and families; not so much for the other discussion around the Local government and the draft Climate Change Bill. Everything is subjected to moderation which ‘should happen within 24 hours’.
It’s further reinforcement of my growing belief that there’s an 80-20 relationship in most web projects: the first 20% of effort will yield 80% of the likely benefit… and that it’s very rarely worth the extra 80% effort to get the final 20% of benefit. There are exceptions, but then again, there always are.
We shouldn’t get worked up about the electronification of the existing formal consultations process. If Tom Steinberg reckons it’s beyond the mySociety crew, that’s a clue. And besides, it’s far from an ideal process anyway. Few old-fashioned consultations get great responses, in either quality or volume. We can do better.