Speaking tonight at The Royal Television Society lecture in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, Rosemary Butler, announced a series of actions that the Assembly plans to take in order to address the Democratic Deficit, including some significant plans to develop the way that the Assembly engages with digital publishers and communities.
‘Democratic deficit’ is the term that Mrs Butler applied to the problem of many UK and Welsh media organisations failing to properly cover the work of the Assembly and the public policy differences in Wales as a result of devolution.
For example, viewers of television news in Wales regularly find themselves watching stories involving the English Education Minister Michael Gove, when it is in fact Huw Lewis, the Minister for Education in Wales, who makes policies affecting the education system in Wales.
In her speech, Mrs Butler announced a set of specific measures the National Assembly will take to improve how the Assembly communicates its work with the people of Wales including,
- work with digital and hyperlocal media and partner organisations to create a journalism hub in the Senedd that could provide content to these new digital channels;
- make it easier to report the Assembly’s work by providing better communications facilities on the Senedd estate;
- make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible;
- ensure that Assembly Members are fully informed about how best to use the communication tools now available in this digital age;
- work more closely with media organisations to take the Assembly out to the communities they represent with a series of regional Assembly press days; and
- also work with those organisations to provide induction sessions for trainee journalists to ensure a better understanding of the work of the institution.
NativeHQ welcomes these announcements. They will make a significant contribution to the way that the work of the Assembly is communicated to the people of Wales. We have been involved in the discussions the Assembly has held about these issues over recent months – you can view a video of Carl Morris contributing to the discussions on our blog.
The key to the success of these initiatives will lie in the way that they are implemented. Some of this is already underway. The flagship Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay, where the Presiding officer made her remarks, has finally been given internet connectivity, which the public can use via wifi, and it is good to hear there will be better communications facilities across the Senedd estate.
NativeHQ will itself be involved in the effort to inform Assembly Members about the best ways to use digital communications tools as one of the organisations chosen to deliver training in digital and social media to AMs and their political staff. We’d welcome comments from our blog visitors if you have any thoughts about the key skills that Assembly Members need to know in order to become more effective using digital tools. What do Welsh politicans need to know about the social web?
The proposal to ‘make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible; opens up the exciting possibility of allowing journalists and citizens to analyse the data in new and innovative ways that could provide fresh insights to help the Assembly to do the important work of representing the interests of Wales and its people, making laws for Wales, and holding the Welsh Government to account. It will be important for the Assembly to work with industry leaders in the field of digital democratic engagement such as MySociety as well as local Welsh technology companies who understand the specific nature of the Welsh political landscape.
The idea of creating a journalism hub within the Senedd for niche digital publishers to engage with the work of the political community is a promising one, though not without its challenges for the Assembly. We would suggest that the Assembly guards against over-reliance on the idea of ‘hyperlocal’, as not all niches are geographic. While hyperlocal sites are an increasing feature of the digital landscape in Wales, many digital publishers focus not on an area of the map, but on an area of policy. For example YnniCymru is a blog which looks at the specific topic of renewable energy, right across Wales.
These topic and hyperlocal specialists are savvy digital users, so we’d suggest that the Assembly looks to create an information resource with smart filtering and notification systems that they can use to ensure that any Assembly activity relating to the area of information that they focus on – be that geographical or topic based – gets to them quickly.
Image by Capt Gorgeous (Creative Commons BY licence)