Reboot Britain notes: Policy making in the future

What follows is a slightly edited version of the notes I made during the Policy Making in the Future session. Robin Grant of WeAreSocial requested that I send them over to him, so thought I may as well pop them here. The emphasis here is getting up what took place in a raw data form. Hence they’re a bit rough and ready, but I hope useful.

Session: Policy making in the Future
Chair: Mick Fealty, Slugger O’
Panelists: Steph Grey (Department of Business, Innovation & Skills), David Price (Debate Graph), Deborah Szebeko (ThinkPublic).

Steph Gray
I’m from the communications team at BIS, I’m not a policy official, not represting BIS today, these are just some thoughts really:

How policy is made:

  • Identification: minister wants problem solved
  • Analysis
  • Consultation

But, the internet changes things. With the internet we’re in a poistion to get lots of people involved. Henace three big questions:

  • where do the clever ideas come from?
  • who chooses the solutions?
  • how do we make change happen?

We’re (the government) beginning to see and do enlightened policy discussion online

  • Commentable documents
  • Video (see Building Britain’s Future) – a multimedia policy document
  • Blogs (eg. Defra)


  • The numbers involved are still tiny
  • People are still cynical abot online gimmicks
  • Not all contributions equally helpful
  • Gov isn’t geared up for mass dialogue
  • The incentives on bothe sides are both wrong

Three Goals for future

  • A wider range of contributors
  • Better ideas
  • Conversation which goes somewhere

Policy deliberation in the future?

Different folks for different strokes
Take key facts and make into quizes
Create widgets for bloggers like Tom Watson

Try and make the debate more accessible:
Examples: debate graph, Open Gov initiative (US), Simply Understand

David Price
Debate Graph – collaborative thinking

“There are always more smart people outside gov than inside”
But how do you make sense of it?
Problems of repeatition

We’re (debate graph) focussing on the underlying ideas
Represent the idea just once (one submission), which people can then refine, rate, vote for

We break down the ideas into small chunks eg. building blocks of: Question, suggesiont, reason
This can include as much depth as you need and diff media – eg. video
Enables externalisation of communities thoughts

Challenge: make it simple and easy and means for distribution (see Independent climate change pages)

The people/organisations using Debate Graph:

  • Downing Street
  • RSA
  • Independent (newspaper)
  • European Commission

Deborah Szebeko
Think Public (social innovation and design)

A lot of information out there is hard to understand, how do you de-jargon? Design is one way forward


  • Using language
  • Choice – drawing, using video
  • Format eg. Dragon’s Den (Pitch your project)

“What does success look like?” (Ross Fergusson)

Steph – For me success is:

  • Have you got a wider range of people involved
  • Are we getting better ideas through
  • Does the conversation continue

Deborah – It’s about how do you build sustainability

David – drawing in ideas that you wouldn’t have gathered before, process continues through the policy implementation – iterative, experiemental development

Contemplating the Digital Britain Unconferences

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on the Digital Britain Unconference series of events, that sprang from being on Twitter on the afternoon of 18 April 2009, towards the end of the Digital Britain Summit. Bill Thompson has explained what happened and how, much better than I could – here.

The result of those Twitter conversations has led to – in less than three weeks – a group of people (all volunteers, most of whom have never met) from across the UK working together to organise over twelve unconferences to discuss Lord Carter’s Digital Britain Interim Report. This process experience in and of itself has been an amazing and at some point I’m planning to put together a case study of how we went about organising everything, the tools we used, what worked, what didn’t work – a guide for anyone should they wish to do something similar.

The unconferences will be all done and dusted by 13 May – less than a month after it all began – when the process of collating and editing everyone’s reports will begin, so that we can produce one final document for consideration by the Digital Britain team.

Suffice to say, all this has meant much contemplation about the future and how we’re in a huge process of change, in terms of how we think and operate as a country, how it affects infrastrucure, democracy, the economy, individual businesses and sectors, society, education, culture and how technologies sit amongst it all.

Last night the London unconference happened at the ICA. There were over 50 people in attendance representing many digital/technology touch points – a lot of brains and a lot of experience in one room. Discussions ranged from an uploaders manifesto and ensuring wide inclusion to how to encourage a stronger culture of entrepreneurship. The findings and conclusions are in process of being written up by Tom de Grunwald with help from others.

These are big, tough questions. Writing a report for Digital Britain that even begins to scrape the surface of some these issues is a challenge and my hope is that the unconference efforts help, not hinder this.

More to follow.