Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Digital democracy in action

A short story about digital democracy today. Anyone with an interest in politics, democracy or government will have been intrigued by the publication of the latest proposed parliamentary constituency boundaries for England. The next step would then obviously be to look more closely at the proposed changes, but how might we do this? Well, you can go to the website and look at some Excel files or some PDFs. Or, you could go to a public office and look at a map (I even took a picture of one of these - below).

The problem here of course is that it is 2012 and most people might like to have a nice interactive, user-friendly map to look at which allows them to zoom into their area to see how the changes affect them. But this wasn't produced by the Boundary Commission for England. Instead - just like last time - a user-friendly interactive map has been produced by expert-enthusiasts, if I might call them that. The one I did was just a quick overnight project and although the new version is much nicer than my one it was still not produced by the people who actually should have done it. The O'Brien/Cheshire version is covered in the Guardian DataBlog and you can see from the comments that it allows people to understand in fine detail how the proposals might affect them.

Why does any of this even matter? It matters because changing parliamentary constituency boundaries is a key aspect of our democratic system and the people who represent us in parliament are tied to individual areas. Changes in these areas are not trivial and we need to be able to understand - in as much detail as possible - how proposed changes will impact upon us. It is also imperative that as many people as possible are able to see the new proposals. Publishing them in PDFs, Excel and in hard copy in a number of locations is okay but it falls well short of what we ought to expect. It shouldn't be left to mapping experts to produce interactive maps - even if it is quite enjoyable making them!

Using the current/proposed slider on the new map I can tell within 10 seconds that if the proposals go ahead I may very well have a new MP. With the spreadsheets, PDFs and hard copy map this is just not possible. Time for the Boundary Commission for England to revisit their approach in my opinion.