Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Political Innovation Camp - putting the PI into pizza

picamp about to begin

As trailed in a post last week, this afternoon was a trip back to Queen’s University and Political Innovation Camp or picamp (pronounced “π camp”). Some sessions had been thought about and articulated beforehand, others were more ad hoc and flowed from the conversation on the day. Delegates came from all kinds of backgrounds: journalists, consultants, academics, bloggers, commenters, hangers on ... and I even spotted one award winning councillor.

Steve Lawson had set up a temple of geekery in one corner of the Institute of Governance kitchen up on the first floor. His live blog post along with the embedded audio clips (insert big plug for audioboo!) give a pretty good flavour of what was discussed.

Hearts and minds filming Mick standing on top of a chair - the first time of many this afternoon!

I started out thinking I’d pull together a quick video overview of the event, including voxpops from the organisers and session initiators - a bit like the BarCamp Belfast one - but the conversations were too good to pull back and stand on the other side of the screen. So instead you’ll have to suffice with whatever Julia edits together for inclusion in Thursday night’s Hearts and Minds on BBC Northern Ireland.

Some snippets and ideas to record before I forget.

There's a symbiotic relationship between journalists and bloggers/citizen journalists. One with the legal resources to deal with libel allegations, but the constraints of toeing the owner’s line (and desperately short of time and resource to run long investigations). The other needing some guidelines to help keep them on the right side of the law but having a lot more freedom to pick what they want to poke their noses into.

“Should there be a mechanism for bloggers to pass stories to msm [Main Stream Media] if they can't legally stand it up?”

When it comes to media accreditation to cover national/political events – eg, the NIO Press Office’s approach to the upcoming EU vote count in the Kings Hall – bloggers are often viewed as amateur and outside the club of NUJ-card holding professionals. It’s one way of controlling numbers and behaviour, but does it open up the democratic process for scrutiny?

“announcing the formation of NUB - National Union of Bloggers...”

Photographers too need to stand up for their rights. And a reminder that Freedom of Information requests can be raised by anybody, and can be a good starting point.

Steve Lawson in his Amplified techie corner

Thinking about the Slugger Awards (first run last Autumn) the sound quality of the venue was raised, along with the potential to recognise political flunkies aides and advisers who often supply the elbow grease behind political campaigns and improvements.

Other groups looked at how politicians are using online and social media.

“parties in NI still think of social media as a broadcast tool”

“conversation with constituent on doorstep: audience of 1. same conversation online - audience in the 100s”

Lurking in the kitchen, we later discussed ways that the current commenter behaviour on sites like Slugger O’Toole could become more welcoming to newbies and readers who are less obviously politically aligned.

Anonymity was a requirement for those working in the public and private sector, as well as for members of political parties that tend to constrain external debate and musing on party policies. Sounds like the democratic parties need to learn to apply their democracy internally too.

“positive dissent by blogging politicians a good thing”

Heavy handed commenting squashes the enthusiasm of new participants. Women can be particularly put off. One person suggested that it could amount to cyber bullying: an emotive, but – I suspect – not an entirely incorrect term.

Some of the practical suggestions included applying the existing house rules a bit more rigorously in order to keep comment threads more tightly bound to the original post. One person commented that you were only ever three comments away from an extreme political statement that could close down a conversation. There were differing views on whether a Digg-style thumbs up/down voting on comments would reset the balance or just promote extremist comments to the top above the more rational and conversational stuff below.

An animated Mick Fealty explains the upcoming sessions

Talk too of how Northern Ireland could use a grass roots policy based civic and political action movement like MoveOn. What kind of issues would galvanise support for action across the country? Could people be motivated to bring about change in the views of individual politicians and their parties?

“do voters in NI care enough to move past tribal politics?”

“years of keeping the head below the parapet has made a sustained grassroots movement in NI a challenge”

Lots more was discussed, but other people can fill in the gaps in their posts. I've peppered the post with various tweets and quotes from the day - though I've deliberately left them unattributed. Many thanks to Mick, Paul, the good folks from Amplified and the sponsors.

Update - added the clip from Hearts and Minds.

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