Web 2.0 the way to the people

As a Pom, I have been following the UK general election campaign. Regardless of who wins on Thursday, if anyone, there seems a huge disconnect between the UK voting public and the three main parties.
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

blog I'm fully behind NZ Labour's decision to use Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, Twitter and wiki, to help it better connect with voters by giving the public much greater input into policy development.

The first item up for discussion is, not surprisingly, the party's policy on "open and transparent government". The exercise will start with a "brainstorming phase", says communications and IT spokesperson Clare Curran.

"We want to hear all your ideas, suggestions, and the issues you think are important regarding open and transparent government," she says, on the Labour party's RedAlert blog.

It is heartening to see a political party try and re-invent itself by making itself more relevant to the masses by approaching the public so directly. In recent years, I have seen opposition parties re-invent themselves by moving to the middle, believing that is where the votes lie, even though their members tend to be more on the right.

In New Zealand, the more centrist John Key made National "Labour-lite" by swallowing so many "dead rats" of Labour policy as he sought not to "frighten the horses". In Britain, Conservative leader David Cameron dumped Thatcherism to become the "heir to (Tony) Blair".

It worked for our PM John Key, but apparently not for David Cameron, who will struggle to gain a majority this week, despite a clapped out 13-year-old government, an unpopular PM in Gordon Brown and a wrecked economy. Consequently, there has been much debate in Britain as to whether David Cameron has "blown it".

Of course, both parties will claim public consultation in their reinventions, the use of focus groups and the like. But did the UK Tories do it right in their attempts to win their way back to power? Might Web 2.0-style greater input from the public or party members have worked better?

Now, back to New Zealand Labour, where Clare Curran says that even after using blogs, wikis and the like, the final decision on policy will still be made by the party.

Nonetheless, using these Web 2.0 technologies should give a better and faster answer as to what a policy a party should adopt. Such technologies could well be applied to see which comments come from party members, or the wider public. By better determining the depth of feeling on an issue, a party leadership can determine whether taking a particular stance will appeal to its members/supporters, or the wider public, and work out any conflicts between them.

They can thus better tailor policies to suit public opinion, as well as your own side, so you can still rely on them to "get out the vote".

Of course, flexibility will still be essential, so you can change policy on the hoof, or as factors change.

Yes, like many other IT systems, being better informed through these Web 2.0 technologies should make for better decision-making. This is something I am sure New Zealand Labour leader Phil Goff will find useful come next election time, not to mention David Cameron or his successor.

Indeed, I am sure Kevin Rudd will confirm the importance of Web 2.0, since it played a major role in his successful Kevin07 campaign. It will be interesting to see how he extends its use for Kevin2010.

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