Parliament at night

How could technology improve policy-making?

Sense4us logoOpening up the policy-making process is a key part of the coalition government’s plans to reform the civil service and great strides have been made to open up data to public view in recent years. But if these developments are to more effectively inform policy development and scrutiny, and aid understanding of the potential impact of policy changes, then there’s a real need to better integrate technology into the policy and the legislative process.

How can civil servants be sure they have the most relevant, current and reliable data? How can open data be incorporated into the policy making process now and what is the potential for the future use of this vast array of information? How can parliamentary clerks ensure they are aware of the broadest range of expert opinion to inform committee scrutiny? And how can citizens’ views help policy makers to design better policy at all stages of the process?

These are the kind of questions that Sense4us will be exploring over the next three years. The aim is to build a digital tool for policy-makers that can:

  1. locate a broad range of relevant and current information, specific to a particular policy, incorporating open data sets and citizens’ views particularly from social media; and
  2. simulate the consequences and impact of potential policies, allowing policy-makers to change variables and thereby better understand the likely outcomes of a range of policy options before deciding which to adopt.

It is early days for open data and open policy making. The word ‘digital’ peppers the Civil Service Reform Plan but the focus is often on providing information and transactional services digitally. Less attention is paid to how digital tools could improve the nature of policy-making itself.

The Sense4us tool aims to help bridge the gap. It will be developed in consultation with policy-makers at different levels of government across Europe to ensure its potential use by a wide range of stakeholders. At the local level, our partners GESIS (the Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences) will be responsible for engaging with users at the city level in Berlin and in the North Rhine-Westphalia state legislature At the multi-national level Government to You (Gov2u) will engage with users in the European Parliament and Commission. Meanwhile the Society will be responsible for national level consultation with civil servants, parliamentarians and parliamentary officials in Whitehall and Westminster exploring how the tool can be used to support the UK policy process. Our academic partners leading on technical development of the tool are the IT Innovation Centre at Southampton University, eGovlab at Stockholm University, the University of Koblenz-Landau and the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University.

For our part of the project we are currently surveying and interviewing a wide range of officials in government departments and Parliament, as well as MPs and their staff, to gain a more detailed understanding of current practises in order to best scope user requirements for the tool.

If you work in Westminster or Whitehall in a policy development or scrutiny role and want to learn more about the project, or possibly contribute to our survey, please do get in touch!

Beccy Allen
Project Manager
beccy@hansardsociety.org.uk

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