How online tools are opening up the democracy dialogue

As part of the Democracy Pioneers programme, we formed a mini-mission team to discuss our shared interest in the increased use of digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a team, we have gathered case studies sharing the experiences of organisations who have used technology to engage new or existing audiences online, how they found it, and what they learned.

Summary:

  • Online tools have enabled us to offer an online version of what we did previously
  • The best outcomes were where a team could seek professional advice or commission a bespoke tool (Smart School Council)
  • It was easier to build rapport online when they had previously met participants in person
  • Security is of utmost importance, especially when working with young or vulnerable people
  • Combining different ways of learning and interacting really helps eg. physical resources and physical activities
  • Online tools are only as useful as the environment they’re used in; difficulties with wifi or lack of access to a device can render an online tool ineffective

A teacher uses Mentimeter to gamify online learning

A teacher uses Mentimeter to gamify online learning

Pros

  • Interactivity: gamification element was exciting and useful for students
  • Easy to integrate: can be made part of the lesson, and embedded the use of voting
  • Flexibility: it is simple and flexible enough to make it look the way you want

Cons

  • It was sometimes difficult to input text on slides - guidance for teachers would be useful

Takeaways

  • Simplicity, interactivity and security are paramount when it comes to online tools for secondary schools and college

NCS Kirklees uses combine online learning with physical resources

NCS Kirklees uses combine online learning with physical resources

Pros

  • Using online tools enabled Kirklees Council to share valuable learning, which couldn’t have been done at the time without online tools
  • Participants grew more confident over the day, despite being hesitant to speak at first

Cons

  • Not being able to see or respond to the body language of young people and team leaders was difficult - you can’t substitute for having someone in the room with you
  • Some found the learning environment quite difficult. Participants would have liked more opportunity to move about physically in the space, and less time looking at the screen

Takeaways

Young Scot use a suite of services to codesign with young people

Young Scot use a suite of services to codesign with young people

Pros

  • Zoom meant Young Scot met their priority of ensuring young people could still participate

Cons

  • Idea generation can take comparatively longer to get started online.
  • There are also issues around managing groups - it’s harder to tell who’s not participating

Takeaways

  • Transferring to online collaboration was most successful for the people who had already met in real life
  • In this instance YoungScot were trying to replicate a face to face process rather than create a brand new process. In the longer term they will be looking to new processes and finding different ways for young people to participate online.

Smart Schools Council use WordPress to make their debate club accessible for all

Smart Schools Council use WordPress to make their debate club accessible for all

Pros

  • Adaptable: Smart Schools Council were able to adapt their tool to be used easily by everybody who had a smartphone or laptop, this way it made their debate club more accessible to all.
  • They were able to raise pupil participation from 7% to 100% in a half-term period

Cons

  • It costs money/time to train teachers how to use the tool.

Takeaways

  • Key point is to seek professional advice when looking to adapt or design any bespoke IT platforms or digital tools, and the importance of working with end users to develop a tool that is useable and effective.

Every One Every Day leverage Mighty Networks for local community coordination

Every One Every Day leverage Mighty Networks for local community coordination

Pros

  • Switching communications from in-person to online wasn’t as big a leap as expected, because the Every One Every Day team knew their network well already, they had already built trust

Cons

  • Effort: it takes a lot of time and effort to create a stimulating online environment, with a positive and supportive culture.

Takeaways

  • You need to moderate carefully to create trust and confidence to share ideas and thoughts on the site. It also takes a lot of effort to get people to join in the first place.

Fact checkers use of Full Fact to curb misinformation

Fact checkers use of Full Fact to curb misinformation

Pros

  • “It’s commonplace for false medical information about Covid-19 to spread across social media. Luckily, there are a number of useful tools out there to see if what you’re reading is true or false. You can use an image that you have seen to search for other similar images with Tin Eye. This can show you if an image has been edited or was from a previous event. Amnesty’s YouTube tool also takes screen grabs of videos so you can see if they’ve cropped up anywhere before.“

  • “Meanwhile, fact checks from around the world have been collected on Poynter’s CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance Database to help readers and each other navigate the claims about Covid-19 that have been spreading from country to country.” - Claire Milne

Takeaways

  • There is a host of online tools that fact checkers rely on to tackle misinformation. This is particularly useful during the coronavirus, when information changes and spreads rapidly. In turn, anyone engaged in debate about the coronavirus can use fact checks to stay updated with accurate, trustworthy information.

Newswise try four systems side by side to find the perfect fit

Newswise try four systems side by side to find the perfect fit
  • Zoom – Widely used during pandemic across UK, simple to use and access and having a parent organisation with full access made it a free resource
  • BlueJeans – Very good functionality, fairly easy to use and was free as were able to access free through parent organisation
  • Google Hangouts – Google was main platform already used inside the business (no cost) and very easy to access and good for team meetings
  • Adobe Connect – Pilot (free) went really well, Had great functionality though and was a step above the rest of the tools, but that would come at a cost. However, there were challenges with people understanding how to use it, needed training for users

Takeaways

  • All of these digital tools are dependent on users/providers having a good strong internet connection. During lockdown internet signals were weakened by higher volumes and the ability to use digital tools effectively wasn’t always consistent. Also if end users have a poor connection the tools would hinder progress and outcomes

Author

Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Mission Manager (Scotland), Innovation Programmes

Kyle is Nesta’s Mission Manager for Scotland working on the A Sustainable Future mission and based with the Scotland team in Edinburgh.

View profile

Brendan Doyle

Regional Manager at User Voice

Coryn Barclay

Research Consultant for Fife Council

Jessica Hailstone

Supporter Communications Manager at Full Fact

Ellie Fishleigh

Communications Officer at Shout Out UK

Diane Sims

Diane is Engagement and Communications Lead, Democracy and Place-Based Working at Kirklees Council.