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Smarter Select Committees

This report outlines how digital tools and methods can help select committees restore public trust in democracy, reinvigorate public engagement in Parliament and enhance the work of committees themselves.

Since their establishment in 1979, select committees have provided one of our most important democratic functions. At their best, committees gather available evidence, data and insight; tap into public experiences and concerns; provide a space for thoughtful deliberation; and help parliament make better decisions. However, the 40th anniversary of select committees presents an important opportunity to re-examine this vital parliamentary system to ensure they are fit for the 21st century.

Since 2012 select committees have committed to public engagement as a ‘core task’ of their work, but their approach has not been systematic and they still struggle to reach beyond the usual suspects, or find ways to gather relevant knowledge quickly and effectively. With public trust in democracy deteriorating, the imperative to innovate, improve legitimacy and find new ways to involve people in national politics is stronger than ever. This is where digital innovation can help.

If used effectively, digital tools and methods offer select committees the opportunity to be more transparent and accessible to a wider range of people, improving relevance and impact. Like any good public engagement, this needs careful design, without which digital participation risks being distorting and unhelpful, amplifying the loudest or least informed voices.

To achieve success, stronger ambition and commitment by senior staff and MPs, as well as experimentation and learning through trial and improvement will be essential. We recommend that the UK Parliament commits to running at least five pilots for digital participation, which we outline in more detail in the final section of this report.

Nesta looks forward to working with select committees as they seek to experiment with these tools and methods. Our work in digital democracy brings together years of experience, from practical work building and testing digital tools for participation, to research that uncovers examples of best practice. For more information on our work, see our project page on democratic innovations, or email [email protected]

Authors

Theo Bass

Theo Bass

Theo Bass

Senior Researcher, Government Innovation

Theo is a Senior Researcher in Nesta's Research, Analysis and Policy Team

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