Let’s not talk about Michael Gove. But let’s talk about why he felt that “people in this country have had enough of experts” was an acceptable thing to say. He was attempting to shut down the rational parts of the debate. And he was also tapping into — as I believe the result shows — a feeling of distance between the governors and the governed. The ‘elites’ who do the governing, and the ‘rest of us’ who feel like government is something done to them. This is an impression that has grown over time — enhanced by the global financial crisis midway through the first decade of this century.

But recall some of the referendum debates and phone-ins: voters were saying the opposite of Gove. They wanted more ‘facts’, they just didn’t know where to get them. They didn’t really trust either side. Part of them problem is that the political economic situation of the UK in the EU is massively complex. To deal with that, the ultimate answer is better education and the development of stronger critical thinking for everyone, so that they can interrogate arguments from each side and critically appraise the messenger as well as the message.

In the short term, does this mean we should throw up our hands? I don’t think so. I think the answer is to rebuild the connections and the trust between those governors and governed. To close the divide and muddy that distinction. And that starts with more information, communicated better and with no hint of partisan agenda.

Public trust in journalists ranks about as highly as that of politicians and estate agents — so let’s try giving people the data directly and let them think about what to do with it. Let’s build brilliantly designed information services. Let’s keep perfect track of the governors’ records and activities that can be checked at any time. Let’s it make it easy enough for anyone to do it.

These are part of what drives us at Democracy Club, particularly in the case of  WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk, our candidates comparison site. Choosing between candidates at an election is only part of political engagement in the UK, but it’s a big important part that people pay attention to. So let’s get it right.

First, the candidates data is crowdsourced: anyone can and does add information — UKIP and Green candidates are among the best contributors to the data. If people can see that people like them built the database, they’re more likely to trust it.

Second, we give all the data to the user: we don’t choose to display only the ‘three most likely to be elected’ — we display everything. We don’t present analysis — that’s for the reader to do. We ask users what else they need and the universal response is: more information.

Third, we try to get the information to where the public are already. We know that only a small proportion of people in the UK talk regularly about politics. So a large majority goes out to cast their vote based upon a loose apprehension of the facts based upon snippets of news and information received over time from friends and family. That’s not surprising, when communication about politics is competing with cat GIFs and brilliant Netflix series for the public’s attention. So when it matters, often the day before — or in the morning of an election — when people are looking for information, let’s make sure it’s there. Let’s think about how to partner with partner with facebook or Google to break through the filter bubble and get people the raw data.

At this unconference, I’d  love to talk about reaching new audiences with this data — getting it to them unadulterated — and about what kinds of information helps people take good decisions. Let’s talk about more facts, not post-facts.

 

Joe Mitchell

Joe helps coordinate Democracy Club, a non-profit company using digital services, crowdsourcing and open data to make democracy work better for everyone. Joe and Sym will both be at Open Data Manchester’s 12 November event. Democracy Club loves donations.

Views expressed in blog posts are those of the author not The Democratic Society or Open Data Manchester.