Jon Bounds is not impressed by Nick Clegg’s Your Freedom

As a principle, asking people what they think is a good thing, but ask them in the wrong way and all you’re doing is storing up resentment. It looks like Nick Clegg’s Your Freedom is piling up the anger.

If you’ve ever been on TV or radio and the producer has developed an interest in your breakfasting habits as you’re sitting down, it’s because just asking people ‘to say something’ doesn’t work — they mumble, go quiet, and generally say nothing of even enough use to check that the sound levels are right.

So it is with consultation. Ask too tight, or loaded, a question and you do nothing but make people angry, but make the question too wide and you’re going to have a hell of a job finding anything useful.

So far, in the ‘repealing unnecessary laws’ section of the website designed to help you feel like you’re in a useful dialogue there are pages asking for repeal of ‘the second law of thermodynamics’. And in the ‘restoring civil liberties’ section there’s an oddly straight-faced discussion about legalising incest that’s taking a side street into a discussion of polygamy. Incest should be legalised, by the way “because the law as it stands now infringes on the rights of a minority of sick, depraved individuals who aren’t actually hurting anybody”. If you’re looking for a laugh then here’s a collection of some of the oddest ‘ideas’.

There is good stuff here. Informed debate on the digital economy act is always welcome, but it’s buried. Buried under the weight of duplications and jokes, sidetracked by talking about things that have absolutely no chance of contributing to the debate — either because it’s out of scope of even the too-wide question (see the number of ideas calling for new laws) or because it runs contrary to the government’s aims.

It doesn’t treat people like grown-ups: there’s the language of complete freedom, when consultations can only happen within parameters (‘tell us your ideas’ rather than ‘how can we achieve this aim’). It hasn’t set a tone. It hasn’t got people who are really involved in policy or law making  joining in. It feels like the lawless badlands of YouTube comments rather than the tight control of Wikipedia.

Crowdsourcing, like any form of community, isn’t just about setting up the space — it’s about thinking about how people interact, making sure that constructive behaviour prospers. It’s about being involved. The community management team at Flickr say that for the first hundred thousand members they spent a huge amount of time engaging with them, helping them out, even introducing them to others with similar interests. Compare the tone of Flickr comments to those of YouTube (where commenting was pretty much switched on and left alone).

This is fairly obvious stuff: web types have been talking about the US site’s hijacking by cannabis protestors, or Time magazine’s top 100 people list being fixed by 4Chan users for some time. It’s got all of the smarts of the Conservatives’ web campaigning (remember the Cash Gordon debacle).

It’s a cock-up, but what can Labour do? Can you consult in opposition?

A culture of consultation, transparency and debate is much easier to do when you do not have legislative time pressures, or manifesto commitments, working against any change of tack. What Labour can’t do is suggest, as Your Freedom does, that everything is up for discussion — principles, basic rights, grand themes are topics for debate, not consultation.  At a time when there’s talk of future direction it’s time for debate, but when a leader and a path is chosen then how they deal with the wisdom of crowds will be a measure of the strength of that leader. Really listen, staff it properly, think about asking the right questions at the right time.

You can ask some of the people some of the time, or all of the people all of the time – I’m not sure that you can ask all of the people some of the time, with no parameters and expect it to work.

And Your Freedom? A more meaningless title you couldn’t come up with unless you were making up a fictional social network for your airport novel.

Coming soon, Nick Clegg’s FaceSpace?

Jon Bounds is a social media consultant.

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3 Responses to “Jon Bounds is not impressed by Nick Clegg’s Your Freedom”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sion simon, diana smith , Claire Spencer and others. Claire Spencer said: I'm liking @bounder's latest @LabourUncut piece, on Your Freedom & meaningless consultation: […]

  2. […] are blog posts pulling apart the new Your Freedom website, but this is mine. [link] by Jon Bounds | Posted in | View Comments | Tags: consultation, politics, work, […]

  3. Why do you need a national consultation? I would have thought the Big Conversation is evidence enough that it’s not going to produce anything useful, even if it isn’t a cynical exercise in pretending to listen (and it always is).

    If you want consultations, do local ones run by CLPs. You’ll get connections and campaigning tips and you can easily extract the useful national stuff from there too.

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