I was at the DWP’s Auto- Enrolment workshop on Tuesday . It was a good day. The standard of the discussion high, participants sharing ideas freely, heated debate at times.
The workshop set up to tell Paul Johnson, Adrian Boulding, David Yeandle and the DWP of the views of Providers of DC pensions as to whether and “how” auto-enrolment and NEST would work. At close of day civil servants and Providers exchanged views informally. This was open Government.
But there it ended. DWP scribes meticulously recorded proceedings but there was no promise to share the debate between those there, let alone to those who couldn’t be. Participants were encouraged to send submissions to the DWP by August 13th. No doubt these will be diligently filed and stored for posterity in a dingy cellar in Whitehall.
Meanwhile, the energy of the debate will be dissipated. I’d been invited by e-mail, over half the people attending were LinkedIn connections of mine, some members of mallowstreet, maybe you were there and reading this.
We have in the UK one of the web-connected societies in the world and yet that connectivity is not being employed by a Government pledged to openness. Politicians have begun to tweet the message but at departmental levels the use of new technology is sparse!
Here are a few practical ways that social media could have been employed both at the meeting and after to have got better outcomes.
- Instead of employing “shows of hands” , the meeting could have recorded polar decisions on set questions through the use of anonymous electronic voting handsets.
- The DWP could and should be establishing discussion groups on the web where groups,such as this one, can continue the debate electronically, no need for DWP scribes, views can be cut and pasted straight into the documents that the working group present to ministers.
- A DWP inbox could be established which could give participants an opportunity to send messages directly to Messrs Johnson, Boulding and Yeandle
- These guys could join Linkedin and go the Linkedin Groups that have been set up to discuss Auto-Enrolment, NEST and wider issues of Pension Reform
- These guys and indeed Steve Webb could accept their invitations to mallowstreet and see the views of the 650 pensions professionals actively contributing to the debate on that site.
I did a quick search on Facebook, a couple of private pages on auto-enrolment, no pages on NEST and not a single page resulting from a search on the DWP!
Can the DWP be surprised that these major reforms that will touch the lives of all the 22 million UK users of Facebook have no public awareness?
I’ve got beyond marvelling at social media’s inclusiveness. I am beginning to ask some serious questions about how we use this incredible connectivity in a positive way.
Open Government means open government It’s not just a buzz phrase. Social Media means the application of technology to reach out beyond the narrow boundaries of yesterday to embrace a wider audience in genuinely public debate.
Paul Johnson left the meeting with a brilliant question.
Would we vote for Higher Taxes and a Proper State Pension or vote for Lower Taxes and Auto-Enrolment?
It’s questions like that that can be put to the nation, not through expensive referenda but cheaply,quickly and effectively via our mobile phones and laptops.