Published on February 5, 2014

Birthdays, visions of democracy and back to BIS

By Marilyn Booth

I'm spending five days (between 30/01/14 and 05/02/14) with Involve to learn a little more about their approach to public engagement. Normally, I can be found in the @bisgovuk (Department for Business, Innovation & Skills) Digital Communications team, where I'm focused on supporting policy teams to engage online. If you'd like to contact me while I'm here at Involve please do so through simon@involve.org.uk.

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So, this is my last day with Involve before I return to my day job.

It’s been a very different week in a small third-sector organisation as opposed to a large government department.  There are fewer people around, it’s a smaller building, and Old Street/Corsham Street is very different to Victoria Street.  It’s given me an insight into the different issues faced by smaller organisations, and I’ve been lucky to get a little insight into their work and projects over the last few days, as well as having a little space to reflect more on some of the aspects of my day-to-day job.

I’ve had an introduction to the NHS Citizen project, and a timely reminder of how facilitation skills can be applied in other settings – including in the type of digital training that we offer to policy makers  My time has also coincided with Involve’s 10th birthday, and I was delighted to be able to attend their anniversary celebration at the University of Westminster last night (on Tweeting duty, although the team all share the digital load normally, and have got really strong online profiles).  As Simon let the cat out of the bag that I was tweeting for @InvolveUK during the event, I’d have to say I didn’t find it necessarily freer, although it was fun trying to distill some rather cryptic comments about pigs and cows.

So, tonight we’re letting @marilyneb tweet as @InvolveUK. Will she cope will freer twitter guidelines?! #demofuture

— Simon Burall (@sburall) February 4, 2014

The focus of last night’s event was a forward-facing one, with guests asked to think about their visions of democracy. While some of that, unsurprisingly, focused on areas that the impartial civil servant in me can’t really comment on or influence, it was gratifying to find such a resonance with what we in the BIS digital team are trying to achieve by empowering policy makers to listen and engage online – that’s our contribution to shaping the future of democracy, enabling both policy makers to have a voice online, and ensuring that the public voice as it’s expressed online is more easily heard.

So, I was really interested in some of the thinking last night.  Geoff Mulgan, for example, from Nesta discussed a European project that Nesta is involved with to make digital participation more widespread. But equally, later, in the speed dating/networking session I was reminded that some members of the public have the same misgivings about engaging online as policy makers.

It was also great to catch up with many of the current and past Sciencewise teams that I don’t get to speak to in my current role, and to hear about some exciting projects that will definitely be of interest to staff across BIS.

So, as I go back there it only remains for me to say a really big thank you to all of Simon’s team at Involve for making me so welcome over the last few days.

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