Are you a techno wizard?

This article appears in this week’s Liberal Democrat News:

Since the news that Nick Clegg was proposing to the Federal Executive that I should chair the party’s new Technology Board (a proposal the FE agreed to last Monday), the internet fraternity have been keen as mustard to give me their ideas – and I am keen to have them!

So this is great, but what’s become clear to me – other than the need to publicise that the Board’s work will be about technology in the sense of e-campaigning, computers and the internet, rather than technology in the sense of scientific research – is that there is a huge pool of untapped potential.

Because almost nobody whose conversation or email or Facebook message started, “I work in IT and I’ve got some ideas for how the party can improve…” and who clearly has a bundle of useful IT skills is actually using those skills very much to help the party at the moment. I want to enable that skilled army to employ its talents to the max.

One or two get it totally – and are wonderfully valued for that. A good few more are doing things like looking after their local party’s website (though, frankly, these days that usually doesn’t require much technical IT skill – skill yes, but not technical IT skill). But generally – there is a large pool of people with technical talent that we’re hardly tapping.

Yet looking at the tools the party currently has, and the resources we have available to improve them, there clearly is a lot of very valuable work which such people could be doing. So as I’m beginning to map out the whats and hows of the Board’s work, I have three clear priorities in mind.

First, really getting the most out of the opportunities the internet offers isn’t really about the technology – it is about how we use it – and getting those online opportunities embedding into our activities. As the writer Clay Shirky puts it, “The revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools. It happens when society adopts new behaviours.” That’s why Nick suggested me for this position – because I use what the internet can offer – but in techno terms am an infant.

Second, we need to build on our efforts to give individuals ā€“ whether members or not and living in a target seat/ward or not ā€“ the opportunities through the internet to campaign on behalf of the party and to spread our message both online and offline.

Third, where we have tools that should or could be improved, we need to tap into the volunteer skills of members and supporters. We will in part do that by setting the right standards and frameworks for the party overall. But we will also only achieve this if we open up more of the code the party has acquired so that more people can contribute to it.

For example, our email list server is based on open-source software and is used by hundreds of people to run email lists, some of whom are expert programmers. And yet the only changes to the code that happens are those the party does or pays for centrally. Likewise, many of our other tools – such as the petition engine that we frequently use in my constituency – and indeed the party’s website – run on code the party owns.

So with the help of Richard Allan, I’ve put together a brief online survey asking people to volunteer information about the technical skills which they have – whether it is the programming or software development management skills to help us get more and better code written without having to rely solely on the stretched resources at the centre.

The survey is at – and please fill it in if this sounds like something for you, and let others know about it too.

0 thoughts on “Are you a techno wizard?

  1. This is great news. As someone who is interested in e-campaigning with IT skills, this is good to hear. We need to be moving our political participation into the electronic age.Even better to hear from my own MP!

  2. Uh oh. No mention of security skills there.. please don’t try and compete with Labour on the ability to leak personal information!

  3. The survey seems aimed at finding volunteer hours = untapped valuable resource. What about professionals who care about finding, planning and going through with a project – but finding there’s little receptiveness for this?And those without party affiliation, but whishing to make a better world anyway, via whoever is ready to support change?

  4. Thanks for the suggestions and feedback.Phil – security certainly is important, and if anyone has specific skills in that area, they’d be most welcome to volunteer.Simon – the offer is open to members and non-members alike. As you say, there may be some people motivated by a desire for change who are interested in helping, even if party membership isn’t the thing for them. Skills with managing projects are important too. I don’t know if you’ve got a particular issue in mind – by all means drop me a line direct if there’s something you’d like to discuss further.

  5. Try making a propostion and put in on and vie for tenders. In this way I would make a professional bid to do a professional piece of work. No such thing as a free meal anyhow, which is what my first reaction to someone wanting someone to volunteer something – at what price.

  6. SECURITY IS VITALLY IMPORTANT.Oh yes I would like to say a bit about security too Lynne. I got a questionnaire through my letter box some time ago from you and after I had filled it in I suddenly thought WOW I am giving out all this information about myself and you are going to put it on some database [and this is for a Political Party that is against storing loads of information on a database i.e. Identity Cards]and I wondered, just how secure was the personal information I was about to give to you going to be. I had given enough information about myself for someone to begin to do an identity theft had the information been stolen!So I tore up the questionnaire. Please, you must put security at the very top of your agenda. Otherwise people will be very wary about giving you personal information.

  7. Security is not an issue at all. The poacher will always beat the gamekkeper and any potential security measures are broken and obsolete before they are implemented. What matters is getting messages across. I’d like to help.Martyn

  8. I’d also like to add that although people should pay for professional services, there is a space for volunteer work too. why should it be any different to volunteering in any other sector?

  9. Well, I for one have volunteered my services. It’s exactly the kind of project I’d like to get involved with in my spare time, most of the good open source projects already have enough good volunteers.I think tapping up grass roots geeks like this is a great idea but make sure the volunteers are chosen carefully, and even more importantly must be managed properly, preferably by someone with experience of managing large numbers of remote workers. Managing geeks is like herding cats at the best of times.It’s also important to make sure that the eventual team has the opportunity to meet up, most of the successful open source projects have some form of event for its contributors, either in the form of a convention (probably not appropriate) or just a night in a pub somewhere to discuss issues face to face.As was shown in the US recently, the Internet can be a very effective tool when used to it’s strengths, 2 way communication rather than the 1 way communication of traditional media.It’ll be good to see how this pans out, and hopefully I’ll be involved at some level.

  10. ricardusacapus – Surely increasing the chances of the only liberal party left in this country, of being elected, is worth working for free?

  11. I’m a sort-of techno wizard so I submitted the form. Why do I suspect nothing will come of it though?!Nice soundbyte there “the only liberal party left” – of the alternatives on offer I don’t know what scares me more – Gordon and Jacqui or Dave and George.

  12. Iain: I’m doing another round of publicity for the survey later this week, and then will start at looking through the replies next. But if you don’t hear, you know where to find me…!

  13. I have some IT skills, and I’m happy to volunteer some of my time to help the party out, as I believe in this party – that’s why I joined.

  14. Thanks Rob – that’s good to hear. If you haven’t yet, just fill in the survey and we’ll take it from there.

  15. Given the recent furores over the confidentiality of supposedly privileged email correspondence between Members of Parliament and their Constituents (or whistleblowers), surely now is the time for Liberal Democrat (and other) MPs to publish PGP Public Encryption Keys on their newly re-vamped websites ?