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 – whether members or not and living in a target seat/ward or not – 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.