Transparency in Government? There's an app for that.

Technological Changes

Sometimes it seems easier to sing a duet with astronauts than to find out how your MP voted on a Bill. We're only just starting to understand the contribution that technology can make to our democracy. Here are ideas from leading thinkers who are using technology to create a more transparent, participatory politics.

Blog Posts on Technological Change

Transparency in Government? There's an app for that.

by User Not Found | Feb 28, 2013

In our last post of the Redesigning Parliament series, Tom Birch, a BC Conservative MLA candidate, introduces us to the app he's created that lets constituents check in on his monthly expenses, his voting record, and his party's platform.

A 2012 survey of Canadians found that more than three quarters of us believe that politicians in general are untruthful.  It is no wonder that more and more of us are disengaging from the political life of our country. To combat this, every party says that they will be transparent, open and honest.  But when it comes time to deliver, the people are not convinced.  This is especially true for the younger demographic who are even less inclined to give politicians or their parties the benefit of the doubt.

However, we have tools available to connect people with their representatives as never before. The problem is that even with email and social media, representatives cannot talk to thousands of people. Time does not permit it.  So in order to have a 2-way conversation between the people and their representative a method must be found to clarify the voice of the public so that it can be heard simply.

I am piloting one approach to this for the BC Conservative Party. I took my lead from Patrick Brown, the MP for Barrie ON.  I am using a smartphone app that he has also put in place. It wraps all social media into a single app for the ease of the user. But more importantly, it allows me to maintain an ongoing dialogue. I publish 3 things that voters have said they would like:

My monthly expenses:  This is important in BC where the Auditor General has said that the MLA expenses are so bad they cannot even be audited. They are simple to publish even with receipts, but most MLAs are refusing to provide details at all. My users have my expenses pushed to their hand every month without hunting for them.

My voting record:  This is a minimum for people to know what their representative is doing for them. I list the bills before the house with how I intend to vote, a summary of the bill and a link to the full text.

My party’s vision:  This links to our principles, guidelines and platform so that people know where we are planning to lead them.

These three things, and any others that the public may want, make us transparent and hold us accountable to be honest. This is because it is now easy to access our public record.

The other half of the equation is the input from the voters. There is a feedback form where questions can be asked and quickly submitted. This converts into a report that breaks down the answers in an ad hoc referendum-type response. At a glance I know if the people are on board with any given issue or if the vision has not yet been fully cast. If my constituents are not yet in agreement with some item of our vision, then I know that more dialogue is required.

The effort to maintain this partnership is minimal on both sides.

I believe that all parties need to explore the current capabilities and connect with the people in new ways. This tool will not make a politician truthful, but it can be used to demonstrate if they are. I would not vote for any candidate that was not willing to connect with their constituents in some similar fashion.

My app currently works on iPhone and Android and will soon be functioning on Black Berry and directly from my website.  It is called “Tom Birch: VictoriaInYourHands”.  Please try it out and see where the future of politics can go if we want it to.

Download for iPhone      Download for Android

Tom Birch is the BC Conservative candidate for the riding of Shuswap in British Columbia’s upcoming provincial elections. He currently lives in Salmon Arm, BC where he works as a project manager for a Vancouver-based forestry software company. Previously, Mr. Birch spent time in Burkina Faso working on literacy projects.

Responses from Samarans


Thoughts on Redesigning Parliament. By Karen Moores, Samara volunteer

"Allow e-petitions and promise substantive debate on those e-petitions that reach a certain threshold (the UK has a 50,000 signature threshold that gives a petition 1 hour of debate)." - Ian Froude

 "I want to see technology as the way out of this mess. I want to see the internet giving unprecedented access to our representatives and vice versa. I want to see an app that shows where the politician stands, how they vote, what they've introduced and work on, where their interests lie, and maybe
most of all, the ability for people to better interact with their system." - Mark McInnes

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