Thursday, February 19, 2009

Belgian Lessons

While in Belgium, teaching at University Antwerpen, I set the students a seminar task. The task was to assess their favourite party's, MP's or candidate's website for interactivity. The measure was one I have been using (in collaboration with others) which looks at levels of user control as well as the extent of participation (one-way, from sender; two-way, a feedback loop, or three-way public participation). The obvious finding was that, like many British parties, the majority of communication is one way and about informing not interacting. But one thing impressed me and is beyond what most parties do, though not all MPs. The blog of the SP.A (roughly translated as the Social Progressive Alternative party) not only gains a fair amount of comments on posts (into the 60s) but one of the contributors is party leader Caroline Gennez responds to comments. This is somethign rare and even rarer in an uncontrolled environment such as a blog. Gordon Brown has answered selected video questions on YouTube, David Cameron did allow visitors to comment on WebCameron; but it is either selected by the party or, as with WebCameron, the facility is abandoned quickly. Perhaps it is the comparative youth of Gennez (at 32) that makes her more open to the workings of the web, perhaps it is the fact they are an alternative party and so have less to lose, but it remains a rare event and in the UK something only the really marginal parties do in a limited way; so hats of the Gennez and the SP.a and perhaps a lesson for many parties of how to build relationships!

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