Wednesday 1 December 2010

Yoosk as a Hustings Tool

by Keith

Yoosk has recently been used as part of the Hustings for the election of new leaders to both the Labour Party and UKIP. Both Labour and UKIP held their own hustings events around the country of course, but these have their limitations:

  1. Not everybody can attend ‘live’ hustings events.
  2. Not every part of the country can be covered by ‘live’ hustings events.
  3. Not everyone who attends a ‘live’ hustings will be given the opportunity to ask a question.
  4. A filmed ‘live’ hustings event is not user friendly in that only dedicated users will sit through a 90 minute video clip of politicians talking.

Yoosk addresses these issues very simply by allowing anybody, anywhere in the country to put their question. Of course, not all questions will be answered, but the most popular ones will be answered and the answers will be there for everybody to view. And because at Yoosk we cut up our interviews into individual video clips for each question, the clips are easliy navigated and users can choose to watch only the clips that interest them and know that they will not have to invest a huge amount of their time in order to do so.

Here are example clips from each of the Hustings we covered:

This type of engagement with voters must surely be the way forward for future election campaigns. Imagine, at the next general election, an online location where constituents could post questions to prospective parliamentary candidates and the candidates could log on to add their answers in either text or video format... Such a site would be an invaluable central tool for voters to visit to find out just where their candidates stood on local and national issues. And the benefits for candidates in being seen to actively engage voters and to be able to get their message across to them would surely outweigh any complaints such as ...’I don’t have time for this...’

In addition to Yoosk, there are other sites which share the same general concept such as Votewise and Hustings but none of us are quite there yet in either format or ability to cover a complete national election campaign.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Tanya Franks - Rainie from Eastenders - answers your questions...

At Yoosk we have become known for our interviews with politicians, but actually, we are happy to conduct our crowd-sourced interviews with anyone in the public eye and in the past we have interviewed sports personalities and TV celebrities too and today we are happy to publish our interview with the actress and writer Tanya Franks ('Rainie'in the clip above).

Thankyou for your questions and a big Thanks too to Tanya for her interesting answers:

 From cat-kiti: Did you do any kind of research to play Rainie in Eastenders?
Yes, lots. The producers put me in touch with DrugScope who were a great help, and of course there was a lot of video footage, reading material, talking to people, etc.

From Mike Rouse: Do you ever feel typecast?
I don't feel typecast, but I guess you are asking that question because you think I am. Check out series 2 and 3 of Hotel Trubble on BBC1 from the end of September, that will probably answer it for you.

From JDanil: Presumably, a permanent role on Eastenders would mean you giving up your other interests - your production company, theatre,  screenwriting....... - so would you take one if the chance came along? Or has it already?
When I enjoy playing a role I don't worry about what I have to give up for it - usually it is just a little delay, not having to give them up completely. There are often bits of free time around shooting as a regular in a series, so it is certainly feasible to juggle the writing. Who knows what will happen with EastEnders in the future, I weigh up each proposition as it comes along.

From Neil2025: Do you have a favourite medium - theatre - film - tv - comedy - drama.. ?
I am very fortunate to get a lot of diversity within the roles I play at the moment. I don't worry about what medium it is in. They all demand different disciplines and I am more tempted by the quality of the scripts and the challenges of the characters than which medium they are in.

From Neil2025: What TV shows do you enjoy watching?
I am enjoying 'Pete V Life' at the moment and 'Mongrels'. Also I love some of the American shows like Breaking Bad, and Treme.

From NE11: Can you tell us a joke please Tanya?
A guy walks in to a pub with a steak and kidney pie on his head. The barman says, "Here mate, you've got a steak and kidney pie on your head". The guy says, "Yeah I know, I always wear it on a Thursday". The barman says, "But it's Friday". And the guy says, "Is it? Oh no, I must look such a c***!"

From HoaiHood: Which would you prefer to do, celebrity master chef or I'm a celebrity get me out of here?
Neither thanks.

From lydiadid: Eastenders - when ur not in it, do you watch it?
I'm not a soap-watcher by nature, I don't have too much time to watch a lot of TV.

From Charley: Have you had a holiday this year? If so, where did you go and did you have a good time? What is your favourite holiday destination?
I am about to take a trip through parts of Spain that I have never been to before and am looking forward to some quiet time. My last trip was to Tokyo, amazing, Japan is a place I would like to explore more of. I also love Italy, Israel, Egypt, Crete, I just love travelling full-stop.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Crowd-sourcing has its place, even if it does resemble tabloid-consultation sometimes

By Tim

I've just been moved to comment on RSA Chief Exec Matthew Taylor’s most recent post about the Government’s Spending Challenge and Your Freedom crowd-sourcing campaigns.

Although the Yoosk team have conducted various crowd-sourcing projects for government, we weren’t involved in these most recent campaigns. But I have watched with sympathy as some of the talented civil servants and the excellent company involved- DELIB- have come in for undeserved criticism.

It is true that as an initial attempt by this new government, it might have backfired slightly but it is also entirely predictable that both political opponents and internet sceptics have written it off as an abject failure.

There are two main criticisms. Firstly, that the various crowd-sourcing web projects generated a lot of semi-literate comments and unpalatable ideas. Secondly, that there have not yet been any concrete policy changes as a result.

Crowd-sourcing on a mass scale, by its very nature, is a populist activity. In fact this type of exercise might best be described as tabloid-consultation. Much of the content generated came from people who express themselves in tabloid-like language, which is unsurprising since that is what they digest when they read newspapers and watch popular TV.

Personally, I don’t read tabloids because I don’t much care for the tone and simplicity with which they express ideas- ideas that I often find repugnant. But I recognise that tabloids are part of a free press and that they keep millions informed and generate some kind of feeling of involvement in society for their readers.

So the same applies to large-scale crowd-sourcing of ideas and views on government policy: it has its place in direct government-to-people communications, as much as briefing the tabloid press has its place in government-to-media communications. Those of us who don’t like the tone and the content will have to live with it.

True, there was an element of hacking, spamming, abusiveness and general nastiness on the sites that I think took the organisers by surprise. But it was the first time it has been done on this scale and I know they have learnt lessons.

So to conclude on the first point: crowd-sourcing will always generate a lot of tabloid-like opinions of varying usefulness and acceptability (to us) but it has its place alongside more meticulously designed consultation methods. Indeed, this government is using other methods including another populist approach, PM Direct. They should probably be explaining this better and presenting the mix as a more coherent long term programme.

The second objection- that government response to ideas has been formulaic and impersonal, that nothing has come of it and people will therefore not participate again- is stronger. It would have been better to do this over a much longer period, with separate crowd-sourcing projects between individual departments and targeted online communities relevant to their work (e.g: Ministry of Defence asking the Army Rumour Service, as we have supported in the past). Crowd-sourcing can be done with different sized crowds and crowds with common experience: it doesn’t mean inviting everybody all at once.

So will this reduce the prospect that people will participate again? I don’t think so. I think this will be seen by most as the first large scale government-to-people communications exercise and people will quickly forget about the problems. If the next one looks better, they’ll give it another go.

It is easy to criticise with hindsight: the new government tried to deliver on their commitment to widely consulting the public, rushed it and got it partly wrong the first time. It was too broad brush and they weren’t prepared to process and act on the ideas quickly enough. But at least they tried and they tried using a small UK innovator, not a huge consultancy like Capita or a trendy, hyper-financed West Coast website. Next time they’ll do better, I’m sure.

Don’t write-off popular digital consultation- it has its place!

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Yoosk the questions put to the candidates will be chosen.

As the Yoosk Hustings charge into their second week, the quantity and quality of questions is really heartening as our recent article for LabourList shows.

But as the race for votes to be assured of a place in the top five for each candidate, and therefore a place in the interview, hots up; now is a vital time to serve a couple of reminders about the manner in which the final questions will be chosen.

We at Yoosk pride ourselves on being entirely impartial and democratic about our crowdsourcing process. There are countless crowd-sourced interviews out there, but the majority of questions still live and die by the sword of the interviewer who cherry-picks the questions provided by the masses.
We hold firm to our principles of letting you not only pose the questions, but vote for which ones should make the final cut, and we would always let you have the last say.

So the issue here is not one of editorial selection, but one of repetition.

Some questions already asked of the Labour candidates are duplicates of previous ones. A greater number tackle the exact same issue from a slightly different angle.

Should it occur that two questions in the final top five be on an identical issue, we will choose one or combine the two and then add the sixth most popular question to the list.

By the same logic, should a question on one particular issue be asked of the whole panel, we will then look over any identical questions asked of any individual candidate as they will already be covering that topic in their five 'all panel' answers.

By no means let this dissuade you from posing your question if you feel it is original enough to hold its own and earn enough votes, but first see if someone else has already asked it, and perhaps choose instead to lend them your vote.

The second point is a much simpler, and much more inclusive, addition. We know that even if it doesn't receive enough votes to be asked on camera, each and every question is the most important question to at least one person.

So we will do our best to get every question answered and after each interview will leave behind as many of the excess questions as possible in the hope that each campaign team may at least email us a text answer explaining their candidate's position.

Any answers we do receive will, of course, be posted on the Yoosk website.

Friday 30 July 2010

How to maximise the chances of getting your question answered.

by Keith

Last week, Yoosk had the pleasure of interviewing Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes. You can see Simon’s answers to your top-voted questions here.

When we started Yoosk we hoped our site would be used by campaigners in order to get the issues they are campaigning for, in front of the relevant people in power. When Neue Politik blogger Jae Kay saw that we were inviting questions for Simon Hughes he posted this question:

‘Will the Lib Dem parliamentary group, of which you are the most senior non-ministerial member, fight for full marriage equality in the recently announced "consultation" rather than accept current inadequate plans for religious civil partnerships?’

which is clearly an issue on which Jae Kay feels strongly and his question was answered by Simon in our interview. In order to try and ensure that his question was answered, Jae requested his followers on Twitter to visit Yoosk and vote for his question....a little unfair maybe? No, not at all we think, this is exactly how we would like to see Yoosk being used – questions posted on Yoosk and shared on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to gain support.

Following his Simon Hughes question, Jae has posted another one to David Miliband and we wish him luck with getting that one answered too.

Friday 23 July 2010

The Yoosk Labour Hustings: reaching out to Labour's core vote

By Tim

It's fair to say that many of Labour's core voters do not want to participate in the political process online  or even know that they can. And when we started looking at the Labour Leadership election, we also felt that many of the hustings were being attended only by a politically active elite.

We want Yoosk's Hustings to draw in those 'digitally excluded' core voters by giving them a chance to put their questions in the most convenient way possible-online, by SMS or even handwritten questions. That's why we have printed these postcards and will be distributing them to Working Men's clubs in targeted areas of the country.

It will be interesting to see the results. Where we have used print to supplement online before, the results have shown that we get very different questions- raw, challenging but ultimately highly relevant to the very real problems faced by ordinary people.

Thursday 22 July 2010

The Yoosk Labour Hustings

Yoosk's Hustings for the Labour Leadership start today. Enter your question below or go to

Monday 5 July 2010

Help us Ask Simon Hughes

Next on Yoosk, answering your questions, is Simon Hughes, the LibDems new Deputy Leader. 

Why not help us gather questions and give our new i-frame embed a go? To recreate the feature embedded below, use the code appearing in the box at the bottom of our 'mashing Yoosk page', replacing the number '14' with number '267' :

If you have any difficulties, please let us know below. This and our other widgets are still a work in progress and we need your feedback to get it right.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

What is the point of open data without open communication to follow it up?

By Tim

It has been very encouraging to see the new government continue the great leap forward that is open data. However, we hope that communications specialists are very closely involved in the debate about what comes after the opening up of data.

For example, I imagine the public will have many questions to raise following the discoveries and analysis that will occur once government data on expenditure becomes common currency. And as enthusiasts start to publicly present data which screams out for a response (the identification accident black spots or botched procurement, for example), surely the logical next step will be to contact someone in government to ask for action or explanation? Wouldn’t it be contradictory to have direct access to open data without direct open dialogue with ministers, council cabinets and even officials about that data?

It makes sense that this communication also occurs openly and transparently and as close to the content as possible-ideally on the same pages. For example, a Yoosk style widget enabling the open posting and ranking of questions to named ministers and officials- with their answers posted alongside-is publicly available. This could be readily deployed alongside content on open data inspired websites. Questions arising from open data content could then be put to a named individual for all to see and support,  rather than emailed to an anonymous official in private correspondence.

Even though the tools are readily available to set up and manage direct open conversations systematically, I don’t yet see any movement in government driving this forward in parallel with open data. It needs senior communications staff to buy into the open data ethos and to deal with all the implications for government communications strategy that comes with it. There's no point in having the technology for dialogue if the communications teams don't make ministers available systematically and regularly to answer the public's questions on open data and other matters. 

Friday 4 June 2010

Labour's legacy and the role of the internet in the election? Your questions please..

by Keith

Things have been a bit quiet on the Yoosk front recently as we have been focussed on getting a new site design and some new features built (more news of this next week).

But we are back this week with two interesting topics to post questions around and two knowledgable panels to answer them. First up is 'Labour Legacy: 13 Years of New Labour' and answering your questions will be  Independent on Sunday political correspondent and Tony Blair biographer John Rentoul, Labour MP Stephen Twigg, and  Tory MP John Redwood. 

Our other topic is  'Election2: How did the internet shape the general election' and some more big names answering on this one - Labour List's Alex Smith, Tory blogger Iain Dale, James Evans, Founder of  and  Lib Dem Voice Editor Mark Pack

You have until the weekend of the 12th June to get your questions in.  But even if you don't have a question, drop by the site to browse what other people are asking and to add your support for the best questions. As usual it will be  the top-rated questions which are answered and we'll be getting the answers on the site the following week.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Yoosk inVietnam

by Keith

WE have long thought that Yoosk would work in most countries in the world, but who would have guessed that our first overseas website would be built for the National Assembly of Vietnam? Well, actually, maybe not such a big suprise, given our connections with Vietnam (both Tim and myself were working there when Yoosk was founded) but an achievement of which we are very proud nevertheless.

The site has been sponsored by the British Embassy in Hanoi - and a big Thankyou to them for their continued belief in, and support for Yoosk - and has been 'live' now for just over 2 weeks. And the response from the Vietnamese public? Much better than we had dared to hope, with nearly three hundred questions already and eighty answers.

The website will run as a 'pilot' project for four weeks but we hope that the pilot will be converted into a permanent project and maybe even expanded and become a model for how Yoosk can be adapted to suit the needs of any possible partner worldwide. 

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Digitally engaging the excluded part 2

We have now completed all the interviews as part of series supporting C4's Tower Block of Commons and you can see all the answers here

Huge thanks to Natina James, one of the tenants featured on the programme who went to Westminster to put the public's questions to the three MPs. Here's an example of her and Tim Loughton talking about the difficulties of getting some locals to engage.

Here's an account of the project on our funder's website, which sadly did not attract any press attention, suggesting that digital engagement and the innovative projects associated with it are of no interest whatsoever to mainstream media.

Monday 22 February 2010

Digitally engaging the excluded

By Tim

Yoosk's business is creating direct, open conversations with leaders. But what do you do if you want people to engage with leaders when they are not online, let alone on Twitter, Facebook or even Yoosk?

Digital inclusion issues have always been very important to us and were especially pressing last week because we wanted tenants of council estates to post questions to MPs participating in our Tower Block of Commons Q and A which we are running in support of the Channel 4 series.

The answer is to hit the streets and ask them face to face. Keith did just that on Friday, armed with camera, he set about trying to persuade tenants in Newtown Birmingham to put questions to Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP who stayed there while the programme was being filmed. Tim will answer these today, in a face to face reunion with Natina James, the very impressive young woman who hosted Tim in her council flat and who has agreed to act as the ‘interviewer’ on behalf of Yoosk users.

The results of Keith’s foray were moving, encouraging but also disturbing. But we are now are hooked-convinced it is essential for Yoosk to establish the partnerships and infrastructure to do this regularly.

Sadly, many people were reluctant to be filmed, although many did express a positive view of the programme and Tim Laughton's involvement. It seems to come down to a reluctance to be seen to be interested in politics by one’s peers, as well as an awareness that the views and questions they might have would not be acceptable if expressed publicly.

For example, Keith found that many questions centred around a recently closed local pub being turned into community centre for a particular nationality and the fact that it was ‘being used as a mosque’. Yet no one would ask this question to camera.

Our mission has always been to reach out to diverse audiences, many of whom are not regular social media users: we recently gathered questions from soldiers and Afghani’s in a feature we ran for the Foreign Office and we have gathered questions from readers of newspapers in partnership with regional titles such as the Birmingham Mail and Halifax Courier. But this is the first time we have deliberately targeted people who would never find us through a website or printed paper. We now have concrete plans for drawing people who are not online into such conversations and welcome enquiries from partners who’d like to work with us on this.

We are also now convinced that our methodology of getting ordinary members of the public, bloggers and campaigners or celebrities to put the questions on behalf of the public is an essential part of our overall approach -just as much as the social media technology. Again, contact us if you are interested in acting as a kind of 'People's Paxman'.

And here are some of the questions which will be answered by Tim Laughton MP and Mark Oaten MP today, put to them by 23 year old single mum, volunteer worker and dance teacher, Natina James. See all the questions here.

Sunday 17 January 2010

You ask David Miliband: the questions so far

By Tim
Tomorrow is the deadline for the first set of questions on Afghanistan to be put to UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband. 

These are being gathered on the Foreign Office website using a Yoosk widget [see below for more details]. Nearly 2o questions have been posted and apart from two, most of them are firmly on topic and very well worded. 

The questions we have so far appear to have been put by users from a range of ethnic groups and nationalities. 

Thematically, I’ve sorted them provisionally into five broad groups, although of course it would be easy to categorise them differently.

A complex regional challenge
The first group reflects people's concerns that Afghanistan is part of a wider regional challenge involving a large number countries. There are questions about the link between Afghanistan and Yemen and the role of the Saudi Arabian government. What is the plan for combating the Taliban in Pakistan- will we get sucked in there? And is the UK satisfied with the cooperation of the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan?

How Afghanistan is governed
The next set of questions concentrates more on the complexity of the political situation inside Afghanistan itself. One question from Rassa asks if Western governments are committed to ‘Afghanisation,  Tribalisation or Talibanisation’. User  Itsmattsmith asks what measures are being taken to move towards state building and away from ‘tribally orientated politics’. These sound to me like fundamental questions for people inside Afghanistan and perhaps not as simple to answer as they sound.

Several questions demonstrate real discontent with the current government and serious worries about the institutions of law and order, questioning President Hamid Karzai’s control over Parliament and the dominance of Pashtuns in the Cabinet (many of whom –as one questioner points out- have had their nomination by President Karzai rejected by MPs).  Other questions focus on corruption in government, as well as the judiciary, army and police.

For me, one of the most interesting questions asks how the Taliban would be involved in any future government- under what circumstances would they not be allowed to stand or enter Parliament if they chose to take part in the democratic process.

Role of religion and culture
This group includes questions on the status and treatment of women.  one user asks to what extent Western leaders analyse and address Islamic philosophy, law and practice when planning how to deal with extremism. 

Economic considerations
A few questions ask about the international community’s plans for combating poverty, with one user focusing on how the situation of Afghanistan is communicated in the UK, with the questioner feeling that coverage of the military situation overshadows issues connected with poverty and development.

A popular question is one that centres around the policy on opium and why with an international shortage of medial opium, the West doesn’t buy it from Afghan farmers.

Chances of success
The final group of questions are related to the likelihood of eventual success or perhaps the impossibility of success. They ask about the real effectiveness of fighting ideology and non-western values with military action, the historical lessons of the Russian occupation and wider lessons of post war western military intervention, including the Korean War.  Yet other questions reflect users concern that the UK's intervention does not have popular support.

There is another day to go until Mr Miliband answers the first set of questions so keep them coming. 

Saturday 16 January 2010

Ask David Miliband about Afghanistan.

by Keith

We are pleased at Yoosk that the Foreign Office are once again using the Yoosk platform to gather questions for David Miliband.

In the run up to the London Conference on Afghanistan on the 28th of January, the foreign Office are inviting questions on the subject of UK foreign policy in Afghanistan. To post a question or to browse trhe questions other people have been asking, you can visit their page here.

We are excited about this for two reasons. Firstly of course, because we believe that everybody should have the right to ask our politicians questions, and especially about matters as important as foreign policy in countries where our troops are fighting and secondly because of nthe technical aspects involved.

In the past, the Foreign Office have used our dedicated FCO page but on this occasion, they needed the Yoosk page to display inside their own website. This threw up a number of issues around page size and user journey but we are happy to say that our web team have managed to resolve those issues and got the page up and running on time for the FCO deadline of earlier this week.

We now have two sites running with yoosk embedded within them - the Birmingham Post embedded yoosk earlier last year - and we can see that this is the model that people are going to be turning to more and more. For this reason we are developing an API which  will be available soon and will allow this kind of integration to be performed by anyone. We will be posting more about the API here once we are nearer completion but in the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about it, please feel free to post them here.