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.