The website that changes Government. For ever.

by / Friday, 19 February 2016 / Published in Government

If the buzzword for 2016 is “innovation”, then for 2015 it was probably “engagement”.

To easily understand the explosion in engagement, just google the phrase “have your say” and you’ll soon see what I mean. Embracing the notion that digital channels now allow us to have meaningful dialogue with our customers (as opposed to a monologue where we just shout at them from a distant rooftop), the modern interweb is overflowing with discussion forums, questionnaires and even moderated focus groups inviting us to chuck in our ten cents worth on everything from chocolate bars to procurement policy.

And that’s a good thing. While some are slow to embrace the opportunity for public engagement fearful that customers might air dirty washing in public, progressive businesses see engagement as an opportunity to minimize the shock of the new. Nothing worse than finding out after the event that your game changing announcement is actually this years’ Marmite 2.0.

The challenge facing the “wait and see” brigade is that while they prevaricate, someone else might be getting on with starting a dialogue with their customers. I’m sure hoteliers still fondly remember a world without Trip Advisor or, probably the same world that used to allow them to charge in-room phone calls at $2 a minute. I’m equally certain that banks, insurance brokers and health funds could all do without free comparison sites that help us find the best deals.

And in the world of politics, I predict that public sector organisations everywhere will rue the day that the website was launched on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

The backstory is simple. As part of his pre-election campaigning, Pierre Trudeau and his team were unusually active in the sheer number of things they planned to address if they were elected. Within four weeks of his taking office in November 2015,  was launched.

But not by Trudeau. Or his people. The brainchild of independent Canadian developer Dom Bernard, the privately funded venture painstakingly listed 167 different pledges made by Trudeau and his campaign team, helpfully grouped by themes including the economy, the environment, immigration, culture and security, each accompanied by a simple bulletin board.

In a real stroke of genius, members of the public were invited to become “promise trackers”, whose role was to ensure that the site was kept up to date by adding relevant news or announcements.

Now three months old, free to use and accessible across the World Wide Web, headed by a simple dashboard showing promises kept, the website takes the notion of “keeping them honest” to a whole new digital level. Within a week or two of launch, 700 people had commented on Trudeau’s promise to amend the “first past the post” system. Checking the site today, 12 promises are already complete. Trudeau might be very happy with that.

Having spent a good chunk of time in the community engagement and performance reporting arena in Government, I’d say there are four key reasons why this website will change things forever.

  • It is gloriously independent (of Government).
  • It unites voters in a shared collective responsibility in “keeping them honest”.
  • It costs (virtually) nothing to run, update, amend and publish.
  • It’s the best daily barometer of opinion that any Government has.

That last point may have surprised some people. Why would Government need external help to know how they are doing? Don’t they have researchers and opinion pollsters already?

The secret is in the detail. One of the brilliant things the website does is provide a live, real time barometer of people’s thinking. About which really important issues are actually really important as opposed to the ones that no one really cares about.

Clearly, during the fever of electioneering, someone in Trudeau’s team thought it was important to make a promise along the lines of

“Parliamentary committees will be given more resources to acquire independent, expert analysis of proposed legislation.

In hindsight, it may not be a big surprise that only two people have been moved to comment on this once important issue. And one of them was commenting on the other. If I was Trudeau, I’d be shuffling this down the list of priorities as we speak.

Independent, authentic and changing every day. This is the modern world. And brilliantly, a version of the site has just been launched in Argentina tracking the promises of newly elected Premier Mauricio Macri. By listing progress in real time, it’s a win win for Governments who are getting on with stuff. And it helps them manage priorities.

I wonder whether there will ever be another election that isn’t followed by a “trudeaumetre”. Probably more than one. One can only imagine what will happen in Washington DC on the second Tuesday in November.

Trumpmetre? Perish the thought.