Nik Nanos: Internet is "rewiring" our political brains

Pollster Nik Nanos did a talk (Video online) on how the Internet is changing politics.

First he notes that it hasn't thus far increased engagement, with declining voter turnout being one indication. I don't know if that is a good indication as my perception has been that the people most engaged on the Internet are more likely to feel their vote doesn't currently count, and thus are more likely to support electoral reform.

He talks about the Facebook phenomena. While he didn't mention the Fair Copyright for Canada group directly, it is clearly an important factor. I have been excited by the fact that this online discussion has grown into face-to-face discussions as well. I have seen many times when a lot of energy is expended in online discussion that never amounts to anything, and where there is no followup action to reflect the burst of online excitement. I'm hoping that this time will be very different.

I sat in on a meeting between a constituent in the riding of Nepean--Carleton and his MP, Pierre Poilievre. Near the end of the meeting the constituent asked Mr. Poilievre what he has been hearing on this file. While the person just before us was also there to talk about copyright, it turns out that there have only been a handfull of people so far. While there are many electronic form letters (which aren't considered very important by MPs), there are very few getting engaged by sending in briefs, making phone calls, and having meetings.

This is similar to what I have heard from other MPs that I have met, which is that I am one of the few people who have spent the time to set up a meeting with them to discuss specific areas of policy (Free/Libre and Open Source Software, Digital Copyright, Software Patents, etc).

Online you get the impression of a massive amount of engagement, and I'm hoping that this summer this will translate to MPs actually hearing from constituents.

Nik Nanos ends his talk by suggesting that there is currently a rewiring of our politics going on. We don't know yet what that will mean, and we could come out of the transition very different than we were in the past. Lets work to ensure that this will be positive for citizen engagement, and not look back at this as a time when citizens further disengaged.

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What is considered a brief?

You've mentioned a couple of times now that they are taken seriously by MPs. What do they consider a 'brief'?

A brief

A brief can be, well, quite brief. Or it can be longer, depending on how detailed a counter-proposal or commentary on the impacts of the bill you are willing to make.

The types of things we saw for the 2001/2002 consultation, if we ignore the form-letter submissions (and the government did just that), are all examples.

Something that clearly articulates a specific perspective (such as what I've tried to do with the CLUE policy summary), or why you personally are interested.

Try to think of the common questions that would come up from your proposals, and try to answer them. If you can't think of what a politician might say, have someone else read it over (I can offer, or you can post to the forum for more open peer review).

The problem with a form letter is that it is seen as barely an endorsement of someone elses position. The more time you are seen to spend of your own thinking, the more important they believe you consider the issue, and thus the more important your contribution will be considered.

It is the same as the relative impact of a letter compared to a phone call or a meeting. The higher you go up that spectrum, the better.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.