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Politicians must ‘bridge digital divide’

UK politicians would be far more engaged with their constituents if they used the digital tools they have to hand, the head of one of the UK’s most successful political campaigning platforms says this week.

Change.org UK has developed a digital platform to deliver the petition, an age-old form of democratic participation, for no less than 17m users in the UK – one in four of the population.

In a new podcast for Digital Leaders, Change.org UK executive director Kajal Odedra explains how government and politicians can leverage the platform to understand the issues that matter most to their constituents. And she sets out how Change.org is helping minority groups and young people have a voice.

“Campaigners and petition starters would be so much more effective if their local MP and the people in positions of power were more digitally literate,” says Odedra. “We see society and all these people using digital to get their voices heard, but I turn to parliament and Westminster and I see government just completely in the stone age still.”

“Bridging the digital divide between citizens and powerful institutions is something that we really advocate,” she says – highlighting a Change.org decision-makers tool to help politicians cross that divide.

“While petitions have given the public a microphone to shout into, decision makers didn’t necessarily have the headphones to listen. So we created this tool where anyone being targeted on a petition can set up a profile and see all petitions targeting them, then respond to them.

“Your response goes into the in-box of all who sign. Instead of responding to a journalist, now you can respond to a petition direct, to create a digital dialogue between the two parties,” she adds.

“We talk a lot about digital democracy. It is more important now than ever for our politicians to be digitally savvy, especially in a world where Brexit and Trump and a lot of that has played out online.”

In the podcast conversation with host Tara Ferguson, Odedra shares some of the platform’s petition success stories, including one to get women’s faces on UK banknotes – and the biggest petition so far this year, for a ‘people’s vote’ on a final Brexit deal. That received 1m signatures in under three months.

Odedra said the mayor of London used the Change.org platform “more than any other politician in the world”.

200m users across 196 countries have used the Change platform overall. “Nothing is more empowering than feeling like you’re not the only one,” says Odedra.

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