During the last general election, fewer than two-thirds of people eligible to vote actually did so. Can MPs use design thinking to connect better with their constituents?
One in three people in the UK don’t know who their MP is, and only 32 percent of the population voted in England’s local elections in 2005.
Yet on the frontline of local politics, MPs are working harder than ever to manage the growing expectations of their constituents. With this in mind, a specialist team from the Design Council decided to research the positive changes MPs could make in order to reconnect their constituents with the democratic process.
There were five stages to the project:
- Observing MPs at work in their constituencies
- Conducting user research among constituents
- Running constituent design workshop
- Facilitating a design workshop with MPs at Westminster
- Working with one constituency office on a week-long design immersion project
‘Most popular proposals for democratic reform imagine big changes to our political system,’ explains Mil Vukovic, project leader at the Design Council. ‘We wanted to look at the situation from a different, more personal perspective.’
The project began by gaining a better understanding of the challenges and issues faced by MPs in their working lives. The Design Council team visited MP surgeries, spoke to constituency teams and spent a day shadowing an MP. Having gained a valuable insight into the situation from a politician’s perspective, the team then addressed the situation from the public’s viewpoint, undertaking a user research programme to find out exactly what we really think about local politics.
What soon became clear was the massive gap between what MPs actually do for their constituents, and what constituents believe they do (or rather don’t do). ‘We observed first hand how the low local visibility of most MPs – and popular misconceptions about their work –are skewing the public’s perception of British politics on a national scale,’ says Hilary Cottam, who worked on the project while at the Design Council.
What do constituents really think about their MPs?
‘I expected to be turned away because I was homeless, but he is very compassionate. It wasn’t what I expected… I’d like to go back and talk to him.’
‘They’re untouchable. They’re up there and we’re down here. They went to Oxford and stuff.’
Glen and Sharon, Sunderland
‘I didn’t vote for him, so how can he represent me?’
‘You only see them at voting time.’