We found that skills and systems need to be in place for MPs to make the best use of available technologies.
New technologies can improve how our MPs work for us - but they cannot use them unless they know about them.
Most importantly, staff need the skills to put technology into practice and the digital security to keep their own, and their constituents’,information safe.
Knowing what is out there
We set out imagining we might need to build a new solution to solve the problems we found, but we discovered there are enough existing digital tools to satisfy the needs of MPs and staff - they just did not know it.
We’re struggling to use technology that is two years old let alone understand what new technology we can use.
The image below illustrates the typical technology tools that were being used by the MPs we worked with and what we have introduced. All of these are already available and often at no or very low cost to use.
Giving staff the skills they need
At the start of our project, 15 out of 19 staff members said a lack of digital skills prevented them doing more online.
Our digital mentors showed them how their work could change once they acquired those skills. Now we think digital skills should be part of every future job description.Resource Digital skills criteria for jobs
We looked at the last 40 job adverts for MP-related staff posts on the job website W4MP - including researchers, caseworkers and Parliamentary assistants. Seventeen of them made no mention of any digital or IT skills.
Of course, not everyone will need to update the website or manage the Twitter account. But our mentors found that by giving the whole team at least basic digital skills they began working more effectively together.
If all new job descriptions include digital skills, over time MPs teams will find it easier to embed digital ways of working.
We have created some digital skills criteria with a focus on practical digital experience that we think should be used within MP staff job descriptions on websites.
Keeping information safe
No MP or member of staff wants to have their casework, email or social media accounts hacked. The consequences range from mere embarrassment to putting vulnerable people at risk by revealing sensitive information.
Resource Staying secure
For us as an office, it’s about keeping our constituents’ personal information safe. We have a duty to protect our constituents and help them as much as we can.
Our digital mentors found that staff were unsure about what potential security breaches they faced. We helped them understand what is secure and where the threats lie.
Many of the teams were not taking basic security steps such as using two-factor authentication or making sure their existing software was safe. The mentors introduced these practices and encouraged their teams to only use their Parliamentary email accounts.
Staff felt they faced potential risks from some of the clients they deal with through casework. MPs have also been subject to online trolling and have received threatening messages. We showed staff how to prevent opening themselves up to unnecessary risk through their online presence, made sure they had systems in place to deal with trolls and ensured threats were reported to the police and Parliamentary authorities.
We have outlined the work we did to keep systems secure and recommend staff work with the Parliamentary Digital Service who run useful security health checks.