Digital MPs

Research findings

We ran a survey with MPs in 2015 to explore their digital skills and confidence. This data, and desk research, helped to shape the digital mentoring approach. At the beginning and end of the mentoring, we surveyed MP's staff and did interviews to understand the impact of our work. Finally we also surveyed and interviewed constituents to explore their understanding of the MP’s role, and the impact the MP has for them. Our findings are detailed here.

MP survey

What we did

We asked MPs whether they use digital on a day-to-day basis, what sorts of tools they use, how confident they are and whether they are aware of the wider use of digital in government to reach citizens.

We gathered our data from 97 MP survey responses (15% of all MPs) of which 35 were direct responses and the remainder were collected by telephone (177 were called).

We also examined:

  • 127 MPs’ websites
  • 127 MPs’ Twitter and Facebook accounts

Respondents were broadly representative of all MPs, including party, gender, date elected, and online presence.

What we learned

An image showing survey results about use of social media by MPs
Image: Survey results showed that many MPs are using social media to respond to constituents

At a high-level, we found that:

  • there is a reasonably high level of social media use among MPs (75% used means other than letter and email, such as Twitter, to correspond with constituents)
  • MPs view social media as a valuable and important part of digital
  • many MP websites do not have features you would expect from a modern web presence such as data use and clear ways for constituents to get in touch
  • 10% of MPs exhibit low digital literacy based on their responses
  • there is a very low awareness of the Government Digital Service and its aims
  • there is low use of
  • MPs and their staff struggle with the volume of campaign emails

More detail of the findings are available in the MP survey results summary (PPT).

Staff survey

What we did

To understand the impact of our mentoring, we asked the staff in each MP office to complete the same online survey in the first and last week of the mentor placements.

The survey asked about their digital activities, grouped around themes such as media and communications, and the benefits of and barriers to more online work.

We received 20 responses in the first week, and 17 responses in the last (due to staff being away on holiday or due to sickness).

What we learned

  • At the beginning, 15 said a lack of digital skills prevented them doing more online; at the end this decreased to 8.
  • At the beginning, just 3 people thought saving time was the biggest benefit of using digital; at the end this increased to 10 people.
  • A lack of time remains a key barrier to doing more digitally. It remained one of the top two barriers cited (11 staff thought this was the main barrier at the beginning of the programme, and 9 still felt this at the end).

Constituents survey

What we did

To better understand the needs of the constituents being served by our MPs and their offices, we ran an online survey sent to email mailing lists, posted on the MPs’ social media accounts, and shared with a general audience on Doteveryone’s Twitter account.

The survey asked constituents about key issues in their area, their experience and understanding of their MP’s role and how to contact them, as well as any suggestions for using digital technology to improve community engagement.

The survey ran for six weeks and received 444 responses, of which 72% were constituents of Norman Lamb MP. No sampling methods were used, so respondents are not representative of the wider population in geography or demographics. They are individuals who have signed up to MP mailing lists or responded to social media and are therefore more politically engaged and digitally aware.

What we learned

  • The majority of survey respondents had contacted their MP before (87%)
  • Almost everyone (98.4%) knew who their MP was
  • Email is by far the most common form of communication (79%)
  • Using social media to contact an MP was still uncommon (14%)
  • The NHS was the most common issue that people were contacting their MP about (33%)
  • Constituents largely found contact details for MPs through the MP’s website (55%), rather than traditional methods such as the newspaper (8%)
  • 77% of respondents said they felt heard as a member of the local community
  • 84% of respondents thought their MP mainly engaged with the local community by appearing in the media (appearing in the local news, or writing a newspaper column)

Constituents also responded to a number of open questions, designed to capture suggestions on how MPs could better represent the local community and use technology to do this. Responses were used to inform the constituent user needs.

Constituent interviews

We also spoke to constituents about their views of their MP and the local area:

Jono Ellis (mentor to Calum Kerr MP)

I interviewed 12 constituents in the local library, seven had had direct contact with their MP in the past and all of the constituents that I interviewed knew who their MP was. The recurring theme was that those who had been in contact with an MP had been in contact more than once and they were generally pleased with the contact with their MP (whether or not the situation was fully resolved in the way that they would have desired). There wasn’t any stigma attached to having been in contact with an MP and the issues that had been raised included personal situations as well as public/campaign issues.

Jonny Bottomley (mentor to Norman Lamb MP)

Over a period of two weeks I interviewed 15 constituents. These interviews took place along the North Norfolk coast in different towns and villages. All constituents knew who their local MP was and the majority believed he was fulfilling his duties ably. Six had previous contact with MP and five had been pleased with the way their cases were dealt with. Interestingly, the further away from the constituency office, the less contact constituents had had with the MP. On a broader point, the resounding message from all my encounters was a feeling that politics was not part of their lives and something only relevant to London. There were requests of bringing politics into the day-to-day habits of their busy lives.

Leah Bae (mentor to Yvette Cooper MP)

I interviewed 10 constituents throughout Pontefract and Castleford in the local library, town square, and community centre. Each constituent I interviewed knew who their MP was. They also said that while they didn’t necessarily feel they had a voice in their community, they felt that it was because they had chosen not to get involved. A few constituents mentioned they would want the MP to hold more public meetings and listen to local issues. Most people knew to get in touch with her via email; younger interviewees said they may look to her social media accounts. Constituents were in large agreement that an MP’s role was to represent his/her community in Parliament. The interviews took place a week before the EU referendum. Every single constituent stated they would be voting to leave though the MP was an outspoken campaigner for Remain.