The problems finding details of independent hustings for MeetYourNextMP

“now that I follow my candidates, I’m really surprised how many hustings have happened / are happening that are terribly badly advertised” – Democracy Club Volunteer

MeetYourNextMP was a crowdsourced calendar of over 1,000 independent events at the general election. This was to make these events easier to find so voters could question their candidates, and also to try and make more voters aware these events exist and that they are welcome at them. However, before we could start on the second goal we had to crack the first goal.

One of our many approaches to listing events was simply to ask the candidates. After all, they are going! And they have an interest in getting as many voters as they can to each hustings event to hear them, so surely they will want them widely advertised? That was our naive thinking as we happily emailed 3000+ candidates.

We got a large number of events with incomplete details. Sending details of an event but not the venue it is happening in, or the actual start time (they would just send the date) was not helpful. Putting yourself in the shoes of the voters who might want to attend should quickly show the problem here.

But I got the impression that many candidates themselves did not know full details of the events. They know to turn up at a certain time, but not what time the actual event started or who else was coming or how it was to be organised. Also, many candidates seemed unsure about passing on details as they weren’t sure if they were allowed to.

This is understandable but odd. Picture the scene – it’s two or three weeks to the vote that will decide your political future. You’re as busy as you can be campaigning with all the hours you have. And now someone is asking if you’ll take a full evening out of your busy schedule to come to their hustings. Wouldn’t you want to know if you’ll have an audience of 20 or 200? Wouldn’t you want to know how it’s being run? Wouldn’t you want to know details of the event to shout it out – after all, you have an interest in the event being a success too.

Although one new candidate told me they were scared, so maybe they just didn’t want to. 🙂

Aside from the candidates, we had other ways of finding events.

Did the events advertise themselves online so you could Google them? Some did and some didn’t. Stereotypes are of course not always true and not helpful, but sometimes generalisations exist for a reason ….. so with that caveat, lets just dive in.

Online advertising for events organised by religious groups was generally non-existent. This is maybe because they are used to drawing their audience from their congregation and an announcement in the service and some local posters do the job, but this makes for a fairly exclusive audience.

On the other end of the scale, business groups – the other big organiser of hustings – were great at advertising online, partly because they all used online ticketing services (most were free and required tickets, but some did charge).

In general, I suspect the last minute organisation of many of these events also conspired against effective advertising. Even when event organisers started early, in many cases it seems confirmation of exactly who was speaking came late.

Local press had articles in advance of some events, but they presented the information in long article form and sometimes you had to read the article several times to check the exact date and location.

One big problem we struggled with was accurately sourcing the data. Obviously, we want to make sure to the best of our abilities that the event data we advertise is correct. But often when third party websites listed events they didn’t include details of who the organiser was or a link back to any other webpage, which made it hard to check.

The fact that we listed independent events at which several candidates spoke helped with that, because if one candidate was listing an event we were able to check that against what other candidates in the same seat were listing. Also, some local community groups had put together their own lists of local events which was helpful.

We know from other crowdsourced event sites that getting event information can be hard. In this case, there were several problems to tackle. But we think we showed value in making such hustings events more visible, and from the number of people referencing the site we showed that many people want this. Hopefully this process can continue in future elections.