Laura Bristow is Digital Outreach Manager for the Houses of Parliament. The Digital Outreach team are responsible for publishing news and information on the work of the House of Commons, maintaining and developing digital content including on the Parliament website, as well as delivering social media content. The Digital Outreach team also deliver a programme of digital community engagement projects to reach new audiences, including the digital debates programme.
“…Digital debates take place on social media, enabling MPs to hear the views and experiences of members of the public, on issues that they are seeking to raise for debate in the House of Commons. This is a really exciting way of opening up what happens in the House of Commons…”
Laura, please can you tell us about your career to date and what made to want to work in Parliament?
When I finished my geography degree there wasn’t a particular direction I wanted to pursue professionally, and I certainly wasn’t planning for a career in digital or in Parliament! When I spotted a six-month opportunity in the digital team, I decided to go for it and apply. I found myself becoming interested in parliamentary procedure and wanted to explain how this place works to others, and to demonstrate that what happens in Parliament really does matter.
How does digital engagement allow a more diverse group of stakeholders to get involved with the work of Parliament?
Digital engagement is a great way to get people involved with our work. The biggest thing I have learnt that you cannot expect people to come to you, you have to reach out to them – you have to be present in the places where they are.
How has the advent of social media changed the way Parliament is able to interact with its stakeholders?
The Digital Outreach team has been taking forward a proposal contained in the report by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy to encourage greater participation in politics from the widest possible range of people.
Digital debates take place on social media, enabling MPs to hear the views and experiences of members of the public, on issues that they are seeking to raise for debate in the House of Commons. This is a really exciting way of opening up what happens in the House of Commons, letting people know that not only are the issues they care about discussed here but that they be a part of those discussions as well.
How do you decide which platforms to focus on and when to expand onto other social media platforms?
Social media develops and changes at quite a speed, somewhat in contrast to some of the more traditional means of communication and providing information to the public that Parliament has been more used to.
We consider popularity and usage of the platform, specifically in the UK and the demographics of their users – whether we can produce content that matches the interests and expectations of users, and will it help us to facilitate meaningful public engagement with the work of the House.
In a world of fake news and clickbait content on social media, how can Parliament drive mass engagement in a socially responsible way?
We demonstrate our commitment to accuracy, quality and impartiality through the standards of our content, so that users know what they are getting from us, know that they can trust us and why we are trying to get people to see what we publish. Parliament is the authoritative source and we want to highlight this.
What is your advice for girls and women who are interested in a career in digital?
My advice would be get yourself out there, create personal social media accounts so you can learn how you interact with the platforms, and so you know what you would expect and want to see as a user yourself. Keep up to date with what other business and organisations are experimenting with and have the confidence in yourself to do it!
What is coming up next for you and the Digital Outreach team at the Houses of Parliament?
The Digital Outreach team are looking at how we can do more with social media, particularly exploring a variety of engaging content formats, especially on Facebook and working with colleagues in the digital service on the new website for Parliament.