Online community netmums has a very active forum. It also featuring all sorts of useful information and brings Mums together to reduce the isolation that full-time parenthood can cause. They have local groups and info as well as nationwide stuff. In many ways it’s a textbook example of a successful online community – useful, varied and lively. And it’s got 265,000 members.

There is, of course, an e-democracy angle to this. They’ve used the forum to gather opinions on food labelling. They got 17,000 responses to their survey (the government can only dream of a response like that to consultation exercises!) with respondents firmly backing the government’s traffic light labelling scheme and opposed to Tesco’s GDA system.

It goes to show that once you have a thriving community, you have a ready made consultation and discussion group. It can be a lot more effective to ask them stuff, than trying to get traffic to a consultation site, which people wouldn’t be visiting for any other reason. Politicians should be going to the places where people already are, to engage them in dialogue.  If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed…

I was once on holiday in a foreign country where some very active political unrest started kicking off. I won’t tell you where for fear of identifying the person I’m going to talk about, but the situation was serious enough for the foreign office to issue a travel advisory. I got chatting to this guy in a bar who worked at the British Embassy and he was saying he was very frustrated that his bosses wouldn’t let him go and post something on the Lonely Planet forum. He knew perfectly well that was where all the travellers were looking for information and discussing the situation. "We should be in there, part of that conversation, or what’s the point?" he said. And he was absolutely right.

So, top marks to Harriet Harman, the Minister for Justice. Not only does she have her own blog, but she has been consulting netmums (see the seamless narrative arc there as we return to the original topic of the post?). In fact, Harriet has her own board on netmums. I don’t know whether she actually will do anything about what is raised, but it’s nice to see the channels of communication opened.


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