According to a survey* by the British Computer Society (BCS) only 7% of British adults have looked at their MP's website and only 46% know the name of their MP. This contrasts sharply with the level of public interaction generated through social networking sites and the internet in the recent US presidential race.
To encourage MPs to better understand the importance of reaching their constituents through effective website communication, the BCS presented the MP website awards at the House of Commons on 19 November 2008.
The Awards, now in their second year, spotlight MPs who the BCS believe have effectively used web technologies to communicate their political platform and engage with all of their constituents in an exciting and dynamic manner.
Design award winner: John Hutton MP
Finalists: Ed Vaizey MP, David Lammy MP
Accessibility award: Alan Johnson MP
Finalists: Alun Michael MP, Tony Cunningham MP
Engagement award winner: Kerry McCarthy MP
Finalists: David Lammy MP, Andy Reed MP
Tom Brake MP
Jim Murphy MP
Judges also selected Derek Wyatt MP as the overall winner; his website was considered to combine the very best of design and the latest in integrated communications technology, presentation and content. Finalists in the Best MP Website Award were John Barrett MP and Steve Webb MP.
This year's category winners, selected by an independent panel of political commentators from across the media, were dominated by MPs from the Labour party.
David Clarke, BCS chief executive officer says: "What the awards have highlighted is that some MPs are beginning to use technology and the internet to engage their constituents in a two-way conversation. However, as the statistics from our survey show, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"When we look at the number of people who have signed petitions on the Downing Street website, which was shortlisted for the design category, we can see that people want to be involved and will use these kinds of tools.
"Web 2.0 technologies offer MPs a real opportunity to create a personal conversation with their constituents - we only have to look at the recent US presidential race to see the impact this can have.
"Next year, we hope to see a new level of excellence in web communications from all political parties," concludes David.
This year's awards yet again highlighted the importance of website accessibility which is vital in engaging people with disabilities. Websites were appraised by AbilityNet, the national charity that helps disabled adults and children use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology.
Robin Christopherson, head of operations at AbilityNet explains: "This year we were pleased to see that the shortlisted websites demonstrated understanding of some accessibility issues. However, on the whole implementation is still poor. Some sites or pages within sites are currently very challenging to users with certain disabilities which is a serious issue for MPs who should be engaging with everyone in their constituencies.
"We will certainly be looking for significant improvements next year!" he concludes.
*Research was carried out on behalf of BCS by Omnimas at TNS, one of the world's leading market information companies. A representative sample of 2,059 adults aged 16 or over was interviewed in England, Wales, and Scotland, between 22 - 27 August 2008. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in-home using CAPI (computer assisted personal interviewing).