On the Fence and Ask Away

Friday say the launch of Massey’s Design and Democracy‘s projects Ask Away and On the Fence. I know that On the Fence was around at the last election, but I am not sure about Ask Away. On the Fence has been redeveloped for this election. I will split this into two sections:

Ask Away




Ask Away is designed to allow people to post questions they want to ask the parties, people can the vote up  the questions they like. This means that questions that more people want to see answered get pushed to the top. It presents a good way for parties to balance the advantage social media offers of reaching a large number of people with the demands of answering the same question over and over again.

As is to be expected with anything tool that provides a way to ask questions directly to politicians and political parties, there is a large range in the quality of the questions. Some focus on overarching, high level policy questions:

Banners_and_Alerts_and_Ask_NZ_s_parties_your_questions_this_election___Ask_Away3Some are focused on individual parties:


And some are obviously silly and not to be taken seriously:



The biggest issue I can see for Ask Away is getting parties to actually reply. So far most of the replies come from Tracey Martin of New Zealand First, followed by Chris Hipkins from Labour. With a few appearances from Liala Harre and Hone Harawira. There are no replies from United Future, ACT, National or the Maori Party so far.


The number of replies from Tracey Martin has already been noted on social media. Twitter___bjhguerin__Wow__Just_been_going_through____

I think the format is good, assuming political parties get engaged and stay engaged and the questions can stay reasonably serious. If the top 5 up voted questions gets full of silly questions, I think parties, and voters, will dis engage from using it. But it is an interesting way to use social media.



On the fence aims to help voters who are “on the fence” about who to vote for decide who to vote for. Last time around the website was built around a sheep standing on the fence, you then fed the sheep a bale of hay and it asked you a question, giving you two possible answers. Once you had fed the sheep three bales, if gave you an answer of the 3 parties you should look at voting for.


This time around, the format has been made a bit more serious, but between each page of questions there are still funny “facts” about sheep. This year around the balance between fun and seriousness is much better than last election.


This is a good goal, along with the desire to help new and nervous voters decide which parties to look more closely at. However unlike Ask Away, which is acting as a portal to facilitate two way communication between parties and voters, On the Fence is claiming to be able to give you a short list of parties to look at voting for. This places a higher burden on those involved, to make sure it is accurate. If you are building a website whose aim is to suggest parties that people should look at voting for, making sure the model is accurate is a key element to this.


But there have already been a number of comments from people on social media about the accuracy of the model, both on social media and on Whale Oil






Now the developers have outlined how they decided which parties to include:



And the way that they built the back-end that helps give the answers:


But they have not included the name of those on the panel. These two elements raise questions about the accuracy of the model they are using. Either there is a large number of people out there who are tribal voters for their party and don’t actually pay attention to the policy positions of their parties. Or there is an issue with the way that this model is working.


Both of these projects have good aims, I think Ask Away is the better developed and more useful of the two. It presents a one stop shop for people to ask policy questions, and hopefully get answers. It should also allow political parties to connect their policy positions with a number of voters in one place. On the Fence appears to have some issues. The results are a bit all over the place. However the real test will be if those who are not already politically engaged start to use them, or if they will just become tools for those who are already engaged.