Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Using online video to explain AV & First Past the Post

Posted in Online Video, studio .fu by Adam Westbrook on April 28, 2011

There’s no such thing as boring information, just boring presentation.

Anon

In a week, voters in Britain will have a once-in-a-generation chance to decide whether the election system in the UK should change.

At the moment it’s run on a plurality system called ‘First Past the Post’, but after last year’s election there were calls to switch it to the ‘Alternative Vote’ system.

In the last couple of months, opposing campaign groups, politicians and journalists have been trying to sway public opinion, in the minds of some, by using increasingly desperate tactics, creating (in Charlie Brooker’s words) “a stupidity whirlpool that engulfs any loose molecules of logic”. For example, both sides claim voting the other way would bring in the extremist British National Party.

It’s created so much confusion, there are worries people might not bother to vote at all.

As a pet project over the Easter break, I’ve created this video explainer to cut through the crap and explain First Past the Post and Alternative Vote properly.

Youtube version

Source list (pdf)

It comes with an accompanying source list, with every fact that appears checked against a reliable source. I interviewed political scientists to clarify key points of explanation too. I’ve tried to avoid opinion as much as possible, although I think you sometimes have to sacrifice total objectivity for the sake of clarity.

It’s far from perfect: it’s twice as long as I was aiming for and the visuals aren’t strong enough for a start. Feedback from close colleagues suggests the second half might be bordering on comment and not explanation (what do you think?)

I’m not the only one who’s had a crack at explaining the nuances of these two systems.  The BBC’s heavyweight current affairs programme Newsnight tried using (rather weak) satire to do it; the Electoral Commission itself attempted a Common Craft style cartoon which might have mis-read its audience; cartoons were order of the day in other films too. And Dan Snow’s piece is actually a campaign so doesn’t count, but he uses a good real-life example to explain AV.

Explaining the news

This explainer is the pilot of a bigger project on explaining the news I’m starting this spring, inspired by the work of Jay Rosen’s Studio20 program in New York City.

I think online video has huge potential to simplify a complicated topic and engage people with the issue, in fact, I believe video can do this better than any other medium.

I’ll go into detail in a later post, but in the meantime I’ll be watching the reaction to this video to get an idea of whether it’s got legs. If you like it (or don’t like it!) please share it online (and let me know in the comments)!

6 Responses

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  1. […] voter apathy aside, is there a better way? My friend Adam Westbrook worked on a pet project over the Easter weekend and put together a rather helpful video that “to cut through the crap […]

  2. Glen Canning said, on April 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Looks great Adam. It’s simple and to the point and most importantly for online video it doesn’t get boring or lost in to many details. I liked it.

  3. […] How I used motion graphics to explain the AV referendum – In May I produced a film to explain the UK referendum. […]

  4. […] excite me, and might one day make money. At the moment this includes developing a concept for multimedia explainers and starting an online magazine. If you’re scared of the commitment, the 30-day-challenge […]

  5. […] is something that really, really bugs me. I’ve tried to counter it, by publishing full source lists & data in my own journalism, and by pitching ideas for how technology can add layers of transparency to current […]

  6. […] voter apathy aside, is there a better way? My friend Adam Westbrook worked on a pet project over the Easter weekend and put together a rather helpful video “to cut through the crap and […]


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