Question Time is a central feature in many parliamentary democracies around the world; it provides an opportunity for Members of Parliament (MPs) to ask questions of and seek clarification from government ministers. In April 2015, recognizing that citizens deserved an opportunity to hold their government accountable on issues relating to climate change, the New Zealand Green Party (Greens) introduced an initiative to crowdsource climate change questions using social media. Announced by Green Party co-leader MP Dr. Russel Norman in a video uploaded to YouTube, Norman indicated the party’s motivation for the initiative, saying, “In the age of social media, there’s no excuse why the public shouldn’t be more involved in asking questions of those in power, who are making decisions which will affect us all.”
Using the Twitter hashtag #myclimatequestion and the party’s Facebook page, the Greens empowered citizens to tweet or post any climate change questions they wished to have answered by ministers between April 24, when the initiative was announced, and April 27. After the nomination period, the party identified the “top 10” questions and set up an online poll to select which questions they would ask in Parliament. When Question Time was held on April 29, Norman included eight questions that had been submitted and selected online by citizens during his “Questions for Oral Answer” of the Honorable Simon Bridges, the Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues. After Norman’s contributions at the start of Question Time, #myclimatequestion became a trending topic on Twitter in New Zealand, with @TTMobile_nz reporting that it had trended as high as sixth place.
On its own, Parliamentary Question Time is a mechanism through which MPs — especially members of opposition political parties — can hold the government accountable on behalf of their constituents. The Greens’ decision to crowdsource questions on social media from concerned citizens and to put those questions to the government, demonstrated how social media’s interactive format can shape politics. Recognizing that climate change is a large-scale issue with far-reaching consequences, the Greens hoped that citizens’ voices would prove influential with their colleagues in Parliament and the government.