Traditionally, politics is conducted top down, with politicians speaking to the people. The Internet can help break this mould, allowing the people to question politicians. We have developed a series of tools on Google+ and YouTube to help connect citizens with their leaders.

In Italy, we worked with La Stampa, one of Italy’s most prestigious daily newspapers, to enable citizens to question three senior Italian politicians in a Google+ Hangout. Under the headline A New Relation Between Citizens and Politicians, La Stampa elicited interview questions from Google+ users on how the web can be used to “rebuild the relationships between citizens and politicians and overcome the populism which is damaging our confidence in our members of parliament.”

Citizens submitted their questions via La Stampa’s Google+ page. Maurizio Lupi, Vice President of the Italian Parliament and member of the centre-right PDL Party; Enrico Letta, Vice-Secretary General of the centre-left Democratic Party; and Roberto Rao, Member of Parliament for the centrist UDC party, answered. Topics focused on the economic crisis and youth employment.

“Most MPs use the web only as a showcase,” acknowledged Mr. Rao. “Just a few of us understand the potential of the web to interact with citizens.”

Politicians using the web “is an important experiment,” said Mr. Letta. “If it succeeds it can be used much more as a way to engage citizens,”

We hope that this inaugural Hangout encourages other politicians to engage with voters online in the run up to the Italian elections in spring 2013. Stay tuned.