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How is WhatsApp changing government?

Emily Walch, former SpAd to Vince Cable, Matt Warman and Henry Zeffman from The Times joined us to discuss the use of WhatsApp in government.

Emily Walch, Tim Durrant, Matt Warman MP (on screen), Henry Zeffman and Dr Alice Lilly appear on stage at the IfG.
Panellists (from left to right) Emily Walch, Tim Durrant, Matt Warman MP (on screen), Henry Zeffman and Dr Alice Lilly explored whether WhatsApp is a good form of communicating in government.

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With the government taking the Covid inquiry to court to protect WhatsApp messages, the use of WhatsApp is in the spotlight. It has become fundamental to the way Westminster and Whitehall works – but is this way of communicating good for government? 

It has been reported that key decisions during the pandemic were taken in WhatsApp groups – made up of the prime minister and a handful of advisers. While some messages have been leaked, much of the content may never see the light of day – particularly with some users setting their messages to ‘disappear’ within days or even hours.  

So is WhatsApp changing the way decisions are made or is it just the 21st century equivalent of an informal conversation in a corridor, a bar, or on a phone? What can be done to ensure decisions taken on WhatsApp are shared and scrutinised? And how much has changed in government since the app was first launched?  

To discuss all this and more, the Institute for Government brought together an expert panel: 

  • Dr Alice Lilly, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government
  • Emily Walch, former special adviser to Vince Cable and Senior Counsel at Grayling 
  • Matt Warman MP, former Minister of State in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (appearing virtually)
  • Henry Zeffman, Associate Political Editor at The Times

This event was chaired by Tim Durrant, Programme Director at the Institute for Government 

Follow us on Twitter @IfGevents and join the conversation using #IfGWhatsApp.  

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