Compare EU election candidates using TickBox
Published on: 13 May 2014
When an Exeter student collated political information in a bid to get his mates voting he had no idea that just over a year later he would be launching a website that could bring voting into the 21st century.
TickBox, a website and social enterprise, simply asks: “What do you stand for?” Then in a few very simple steps helps you identify the political parties and candidates most closely aligned with your views.
The political comparison website was the brain-child of student entrepreneur Matt Morley, 20. He said: “People my age use the web for everything, but politics is massively inaccessible online. If you want to know about an election you watch TV or someone you hear from once every four years puts a leaflet through your door.”
“That is why our long term goal is to be the people who launch online voting.”
Matt explained that the aim of TickBox is to change attitudes to voting by making it unusual if you don’t vote rather than if you do. He said: “We want to make voting and comparing candidates and parties as simple as booking a holiday. Voting is one of those things that impacts huge amounts of your life - these people make decisions about you.”
Much like a car insurance comparison website TickBox lets users answer a few simple questions then gives them results showing the political parties that are the closest match. The site is impartial and currently includes every EU election candidate in the South of England. Each party has the same amount and type of information regardless of, size, popularity or political views.
Politics is still stuck in an age of leaflets and parish church voting booths, which is strange given how obsessed politics is with sound-bites and social media.
Alex Scott-Malden, TickBox Head of Marketing
The site even gives you the option to say that none of the candidates appeal to you. It is hoped that this function will eventually list your abstention from voting digitally - so you won’t even have to go to the polling station.
The site began life just over a year ago as a spreadsheet Matt put together to encourage his housemates to vote. He explained: “In the run up to the County Council election I was getting excited about voting. My friends knew voting was important but they didn’t know enough to chose who to vote for. So I created a spreadsheet that had the names of all the candidates and what they stood for. Doing this got 12 extra people to vote - and that is how it started!”
With his spreadsheet in hand Matt, a second year History student, was sent to the SETSquared entrepreneurship summer camp in Brussels. There he met Nick Hass, a Computer Scientist from Copenhagen who coded the first incarnation of TickBox.
Matt took his new digital comparison tool to some political parties and they ‘reluctantly’ agreed that if it existed they would use it. He explained: “The idea of putting everything online was new to them!”
Creating a social enterprise
With support from Ignite, the student entrepreneur support unit at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, and funding from UnLtd, a social enterprise support unit, Matt and Nick coded the first online version of TickBox.
With a demo website complete, Ignite put Matt in touch with Joe Pearce, the Business Development Manager at Exeter Innovation Centre who gave Matt some advice on how to turn his fledgling company into a valuable social enterprise and awarded them a HEFCE student start up award of £4,000.
Matt said: “We jumped very quickly up the chain of entrepreneurship. It was fun; it felt like we were building something new – which we were at the time!”
Joe also put TickBox in touch with John James, the Managing Director of SeeData, a software and web design company also based in the Innovation Centre. SeeData and TickBox worked together to produce the current TickBox design and functionality.
Working on TickBox had an impact on the SeeData team. Matt revealed: “Most of the SeeData team don’t vote but after working on TickBox they have promised us they will all vote in this election.”
Sourcing the content for TickBox was also quite a challenge for Matt and his team of three Exeter undergraduates.
Alex explained: “The information is really, really hard to find. Some of the bigger political parties didn’t have their manifestos online. Another party said they did have one but weren’t sure where in the office it was! I feel there is a lot of complaint from political parties that people are not engaging. But they haven’t made their information searchable and comparable in the way that everything from car insurance to flights are."
But the political parties were very supportive of Tickbox during the building process. “They think it is cool and unique,” Matt explained.
He added: “The University have been fantastic as well, especially the College of Humanities. I have spoken to Sir Steve Smith about TickBox and I’ve met Sean Fielding, Director of Research and Knowledge Transfer, at a SETSquared event. They all thought the work we are doing is great for the University.”
After the EU and Exeter City Council elections TickBox will turn its attention to the Scottish referendum in September.
TickBox have already done University elections for the University of Exeter and University of Bristol. The next one will be for the University of Warwick. The team also create novel elections for sharing on social media - you can find out what batman character should become your MP or discover who from Made in Chelsea should be Mayor of Chelsea.
Ahead of the election the team will in the Forum to showcase TickBox and encourage students to vote. Pop along on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 May to discover which parties and candidates are most closely aligned to your views – and grab a free TickBox coffee while you’re at it.