Innovate ways to engage with citizens

Will Derks (NIMD)

An increasing number of people around the globe are looking for new ways of democratic participation. If we fail to provide these new ways, liberal democracies are in big trouble, said Will Derks (NIMD) in his introduction. That’s why, in this breakout session, three democratic innovators shared their experiences and also their tools: Sam van der Staak (International IDEA), Felipe Munoz (Net Party, Argentina) and Sunna Ævarsdóttir (Pirate Party, Iceland).

Sam van der Staak, International IDEA

Even though the media paints a grim picture, Van Der Staak shows that Europe is doing pretty well in terms of freedom. On the other side he sees downwards trends when it comes voting behavior and political participation. Youth is not actively participating in elections. Only 43% of youngsters is voting against 73% of older generation. An average of 4,5% of the people are members of a political party in the Europe. The average age represented in the political decision-making process is 59 years.

At the same time more and more social movements emerge and social media plays a major role in those movements. This brought Van Der Staak to the central question of his presentation: what role does technology have in restoring the connection between government and citizens?

Van Der Staak thinks that ICT will play a huge role in the future of democratic participation. To begin with, through social media and online platforms. But also through the use of big data. For example, political parties can use big data to discover what the interests of the citizens are. But he said there is a more fundamental question: do we need political parties? Do we need elections? Surely, parliamentary democracy is not the only way to connect government and citizens. The growth of social movements and emergence of alternative political parties such as The Pirate Party will change the political system, says Van Der Staak.

He continued to state that technology in itself is not the solution, but it will facilitate changes in the system. He doesn’t see technology as a tool to move masses, but more a tool of the masses to mobilize the politics. He concluded his presentation by providing examples of online platforms that allow citizens to engage in democratic processes. On the International IDEA website there is a ‘Digital Parties Portal’ where one can find different types of platforms that can be used to that end, such as Agora Voting, an online policy making tool and Meet Up, a tool to search for local interests-groups related.

 

Felipe Munoz, The Net Party (Argentina)

Felipe Munoz started with sharing some pictures of the initial protests organized by the Net Party in 2012. Together with other concerned citizens he started exploring new ways to bring voters closer to political parties. They believed that technology offers the best chance to increase the engagement of citizens. They quickly found out that the best way to achieve this goal was to start a new local political party rooted in this belief.

The procedure for the approval from the election commission was not easy, explained Munoz. They required 4.000 signatures and we were able to collect these signatures in just one month. However, it was a tough struggle. They had no budget and resources and did all this voluntarily.

The focus of the Net Party was (and is) that every decision taken by the parliament is placed on their website and that everyone can respond to it. With this focus, they were able to bind 22.000 voters to the Net Party without any budget. That caught the attention of the other (bigger) political parties and (local) governments. The municipality of Resario used to have a traditional way of getting people involved, but they have now a platform to debate and to get more people engaged.

A question from the audience was ‘What if people active on these platforms only use their gut feelings to make their decision for voting?’ Munoz responded by confirming that these types of platform focus on the individual voice. When a person has a negative attitude, it is not easy to change their mind. The same goes for traditional voting.

The Net Party provides background information on the legislative process. Why? Because most of the time people don’t even know how the process of passing bills works, says Munoz. That’s why the Net Party educates citizens by informing them about the political process and informing them about the subjects being discussed. They also ask the citizen to propose new legislation and to have discussions about that. When an individual or a group has an idea, the Net Party asks them to propose the idea and then posts it on the online platform. There people can discuss it and vote that the Net Party brings it into the political process.

 

Sunna Ævarsdóttir (Pirate Party, Iceland)

At the beginning of her presentation Ævarsdóttir referred to her keynote speech in which she explained how the Pirate Party was formed. The Pirate Party has 6 goals:

  1. Critical thinking and well informed policy first
  2. Civil rights
  3. A right to privacy
  4. Transparency
  5. Freedom of information and expression
  6. Direct democracy

In Iceland is transparency is big issue. The public institutes are very closed and don’t disclose their decision-making processes. That protects the establishment, says Ævarsdóttir, as they can decide whatever they like to. Hence the Pirate Party aims to discuss all matters openly and would like to involve as many people as possible to the decision-making process.

Ævarsdóttir then took the participants through the working process of the Pirate Party. Every citizen can become a member by registering on the website of the Pirate Party. For the registration, the individual provides us with the social security number only once to determine the authenticity of the registered member. That is for the internal process, otherwise the individual remains anonymous. The registered member can debate on the proposed topics by the Pirate Party and give suggestions for new topics. A meeting is organized to decide if a policy-proposal should be placed on the online voting platform. Most of the meetings are in the capital and everyone is welcome to participate, even if you are not a member of the Pirate Party.