Workshop Technology and the Future of Democracy

Distrust in politics and low turnout at elections show that the legitimacy of democracy is in question. Meanwhile, people engage online more and more on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In Africa, for example, access to social media allows many people to let their voices be heard. Also, information about politics and democracy is now much more accessible to them. In the last elections in Uganda women voted in much larger numbers than before, thanks to multi-media programs to educate people about democracy.

At the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University staff and students are exploring how technology can help solve global challenges. One of these challenges is finding ways to sustaining democracies.

Rapid Prototyping

For any behavior to occur, three elements have to converge: Motivation + Ability + Trigger. Motivation is a sensation, an anticipation or a need for social cohesion. Ability could be money, time or effort. A trigger is something that sets you in (further) motion, like a phone that buzzes or a step-counter that tells you to run some more. When a certain behavior doesn’t occur, at least one of these elements is missing. Virtually all companies in Silicon Valley work with this notion.

Pantea-Ragazzi-at-Technology-for-Innovating-DemocracyThe Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University developed this into a tool called Rapid Prototyping. Their Peace Innovation Design Loop helps people quickly find out if an innovative idea is going to fail or succeed. First, you choose a problem or case you want to tackle and the target community that goes with it. Then you choose a technology they already use to target it with and pick a positive behavior you want them to engage in. Then you create and implement a Fast Prototype Intervention: something new that hopefully works to achieve your goal. Afterwards, you measure the impact and then optimize, pivot or repeat the chosen intervention.

In Cairo this process has proved successful in promoting human contact between rivaling Copts and Salafists. A campaign encouraged them to take a selfie with someone from the other group and post it on Facebook. Many people participated, thus making personal contact, even make friends, with a person formerly perceived as a rival.

20161205-ID4440-e1481559047905During the workshop attendants applied Rapid Prototyping in small groups, given two minutes for each step. All agreed this was frustrating, as no one could think any step through completely. However, that was the whole idea! Thinking quickly enables you to find out if something will work fast.

A few promising ideas emerged, like a ‘challenge button’ on Facebook, if you find a Facebook message wrong or even misdirecting. Another idea, already put in practice in some places, is a big banner next to any planned project in public space – as well as a digital platform announced on it – to inform and communicate directly with the inhabitants.

Centre4Innovation

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