20 things from the World Forum for Democracy #coe_wfd

1. There are more interesting initiatives out there that you have time to talk about in two days, but it was brilliant to meet them and to share ideas.

2. People seem to be increasingly coalescing around the idea that we need a common open infrastructure for democracy apps, so that they can share information and overcome sign up barriers. If we can get that right it will be a big step forward, but we need to align research.

3. Facebook isn’t that common platform.

4. It was brilliant to see Steven Clift again, and reminiscing about the conversations we had in 1998, long pre-Demsoc, about my ideas on starting it almost brought a tear to my eye. Long time in the game.

5. PopVox (from the US) is a brilliant little tool, and I would love to see a version of it for the European Parliament. It would be a very good way of understanding how business goes there, which is different from the way things run in the House of Commons.

6. Strasbourg is a much more beautiful city than I remembered, and next time I should make sure to stay on an extra night to visit the Christmas markets.

7. I come away more confident about the possibility that we can rebuild our institutions without a reactionary upheaval, but also much more aware of the different sorts of challenges that fellow democrats face beyond the EU’s borders in places like Armenia and Ukraine.

8. I think very few people are now talking about edemocracy as a complete alternative to representative politics. In fact, the only ones who were were representative politicians setting up strawmen.

9. I really want to do more work with the Citizen’s Foundation from Iceland, who are great company, great innovators, and massive enthusiasts for our common goals.

10. Although having been doing this professionally for three years, I saw some of the same faces, the variety of approaches and groups involved was marvellous. The women of Uganda network, which won the democracy innovation prize, was completely new to me.

11. The voting system was a bit bizarre, given that people didn’t have a huge amount of time to take in information about each of projects, but it was very gratifying to get a 4 to one vote that our project made a contribution to furthering democracy.

12. This was probably the youngest conference I have been to, thanks to the Council of Europe’s efforts to bring the young people in as youth ambassadors. I would imagine the average age was under 40.¬†So it felt a bit self-indulgent when there was a big protest at the end of the young people had been ignored.

13. It’s great to do these things as team efforts, and having Tilly and Ali meant we could spread our presence and learning, and meet a lot more people. Go team!

14. The Council of Europe hemicycle is a really beautiful piece of architecture, even if the atrium does look a bit Bond villain.

15. I would really like to do a bit more work in or around Switzerland to see what their direct democracy does to politics and participation. It feels like referendums are something for which there is increasing pressure, whether online or off-line, and it would be good to see how you can systematise them rather than make them politicians’ tools as they are at present.

16. I still think that there is a gap around context. Lots of the voting and decision-making parts of democracy are well-covered, because voting is a relatively simple mathematical issue, but we are still short on ways to make context of complex political decisions intelligible to people who have 10 minutes a month, rather than 2 hours a day.

17. Still on that subject, I am still convinced that liquid democracy is an elegant solution to the wrong problem, focusing on delegating votes rather than delegating influence.

18. The council of Europe is a wonderful institution, and I had not realised that their founding treaty was signed in St James’s Palace and London, until a friend asked me to look it up. It’s not a question of “we would be mad to leave”, it would be much worse: a shameful abrogation of everything that Britain has fought for and ought to stand for.

19. The rapporteurs who presented the ideas from the labs back into the main room were of varying quality, but Monica Nica, our rapporteur, from Lund University was absolutely brilliant. Thank you to her.

20. We need more opportunities, as a sector, to come together in this international way and build collaboration. I would rather we had two of these sorts of events year and lose a funding stream.


Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

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