In our first ever podcast, Annie Cook of The Democratic Society talks to Iain Clark of the Musselburgh Area Partnership about Your Voice Your Choice 2. The Musselburgh Area Partnership is one of the recipients of Community Choices funding – supported by the Scottish Government to do participatory budgeting and digital participatory budgeting.
This is the first in a series of podcasts we’ll be doing about participatory budgeting – as part of our work supporting digital PB in Scotland.
You can find out more about participatory budgeting in Scotland over at the brilliant PBScotland website – and you can check out more that we’re doing here.
As part of our work developing the use of digital participatory budgeting (PB) in Scotland, Demsoc is shining a light on some of the innovative ways other people across the world use digital PB. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts on different examples that illustrate different aspects of how digital and PB work together. We’ll be cross publishing these posts – on the PB Scotland website and on our own blog. This week we start by looking at PB in New York City (NYC).
Why would you read this post?
This is about how NYC has included digital channels within its existing, and growing, participatory budget. If you’re thinking about how to use digital tools to expand and strengthen PB, then this large-scale case shows what can be done. It talks about:
How digital participation can make it easier for people to have a say
How online and offline channels can be combined to improve inclusion
How NYC combines its online idea gathering with an innovative process of community-led review and investigation
How open data has helped make the process more transparent
PB in New York is about people sharing ideas for what should be funded, deliberating about them, and voting for their favourites. Each district that’s involved pledges at least $1 million dollars to be decided through the process, which has to be spent on physical infrastructure. The video below from the PB Project explains the basics:
Why is New York City using digital PB?
New York City has used online channels to reach a wide audience and make it easy to take part in PB. Each PB process in New York City is called a ‘cycle’. Cycle 6 saw a 45 per cent increase in voters – up from 67,691 in Cycle 5. The city reports that “while paper ballot numbers stayed consistent, our new off-site digital voting accounted for this growth in participation.”
But at the same time they’ve combined this with offline engagement targeted at the hardest to reach – and with a process of offline discussion and research designed to make sure both the process and its results have a positive impact on the community as a whole.
How does NYC combine online and offline activities to make PB a success?
The process in New York meshes online and offline components. The former is used to make involvement easy for large numbers of people, while the latter helps target harder to reach groups and builds citizen-led research about local needs into the heart of the process.
An online idea map
Anyone can submit proposals. A simple online form is used, which asks people to write a few lines under the headings: ‘My project idea is…’ and ‘So that people could…’. Proposers categorise their idea from a short list of headings and plot it on a map of the city. The result is a visually attractive map that uses different logos to show what themes ideas relate to it.
Proposers have to give their name to submit an idea, or can sign in through facebook or twitter. Other than this there is nothing further they have to input, some basic demographic information is asked for, but is not required.
Targeted outreach offline
Alongside this simple online form, targeted activities are carried out offline to involve groups of people that NYC identified as underrepresented and gather other ideas. As well as holding public meetings open to all, districts are required to hold meetings targeted at underrepresented community members and to carry out idea collection at public events and spaces where there is a high concentration of underrepresented community members.
Researching impact offline
In the next stage, Local ‘Budget Delegate’ volunteers – chosen at idea-collection events – develop the proposals, investigate them, and shortlist them for the final vote. They work closely with council staff, and are encouraged to carry out research, including site visits and mapping community needs to help them. The delegates use a matrix to assess feasibility, need and equity of each proposal.
As well as managing down the number of proposals, this stage establishes a greater understanding of local needs and builds the skills and confidence of the volunteers themselves. Significantly, council staff and communities are able to work together productively. And, because the matrix is shared by PBNYC (as a PDF, is on this public Dropbox) along with guides to using the city’s open data and accessing other information sources) it can help to encourage proposers to think more critically about their suggestions from the start.
Automated vote counting has been introduced, allowing a dramatic increase in the speed of counting paper ballots, and a quicker announcement of the result.
Council members, community groups and New York Council all use social media to promote ways of voting online and offline during the week of the vote under the hashtag #pbnyc.
Building Transparency Online
Finally online tools have a key role to play in making the process more transparent. The results of votes since cycle 4 are available on the council’s PB webpage. So too is the rulebook for the process, which includes a clear statement of the aims and values of the PB process.
Monitoring implementation is a key part of PB. For the New York process there is a tailor-made site that allows you to explore what has happened to projects since they were chosen. This is not a council site but is run by The PB Project, the non-profit organisation which was a key architect of the NY PB process. The site allows users to view successful proposals on a map, easily see their stage of completion, and filter them by which council department is responsible for their implementation. This is made possible using open data about the process shared on the council’s open data portal. At time of writing, the last set of PB results uploaded here was for 2017. Updates on project implementation are also delivered offline during idea collection events each year.
What makes digital PB in New York special?
Online platforms can make it easier for more people to take part in processes. The experience of New York shows that this needn’t mean sacrificing targeted offline activities. Instead offline and online can complement each other, with online platforms bringing people into forms of involvement that can make a real difference to the people who take part and the communities they live in.
Today we’re publishing our Learning Report for Digital Participatory Budgeting in Scotland.
We are working with the Scottish Government and a wider group of organisations, helping councils and communities to set up and run participatory budgeting in their communities.
Participatory budgeting is a way for communities to decide how money is spent – proposing ideas, discussing them and voting on them. The Scottish Government sees this work as part of its efforts to give communities more powers to take forward their own priorities and ambitions and has been supporting PB since 2014.
Demsoc’s work for the Scottish Government started in 2016. Since then, we’ve helped a growing number of communities and local authorities to plan, set up and deliver digital participatory budgeting, where citizens can take part in PB online.
Our work started with an initial investigation into platforms that councils and community groups could use for participatory budgeting online. We were then involved in helping to put the findings of that work into use, supporting councils and neighbourhoods with digital PB. Phases 2, 3 and 4 of our work were hands-on, helping to train and support the development of individual communities and councils to hold online participation processes.
What’s in the report?
The report shares a host of observations from that work – reflecting on each. It includes learning from different aspects of our work, including:
Working together as part of a wider programme
The skills and development doing digital participation requires from local authorities and communities
The technology and platforms for digital participation
Sustainability for digital participatory budgeting
What’s happening now?
This year marks an important moment for the development of the PB programme – as we look forward to making PB a mainstream activity for councils and communities across Scotland.
Everyone involved in the programme – from individual citizens interested in PB, the Scottish Government, Local Government, delivery partners for the programme – is thinking about how that can happen. A workshop looked at some of the themes of this debate in more detail – you can find out more about that on the PB Scotland website.
The report helps to contribute to this conversation. In particular, thinking about how we can make digital PB sustainable – ensuring that platforms, expertise and support are available beyond our involvement. That’s also a focus for the work we’re doing now. While we’re continuing to support communities and councils to do digital PB, we are also busy creating a set of materials for learning and development for digital PB, and providing research and insight into how digital participation can flourish in Scotland.
Stay tuned for more!
You’ll see blog posts, podcasts and a host of other materials as they’re created – we’ll share them on this blog, with the tag Digital PB.
If you’re interested in the work, have any questions about the report – or are from a council or community group looking to do digital PB please contact us! Email Kelly McBride and Annie Cook – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Democratic Society and European Policy Centre recently published a report evaluating the European Citizens’ Consultations process.
The report includes contributions from members of the European Citizens’ Consultations Civil Society Network that was established in March 2018 to monitor the process and make recommendations for future pan-European consultation processes.
“Rethinking the manner in which we do democracy and finding 21st century appropriate ways to translate our democratic goals into practice is likely to be a long and hard struggle. But it has to begin somewhere, and the ECCs are a good place to start.”
The European Citizens’ Consultations (ECCs) were a project aiming to improve the quality of democracy at the EU level. They were formed of two strands:
A series of national consultation events, organised by respective national governments across 27 member states of the EU. A joint report summarising the outputs of the processes can be found here (Council of the European Union, 2018).
Our evaluation report presents the results of the research and analysis carried out by the Network over the past seven months, as well as a number of recommendations for how to capitalise on the current round of ECCs and how to improve the way they could be executed in the future.
Three major themes became clear in the reports recommendations:
Communication is key. There needs to be greater clarity around projects of this nature, both in the process and the aims and outcomes. There needs to be strong advertisement of the process as it cannot fulfill its potential if there is low public awareness.
There must be a balance between focusing on national issues and EU level issues, to properly inform and engage citizens.
It’s important to follow up on the process. Suggestions included pushing for public synthesis of results and an additional Citizens’ Panel to properly complete the process.
We intend to continue conversations about the learning from the European Citizens’ Consultations in 2019 and to use this experience as a starting point for further discussion about increasing citizen participation, and encouraging a culture of openness in and around the European institutions and at the national level in member states.
The International Observatory on Participatory
Democracy is a worldwide network of local government and other
interested researchers and practitioners interested in developing a more
participatory form of local democracy. This year their conference was in
Barcelona and we used the opportunity to run a workshop exploring people’s
experiences of Participatory
Budgeting, considering how this technique can best be used, and what its
We started by trying to draw some lessons from the demise,and suspension, of PB in the city were it first started: Porto Alegre. From this we asked participants to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of PB.
What key explanations have been given for the demise of PB in Porto Alegre?
A lack of project implementation, with a backlog of uncompleted projects having built up. This was partly linked with a centralisation of funds away from the city.
Capture of the process. Part of the process involved electing citizen representatives to set the rules for PB. Over time these representatives started to alter rules to suit their own position.
A lack of transparency standards. Over time the budget information provided to participants became less thorough; there were no agreed standards to protect against this.
A lack of political will. This was partly associated with a shift towards looking for delivery partners in communities, rather than involving communities in priority-setting.
Difficulty including larger-scale projects. PB was mainly focussed on local infrastructure spending, and struggled to move into other issues.
After presenting this picture, we worked with participants to map out some of the strengths and weaknesses of PB. Below are some of the points discussed.
What are the strengths of PB?
It can, with enough effort and resource, reach groups who are traditionally less likely to participate.
Where based on deliberation, it can help people step in each other’s shoes and realise the diversity of outlooks and needs in their community. These interactions can strengthen communities.
It can make room for deliberation and the reaching of compromises, as in the Antwerp process. (There is a description of this process in Flemish here, we hope to share a case study about this in the near future).
As a regular annual process PB gives an opportunity to learn about what approaches work more or less well and make improvements in an iterative way.
It gives participants real decision-making power.
Participants can see really tangible outcomes of their involvement, within a much shorter timeframe than many other political processes.
What are the limitations of PB?
The cost of doing PB well is high, once you factor in things like the cost of facilitators.
Being set up to implement whichever projects are chosen also places considerable demands on organisations, who must be able to adapt.
People often come with their own pet projects,and aren’t keen to engage with other ideas. A more deliberative approach can help tackle this, though doesn’t remove it completely.
There are risks of just reaching the ‘usual suspects’, who are already good at raising their voice. However, there are ways of tackling this, and PB can be a way or reaching beyond these groups. For instance, Antwerp asked unrepresented groups what the barriers were and after discovering that uncertainty was a major deterrent went to great lengths to explain how events would work and even put on dry-run rehearsals so that people were more confidant taking part in the real decision-making sessions.
The preference of the majority can, nonetheless,be very negative for those in the minority. A new sports facility might be great for most people, but could have really negative impacts like noise and light pollution for its immediate neighbours. Giving people negative, as well as positive, votes is one way of trying to mitigate against this. One case was mentioned where adding negative votes took a proposal from being the third most popular right down to the mid-50s.
Hopefully these comments will have spurred some reflections of your own. Feel free to add your own reflections in the comments. If you’d like to speak to us further about PB please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
As part of our Space in Common project we’ve been looking at how to make debates about the future shape of GreaterManchester into more inclusive and constructive conversations. At our latest workshop we were fortunate to hear from Richard Lee, coordinator of Just Space about their inspiring experiences in Greater London.
What is Just Space and what makes them special?
Just Space describes itself as ‘a community-led network of voluntary and action groups’ who come together to speak with a louder voice on decisions about how Greater London is developed.
Their emphasis is on supporting communities to speak up, rather than speaking for them. They gather evidence from the local level and feed this into policy debates at a strategic Greater-London-wide level.
Rather than just talking about ‘planning’ they recognise that planning decisions at this scale touch on so many other topics and talk about the issues that matter most to people.
They aim to work in a ‘horizontal’ way, for instance they don’t have an elected committee. Naturally those more involved have more influence so they emphasise the importance of using this to amplify the voices of others. Continuing to get new people involved has been crucial to ensuring it’s not just a network for the already active. For instance, they always aim to ensure that a good number of speakers at community conferences are new to the movement. The Just Space seat at public hearings on the London Plan is reserved for those unable to take part in the formal process. In their experience disagreement isn’t as much of a barrier as it might seem, there is much that unites communities on these topics, and they focus on where there is consensus(interestingly for Greater Manchester Greenbelt development was an issue where this hasn’t been achieved).
How did Just Space come about?
A key development was three main organisations working together informally: The London Tenants Federation; The London Civic Forum, and The London Social Forum. They worked together informally in response to the London Plan, along with some other organisations, then formed a network out of this.
One thing that made a difference was that the London Plan had to be examined at public hearings before the Planning Inspectorate, an organisation separate to local government who could call for revisions. This was an appealing prospect for those frustrated by responding to consultations without knowing whether they would really be listened to or not.
Following the Examination in Public on the London Plan the then London Mayor decided to grant fund the emerging Just Space network in recognition that they’d managed to bring new people into the room who didn’t normally engage on planning matters.
What has helped them grow and succeed?
As well as bringing new voices into debates Just Space have also seen policy debates shift overtime on many of the issues that they’ve campaigned on. So, what has helped them to succeed?
Over time they’ve become recognised for their expertise about planning policy at this strategic level, in a context where few other organisations are looking at this scale. As they’ve learnt who to speak to within the Greater London Authority on these matters, this has helped attract more people to get involved with them.
It’s easy to burn-out when spending all your time in a reactive mode, responding to consultations often without success. Instead Just Space have had an emphasis on being proactive and creative. Their relationship with University College London has been a big part of this. Universities are always looking for project work, JustSpace are able to approach them with projects they need their help on. The communities Just Space work with are often ‘over-researched’ but Just Space take a different approach. They involve communities in steering these projects,and the communities get something from the projects rather than researcher just coming with their own agenda.
Recently they’ve started to think more about how what happens in London affects other parts of the country, and to take the message of their way of organising to other places.
What projects have Just Space helped make happen?
Examples of projects that Just Space have helped initiate include:
Developing training in Social Impact Assessment within a postgraduate course at UCL. This was a response to the lack of social impact assessment in planning decisions and focusses on enabling communities to conduct this kind of study.
‘Just Map’. This mapping project plots 250 community organisations, alongside statements of their purpose obtained through interviews. It also shows community assets under threat, which helped improve awareness of many BME community centres that previously suffered from a lack of visibility.
The decision to take this proactive step was partly borne out of frustration at their opposition to plans being ignored because they were too radical to be considered as a change to the proposals being put forward. The election of a new London Mayor in 2016 was also seen as a good time to put this vision forward.
This proactive step was only taken after several years working together during which time the network had built trust in each other and developed strong links into communities.
Conferences were held on the plan, out of which working groups were formed to develop individual parts. No-one was brought in to write it, but instead the network collectively drafted this. Through the process new people became interested in the network and what they were doing.
Al Forum Mondiale per la Democrazia del 2018, tenutosi a Strasburgo dal 19 al 21 novembre, ho incontrato una brillante giovane donna. È islandese, ha 24 anni, è una politica e sostiene di dover ringraziare le quote per la sua presenza in politica e al Forum. E lei era nel posto giusto, perché il Forum era incentrato sulla partecipazione pubblica, politica ed economica delle donne e sulla lotta alla violenza contro le donne sulla scia del movimento #MeToo.
È stato un onore e una reale opportunità di partecipazione, anche se è molto triste che l’uguaglianza di genere debba ancora essere difesa pubblicamente.
Ora, la domanda da porci è: quali sono le chiavi per promuovere il cambiamento?
Il linguaggio è di certo una di queste. In Italia, stiamo cercando di ridefinire i titoli di lavoro, per garantire che un ‘avvocato’ possa essere descritto anche come donna (Avvocato – Avvocata), e viceversa per le posizioni di segretario. La lingua inglese è neutrale rispetto al genere nella sua concezione, ma l’italiano e il francese non lo sono. Durante il forum ci sono state proposte interessanti sul linguaggio come il passare da “droits de l’homme” a “droits humains” o parlare di “giustizia di genere” al posto della più usata “uguaglianza di genere”. L’uguaglianza di genere non riguarda solo l’equità. La rappresentanza e l’impegno delle donne sono la chiave per maggiore uguaglianza, sviluppo, crescita e pace in tutta la società.
La seconda è la maternità, l’elefante nella stanza di qualsiasi discussione di genere. Marlène Schiappa, si occupa di parità tra donne e uomini nel governo francese e ha preso parte anche al forum. Mi sono sentita profondamente ispirata, poiché una parte del suo discorso era sull’idea che la maternità non sia concepita come una mancanza – data da alcuni mesi di stop – ma come un vantaggio, un master. Essere madre significa avere capacità organizzative e progettuali, capacità motivazionali, essere una professionista delle risorse umane. Si tratta di lavoro di squadra e leadership, include energia e sacrifici, perseveranza, gestione del rischio e molte altre cose. Per questo vale la pena guardare questo video di soli 3 minuti, perché riformula qualcosa che pensavamo fosse superato.
Come possiamo riuscire a raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere e quali sono le misure più efficaci nei suoi confronti? Direi che abbiamo almeno tre modi per raggiungere questo traguardo, ma è fondamentale portarli avanti contemporaneamente.
– Formazione scolastica
– Capacity building e leadership: dall’empowerment al potere
– Misure temporanee
L’educazione non ha bisogno di introduzioni o spiegazioni. È necessario educare le nuove generazioni di ragazze e ragazzi senza stereotipi, con un forte senso di rispetto e solidarietà. Abbiamo bisogno di insegnanti e professori impegnati e ben informati sulla causa. Dovremmo essere tutti consapevoli del fatto che il genere è un tema intersettoriale e trasversale e che dobbiamo adottare e integrare la prospettiva di genere nella vita di tutti i giorni. Il genere può essere visto come qualcosa legato alla politica e alla rappresentazione, ma è anche fondamentale per l’economia, la scienza, l’elaborazione delle politiche, la qualità della democrazia, l’inclusività, la crescita e la pace.
Il rafforzamento delle capacità riguarda l’opportunità di sviluppare nuove competenze, di sfidare l’attuale leadership e politica, entrambe tipicamente costruite su una prospettiva maschile. Storicamente, le donne parlavano meno degli uomini – almeno in occasioni pubbliche! – ma questo ci ha dato la possibilità di diventare ottime ascoltatrici, e l’ascolto ci porta a prendere decisioni migliori. Ascoltare, ad esempio, è la chiave per la democrazia partecipativa e l’impegno dei cittadini. Michelle Bachelet una volta disse che quando una donna entra in politica, la sua vita cambia. Quando più donne entrano in politica, è la politica a cambiare. Sono sicura che possiamo estendere questa frase a tutti i campi: una volta che le donne saranno ugualmente rappresentate in ogni campo, daranno un forte valore aggiunto all’equazione generale.
Infine, le misure temporanee. Sono spesso – erroneamente – associate all’ideologia politica e alla polarizzazione. Dovrebbero, invece, essere introdotte in modo unilaterale per promuovere e accelerare la strada verso una partecipazione equilibrata di uomini e donne. Le misure temporanee (le più diffuse sono le quote ma non sono le uniche!) devono essere in vigore per un periodo di tempo che sia breve e definito. Ancor più importante devono essere concepite come il primo passo di un progetto più ampio per raggiungere l’uguaglianza di genere, il cosiddetto meccanismo di applicazione.
Questi non sono elementi teorici o dogmatici. La giovane donna che ho incontrato al Forum era lì grazie a cambiamenti culturali come questi. Aveva bisogno delle quote per sperimentare e conoscere la politica e avere l’opportunità di spingere per il suo paese e per l’Europa. Senza di loro, l’Islanda avrebbe perso un’occasione meravigliosa per essere rinnovata e ispirata dalla mente di queste ragazze.
Voglio per il mio paese esattamente la stessa opportunità. Voglio essere rappresentata da una donna, da una giovane donna, dalle sue conoscenze e abilità, dalla sua intelligenza emotiva, dalla sua volontà di fare il meglio che può.
Quindi, tornando al titolo “Uguaglianza di genere: di chi è la battaglia?”, vi dico: questa è la mia battaglia, la tua battaglia, la nostra battaglia. Questa è la battaglia dell’umanità e tutti noi dobbiamo stare insieme, alzarci e lottare.
At the World Forum for Democracy 2018, held in Strasbourg on November 19-21, I met a smart young woman. She is Icelandic, 24 years old, a politician, and she claims she has quotas to thank for her presence in politics and at the Forum. And she was in the right place, because the Forum centred around women’s public, political and economic participation, and combating violence against women in the wake of #MeToo.
It was an honour and a real opportunity to participate, even if it is very sad gender equality is still needs to be defended so publicly. The question is now, what are the keys to fostering change?
Language is one of them. In Italy, we are redefining job titles, to ensure a ‘lawyer’ can be described as female too (e.g. Avvocato – Avvocata), and vice versa for the secretary positions. English language is gender neutral in its conception, but Italian and French are not. During the Forum there were interesting proposals concerning languages such as shifting from “droits de l’homme” to “droits humains” or talking about “gender justice” instead of the most commonly used “gender equality”. Gender equality is not only about fairness. Women representation and engagement is key to greater equality, development, growth and peace across society.
A second one is maternity, as the elephant in the room of any gender discussion. Marlène Schiappa, serves as the Secretary of Equality between women and men in the French Government, and was speaking at the Forum as well. I felt deeply inspired, as her speech laid out the idea that maternity should not be conceived of as a gap, but as a plus, a master. Being a mother means having organisation and planning skills, motivational skills, being an HR professional. It is is about team work and leadership, energy and sacrifices, perseverance, risk management and a lot of other things. This video is worth 3 minutes of your time, because it reframes something we thought was so stubbornly fixed.
How can we succeed in reaching gender equality, and what are the most effective measures towards it? I would say that we have at least three ways to reach this ambition, but we have to use them all simultaneously.
– Capacity building and leadership, from empowerment to power
– Temporary measures
Education is self-evident. We need to raise new generations of young girls and boys without stereotypes, with a strong sense of respect and solidarity. We need teachers and professors committed and knowledgeable about the cause. We should all be aware that gender is an intersectional and crosscutting theme, and we need to adopt and mainstream the gender perspective in every day life. Gender may be seen as something related to politics and representation, but it is also fundamental to economics, science, policy making, the quality of democracy, inclusiveness, growth and peace.
Capacity building is about the opportunity to develop new skills, to challenge the actual leadership and politics, both typically built on a male perspective. Historically, women spoke less than men did – at least in public occasions! – but this gave us the chance to become very good listeners, and listening produces better decisions. Listening, for instance, is key to participatory democracy and citizens’ engagement. Michelle Bachelet once said that when a woman enters politics, her life changes. When more women enter politics, politics changes. I am sure we can extend this to all fields; once women will be equally represented in every field, they will strongly add value to the general equation.
Finally, temporary measures. They are often – incorrectly – associated with political ideology and polarization. They should be introduced in a unilateral way to promote and accelerate the road to a balance participation of men and women. Temporary measures, the best-known ones being quotas, must be in place for a short and defined period of time. And must be conceived as the first step of a bigger and wider plan to reach gender equality, the so-called enforcement mechanism.
These are not theoretical or dogmatic line items. The young lady I met at the Forum was there because of cultural changes like these. She needed them to experience politics, and to have the opportunity to push for her country and for Europe. Without them, Iceland would have lost a wonderful occasion to be renewed and to be inspired by this girls’ mind.
I want for my country exactly the same. I want to be represented by a woman, by a young woman, by her knowledge and skills, by her emotional intelligence, by her willingness to do the best she can.
So, coming back to the title “Gender Equality: whose battle?”, this is my battle, your battle, this is mankind’s battle and we need to stand together and fight for it.
I spent the last couple of days at the EU’s Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights. It was an interesting exchange of views, but I have to confess that by the end my horizons had been opened up so wide by stories of big data, big platforms and deep fakes that I was desperate to bring it back down to actions and basics. So when it came my turn to speak, in the last session, on the topic of “Free and fair elections and an informed and pluralistic democratic debate”. This is (roughly) what I said:
I want to start from something that Tanit Koch said, “We shouldn’t take human nature out of the equation”. I’d go even further. When we’re thinking about these huge issues such as disinformation, big platforms and big data, we should start from human nature and the human condition.
People are generally stressed out and time poor, I know I am. They don’t have time to read and process information in a structured way, and how we think about information and democracy has to take account of that fact. People are not “dessiccated calculating machines”. They are warm, illogical, emotional beings, and making democracy work better isn’t just a question of putting better information in and getting better information out.
The three practical things that I want to suggest are:
Show a story that is rooted in citizen voice. The age of unquestioned institutional trust is gone. The age of quiet acquiescence is going. People are not going to have trust in political information or narratives that they don’t have a chance to shape, and that don’t speak to their emotions and ambitions. That doesn’t mean oversimplifying, and it doesn’t mean avoiding the trade-offs, and it doesn’t mean referendums on every topic. It means showing your work from the start and involving people in shaping the choices that you make, demonstrating transparency and making the trade-offs clear, from before the policy is decided, to after the law is implemented.
First Vice President Timmermans said in the opening session – we have to distinguish myths from facts. As social media platforms are beginning to fragment, and the rise of deep fake makes information less and less reliable, that is going to become harder and harder.
Trust is going to be the most important commodity. This should be good news for institutions with strong brands and reputations but they can’t just rely on it. They have to show that they are trustworthy. It means taking on ideas like Marietje Schaake’s for information watermarks on government publications. That can work for some content.
At local and citizen level it will mean creating participation and engagement methods that can be trusted both by governments and by citizens – peer to peer as well as up and down.
When we’re doing this work, we have to mindfully build a democracy that looks like the internet, not like Facebook. We’re at a moment when democratic initiatives have to move from standalone projects that start and stop into systemic transformations that start and continue. We need to ensure that as new approaches to democracy are built into governing systems, they learn and support each other, and that local, national and European scale initiatives can connect up. That’s a task for European institutions, but also for local and national civil society.”
It was an interesting session to be part of – my favourite story was the Dutch organisation DROG who run the “Bad News Game” which trains young people to create viral fake news stories so they can recognise the markers of them later on. Great idea!
Thanks to DG Justice for inviting us.