Civictech: 3 ways technology is improving democracy

Insights

22 December, 2017

OneRagteam

Civictech, Democracies, Disruption, Innovation, Politics, technology

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The entrepreneurship world is renowned for its bold motivation to shape the future, and we are the first to believe in its capacity to do so. But while looking ahead, technology must also be channelled to deal with the issues at hand today. Solving the current problems and flaws of our (Western) democracies has been civictech’s mission since it came to prominence in 2015. This strong impulse from within the tech world springs from the perception that many citizens are increasingly disillusioned by the democratic system. The latter is marked by a lack of transparency, growing inequalities and the sentiment that a small elite has a firm grip over most of the power.

This resentment has recently been made clear in the dramatic rise of nationalism, with events such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the popularity of extreme right-wing politicians throughout Europe. Now more than ever is the time to harness our civic capabilities and hold our democracies to account; for them to prove that they’re capable of walking the walk and actually functioning according to the values they claim to defend. Here are three ways the tech world is getting involved with civil society to help achieve this.

1. Civictech is connecting citizens and governments for a more representative system

One of the most pressing challenges surrounding democracy is fortifying citizens’ overall faith in the system. In a world where global voter turnout in legislative elections has dropped by almost 20% since 1990, we must question why voters feel like leaders will not listen to their demands.

Many entrepreneurs are acknowledging this problem and coming up with solutions. Make.org, the start-up that completed €2 million last November in which OneRagtime took part, is a salient example of how tech is empowering normal people to contribute to the laws and decisions that will govern over them. Founded by Axel Dauchez, the organization leverages the power of its online platform to make democracy more participatory. Anyone can offer ideas on various issues –ranging from inclusivity to nutrition– that will then be discussed and debated on, and actions of awareness as well as communication with officials will be set up as a result. Their ‘Grand Cause’ is currently being launched to fight violence perpetrated against women. Stéphanie Hospital, OneRagtime’s co-founder, is one of the many entrepreneurs, journalists and actors endorsing the cause and encouraging citizens to offer solutions. You can find out more about Make.org’s campaign here.

In a similar vein, the start-up Fluicity has set up a platform enabling direct communication between mayors and other local officials and citizens. This project’s main focus is helping people understand that their opinion does count. The strong software behind the mobile-app allows citizens to engage directly with elected officials, and the gathering of big data is a way for the latter have a better understanding of communities’ needs.

2. Civictech is rebuilding trust in the media and facilitating access to quality information

The press has a responsibility to inform citizens and ensure a diversity of opinions are expressed and heard. But recently, the capability and legitimacy of the fourth pillar of democracy has been questioned. The proliferation of fake news can indeed be seen as a major threat to democracy.

As a response, many have engaged in the fight for truth, including entrepreneurs. Initiatives like the 2017 Democracy Award supports businesses and organizations that come up with solutions to counter misinformation. Projects such as this one and a growing interest from investors are injecting funds into the sector, fostering numerous innovations that leverage the power of technology to improve the quality of information. As a result, citizens are more involved and knowledgeable, and leaders are held accountable for what they say and do.
On the European scene, the French start-up Voxe.org has created a bot that curates and delivers the most important national and global news of the week in a short message brought to your smartphone every Saturday morning. Watch out, because of Voxe.org, not finding the time to be informed is no longer a valid excuse!

3. Civictech is maximising efficiency in the implementation of governmental projects

Making citizens voices heard is the first, crucial step to nurturing a healthy and functioning democracy. But efforts mustn’t stop there. Real actions must ensue from these discussions, just like Make.org is doing, as their causes start with online debates and end in real legislative alterations. Other start-ups have focused on this operational aspect of democracy, too. Although belonging to the sector of civictech, the businesses that work specifically with governments and elected officials are known as govtechs. This subsector is burgeoning, particularly in the United States where certain funding platforms (such as http://govtechfund.com) dedicate all their activity to govtech financing.

But govtech’s success isn’t confined to North America. As an example, the platform-based system CityMart, founded simultaneously in New York and Barcelona in 2011, is now used by over 100 cities worldwide. By setting up problem-solving methods, CityMart helps staff at a local-level provide better public services in a cost and time efficient manner.

Envisioning the democracy of the future…

Just like tech has infiltrated and transformed almost every industry you could think of, the political realm is not immune to progress on that score either. Where the democratic system is found lacking, technical innovation and bold entrepreneurs like Axel Dauchez are intervening, with the primary objective of making politics more inclusive and accessible. Civil society is a complex and often bureaucratic entity, and tech is giving it the revamping it needs to stay in touch with our fast-changing reality. For entrepreneurs, investors and citizens alike, this successful match between tech and politics, coupled with the growing popularity of impact investing, can only be good news for the future.

We’re proud to be supporting Make.org in their mission to engage citizens, businesses, communities, governments and institutions in collaborative transformative actions. Find out more about them at https://make.org.

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Béatrice Malleret