Digital democracy? Yes please!

Last week I attended the annual Digital Leaders lecture in London and the topic for this year was Digital Democracy.

Chloe Smith, a UK member of the parliament, hosted the event and did an excellent job as emcee.

Helen Milner from the Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit social enterprise that makes good things happen through digital technology, kicked off the evening by talking about what digital democracy means. She said:

‘Digital technology is just a tool and it exists because people use it.’

Did you know that there are still about 10 million people in the UK who can’t use the internet and have no clue about how to connect online? This number is probably similar in other parts of the Western world. It is a big problem and a lot of education is needed to give more people access to the web.

One thing about politics that I’ve been pondering is that I have no idea what the politicians in my community are doing. I’m sure they are working very hard, but I don’t know at what. Do you, for instance, know what the councillors in your community are going to discuss today and the rest of the week? If not, why not? If you live in a country that functions based on democratic principles you should know what they are going to discuss.

One idea that was shared by a politician at the lecture was:

‘Why don’t we have a Facebook group that is there for the weekly topics that parliament will discuss? Politicians can choose to take part or to just read the comments and ideas before they go into parliament.’

This is an excellent idea that would close the gap between people and political decision-makers.

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We live in a world of too much information, and the current digital tools being used are not working when it comes to communication. Who doesn’t get too many emails? Members of parliament and other government officials are swamped by all the communication they receive. We must remember that politicians are people and there is a limit to how much communication they can handle.

How to make sense of all the information on the web is a huge problem for everyone. Where I hang out this is often referred to as the Big Data Challenge and it includes all the information that’s stored digitally, such as numbers and other data. How can politicians use big data and make sense of it?

I asked a question at the end of the lecture. I always do my best to ask questions that are short and relevant and make the panellists look good. I asked:

‘Who is your role-model in digital engagement? Who does it really well? It can be a person or an organisation anywhere in the world.’

One of the people that were mentioned was MP Robert Halfon, and his Twitter account.

An organisation that was mentioned was the Net Party in Argentina and the online platform DemocracyOS. DemocracyOS is an open-source platform for voting and political debate that political parties and governments can download, install and repurpose much like WordPress blogging software. Check out their platform DemocracyOS and watch founder Pia Mancini’s TED talk here.

‘Technology has the power to change lives – but it can be most effective when it’s put to use in communities, inspiring people to come together and bring about change.’ Lord Knight of Weymouth, Chairman, Tinder Foundation.

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If we ever will reach digital democracy we must get more people and politicians to use the digital tool smarter and better.

And leaders must always explore how technology can help them to better understand society.

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Sofie Sandell by the river in London

Photographer Sandra Donskyte