The Future of Democracy is in Good Hands
We are the CivicTech4Democracy team of Supporting Democracy, an EIDHR technical assistance project based in Brussels, and we’ve created this Medium page to share our thoughts about the emerging international civic technology scene.
Eons ago, in 1996, John Perry Barlow penned one of the oddest documents about the Internet… in Davos. The “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace” was a passionate libertarian defence of the radical freedom of the network. In hindsight, Barlow’s visions and nightmares are spot on.
They made room, however, for collaborative and decentralised ways to approach problems. Everyday, in all corners of the World Wide Web, students, journalists, hacktivists, and makers are busy questioning and rethinking democratic processes to ensure equal representation for all and empower the voiceless. This doesn’t mean that Big Tech and Big Government are not, as predicted by Barlow, still trying to rein in the people’s need for change. They are indeed.
However, a new generation of volunteers has been pragmatically defending his vision and advocating systemic ways to improve democracy and the quality of decision making. They act on a non-profit foundation with the help of venture-capitalists, or an informal network of volunteers, in the street, a university lab or an accelerator.
Whatever their means, they demonstrate not only their willingness to change the world, but also a determination to make things actually happen by means of software, like-mindedness or friendship. What casts the emerging field of Civic Technology away from past experiments in political engagement is the fact that, because it is powered by technology, it is primarily object-driven.
It uses data, design-thinking and custom-designed softwares to serve the need for systemic change. What is now known as civic technology is thus not only quantitatively different, because civic technologists use machines that crunch numbers, but also qualitatively: civic technologists work in a different, essentially pragmatic, dimension because they have a different mindset.
They want to make it work, because that’s what software allows, that’s the plasticity of technology and the joy of DIY. It’s a never ending experiment in togetherness and connectivity that goes deep to the roots of democracy. Civic technology is a new problem-solving method to address the shortcomings of our democratic experience, on all levels of the system.
Stemming from the grassroots or flowing from the top, it is democratic innovation at its best. It shows us everyday, in endless variations, that if you’re not evil, if you think different, or if you really want to make the world more open and connected… somehow, it works! 😉
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CivicTech4Democracy is a competition for all initiatives that have successfully used digital tools to advance democracy in non-OECD countries. Want to participate and get a chance to pitch your existing initiative in front of international donors in Brussels? Apply here.