Take Back Control: From Representation to Participation

The Fourth Group
Jun 14, 2018 · 7 min read

Contributed by James Sancto, Co-Founder & CEO of We Make Change

From the vote for Brexit to the election of Donald Trump, the rise of the Five Star movement and Lega Nord in Italy, to the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines; the political shocks of our time each have a range of sources that are as complex as the nations in which they occurred. However, there is a common thread that, to varying degrees, connects them all — the desire to ‘take back control’.

This was an explicit statement of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum, and a more implicit foundation of the nationalist and, in some cases, nativist political movements to which we have been witness.

At the core of this idea is a desire that we all hold — to feel that we have agency over our lives. To have a sense that we are able to shape the lives we lead through the decisions we make. There is often a very direct connection between our choices and the results we seek. However, in the realm of politics, we are each bound by the will of the collective, but want to feel that our individual vote matters to the outcome of the result.

At a time when the forces of globalisation and the advances of technology seem to be beyond the control of national governments, supranational institutions and even the minds of their creators, these outcomes have at least partially resulted from concerns that this control is being lost.

Understandable Concerns

The reaction we have seen, as borne out by the political shocks we have witnessed, is therefore, in many ways, understandable. They are the result of concerns founded on the realities that people see in their lives. Whether it be growing levels of inequality, a reduction in the provision of public services, or the changing composition of communities; each have been blamed on forces that have seemed beyond the ability, or willingness, of governments to control.

These forces include everything from immigration to the rise of automation and the international mobility of capital. As technology has continued to advance, driving the perennial concern about the quality and quantity of work available, and globalisation makes the flow of capital and people across borders increasingly seamless, many people have seen the idea of taking back control as a means to suppress these forces.

It has been the political movements that have most effectively channelledchanneled the previously latent discontent in those communities most affected by these fundamental forces, which have succeeded. The reaction we have seen has therefore been to support parties and people who offer the prospect of supplanting these global forces with the will of national institutions.

Whatever your political persuasion, the understandable reaction of the ‘victors’ of these political battles is to see the job as done. But to take such a view is to miss the opportunity that the forces of our time present to truly fulfil the sense of the control on which those movements were built, in the illusory belief that such forces can be suppressed.

For those on the opposing side, there seems to be a determination to return to the politics of the past, whose inability to effectively navigate the disruptions of the present have discredited their political projects in the minds of the majority. This is to misunderstand some of the key reasons for the outcome of these votes and cast aside the notion that they are rooted in understandable concerns.

To seek a reconciliation between these two sides — to understand that many feel they are losing a degree of control over their lives, while seeing the opportunities that the forces of today present — is to provide the possibility of making the most of our political moment in time.

From Representation

The technology that we have available to us today can enable citizens to have more control over the mechanisms that characterise representative democratic processes. These include everything from voting on individual issues through forms of direct democracy to the live streaming of parliamentary meetings and online forums to discuss, propose and amend legislation.

Each of these forms have various levels of merit. However, at their core is the belief that by making the democracy more transparent and accessible, the outcomes of the political process will be more representative of the views of the constituents concerned.

But if citizens are to be able to truly take back control, in addition to exploring these possibilities, we must seek to harness the power of the technology that we have available today to not only make democracy more representative, but to make society as a whole more participatory.

To Participation

Let me explain this by giving you an example.

In a small rural village near where I grew up, members of the local community were looking to rebuild their village hall. They went through the usual process of requesting funds from the local council to do so. However, due to financial constraints, the council rejected their application. As a result, the hall would be left as it was — run down and unusable — leaving many in the community feeling helpless to make the change they want to see.

Yet, within that community there are likely people who have money that they may wish to contribute to the project, others who may have skills to volunteer, and local companies who may have the resources to donate.

By harnessing the power of crowdfunding to get the money needed, crowdsourcing to get the skills required, and social media to spread this message across a community; what was once a destiny determined by a political decision, could now become a fate for a community to decide for themselves.

There have been examples of community pubs, local street (or beach!) clean ups and even entire towns organised using elements of these techniques. By providing the possibility for local communities to coordinate the skills and resources they have, technology can provide the platform for communities to work collectively to make the change they want to see.

From Local to Global

At a time when we are more connected than ever and the issues the world faces are more global than ever, technology provides the opportunity to build communities not just based on the geographic locations people occupy, but around the common causes people care about.

Whether it is climate change, poverty or endangered species, it is by connecting people from across the world who care about the same causes, that we can most effectively mobilise the skills and resources needed to address the challenges the world faces today, and take back control of our destiny.

This is not to say we should seek to completely bypass governments, but we should look to work with them where the unique capabilities they hold can be most effective in solving such challenges. Because it is by harnessing the skills of people, and the capabilities and resources of government that we can most effectively address problems of a local, national and global scale.

In doing so, we can enable people to truly take back control over elements of their lives that currently seem beyond their ability to influence.

Our Moment in Time

At a time when our politics makes us seem more divided than ever, people may even come to realise that although they may have different political persuasions, religious beliefs, or national identities, they share a common cause.

This could not only strengthen communities, but, in the process, make our politics less divisive, more representative and more effective.

When the challenges the world faces are so great and the technology we have is so advanced, it is by harnessing its power to address these problems that can enable us to fulfil the promise of our time.

Because if we — the people — do not take back control, someone else will.

James Sancto is the Co-Founder & CEO of We Make Change. He started the not-for-profit organisation with the belief that we can only truly address the world’s problems when anyone, anywhere can give what they can to help solve them. He has advised a range of not-for-profit organisations on how to use innovation to grow their social impact through Our Future, a strategy consultancy he founded.

We Make Change gives you the power to change the world. The platform enables anyone, anywhere to use their skills to make the change they want to see. We Make Change connects people who care about the same causes and enables them to form online communities that develop projects to make change happen.

This is The Fourth Group’s platform for open debate and conversations on the interaction between technology and politics — Follow The Fourth Group’s actions by subscribing to our newsletter.


Powerful ideas for a new politics in the digital age | @thefourthgroup's media platform: http://thefourthgroup.org/ | Ass. Editor Sofia Galanek | foreword@fourth.group

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Powerful ideas for a new politics in the digital age | @thefourthgroup's media platform: http://thefourthgroup.org/ | Ass. Editor Sofia Galanek | foreword@fourth.group