Nesta: Digital democracy needs good planning, high-level buy-in and honesty

Written by Rebecca Hill on 23 February 2017 in News
News

Countries that want to use digital tools to increase public engagement with the democratic process must gain cross-party support for the intervention and be honest about what it will and will not do, a report has said.

Technology offers policymakers new ways to engage with the public, but projects need good planning and support - Photo credit: Pixabay

Innovation agency Nesta’s report Digital Democracy: The tools transforming political engagement, launched today in London, looks at the ways policymakers around the world are using innovative technologies to increase citizen involvement in politics.

The report said that democratic governance is one area that “seems to have remained impervious” to the benefits to digital technologies due to a failure to change.

However it added that, with the rise of populist parties and an increasing use of social media to mobilise political support, there is growing interest in digital democracy.

Examples of projects that are leading the way analysed in the report include Paris’ platform where people can share ideas about where to spend the city’s budget, and the vTaiwan project that aims to facilitate constructive conversation between different groups.

In addition to best practice case studies, the report’s authors also set out what they see as the fundamental things policymakers should consider before embarking on a digital democracy project.

These include making sure there is a purpose behind the engagement, so people feel there is value in their contribution, and that it’s clear how their input will be used by government.


Related content

How can government raise its tech game? The digital tools transforming democracy for today and tomorrow
Doteveryone calls for politicians to have technology mentors
Future parliament: How a change of scenery could encourage innovation


Projects should also remember that some people are not able to access digital tools and consider other ways of engaging them in the project, which should be part of effective planning.

Nesta also warned that trying to engender change through digital democracy will not be “a quick or cheap fix”. For instance, the report, said, they will require training for staff and citizens, as well as investment in technology.

Finally, the report said it was crucial that initiatives are supported by decision-makers or, ideally, have cross-party support.

This idea was picked up on by Nick Martin, chief executive of the Green Party, at the panel debate held to launch the report, who said that if digital democracy initiatives were to succeed political leaders would need to be ready to “give up significant control”.

This, he said, would require a culture change among political leaders, and an understanding that digital tools should be used for more than trying to win elections or mobilising support.

Meanwhile, Helen Milner, chief executive of the Good Things Foundation, said that - although good examples - many of the projects set out in the report would end up focusing on people who were already both politically and digitally engaged.

“Digital isn’t the silver bullet, it’s part of the solution. Our problem is political engagement,” she said, adding that groups should go out of their way to speak to people who would otherwise not engage with politics or the projects. 

Journalist and broadcaster Sue Cameron made a similar argument, saying that tech could not be a substitute for “cleaning up our existing institutions” and finding leaders that would be honest about the complexities of policymaking.

She added: “The vast majority of people don’t want do-it-yourself democracy, they’re busy. They don’t want to spend weekends getting to grips with finer points of European trade policy.”

Share this page

Tags

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

Policy on public sector use of US cloud under review as uncertainty grows over post-Brexit data transfers
21 September 2020

GDS and NHS Digital asked to review policies after collapse of Privacy Shield agreement and ongoing lack of data adequacy status with EU

DCMS taps consultancy to help build transformation plan
21 September 2020

Digital department is expecting ‘increased responsibilities’ as government works on coronavirus recovery

Doctors’ union to review use of video consultations
17 September 2020

BMA board will examine how best to use technology going forward and calls for government to take heed of its findings

Related Sponsored Articles

Intelligent Spend Management in the Public Sector
24 September 2020

SAP Concur says it's time for the public sector to embrace more efficient invoice management technology

IT Resilience: The Key to a Successful Digital Transformation
22 September 2020

Steve Blow, tech evangelist at Zerto, explains why digital transformation efforts could be futile if local authorities don’t address and improve their IT resilience 

Digital inclusion is vital during the COVID-19 accelerated channel shift
22 September 2020

Accessibility requirements aren’t restrictions that need to be overcome - they’re guidelines to improve online experiences for everyone, says Jadu VP Richard Friend