Every month, we curate a list of interesting articles, reports and opinion pieces from the realm of Civic Tech, GovTech, and digital democracy. And this month is no different!

In this edition, we’re exploring new democratic models, opportunities to innovate and renew democracy, and the difference between truth and desire, among other things. So grab a cup of comfort, get cosy, and discover some of February’s finest reads!

1. “Politics without politicians“, The New Yorker

In this article, political scientist Hélène Landemore explores alternatives for today’s representative democracy, which she considers to fall short in many ways. She envisions a new model, a so-called “open democracy”, in which citizens are selected to serve in legislation much like they’d be chosen for jury duty. It’s about “putting randomly selected citizens into political power” – a way to shift power “from the few to the many”.

“The beauty of open democracy is that it has a firm understanding not just of the complexity of democratic principles but of how to make those principles cohere in a way that meets people’s deepest intuitions.” And while many would be quick to dismiss this model, citing arguments of training, qualifications or continuity, Landemore makes a solid case that, “if government by the people is a goal, the people ought to do the governing“.

A must-read for democracy devotees, citizens with an itch to participate more, and everyone’s who’s intrigued by an innovative idea.

2. “Is the UK Getting Innovation Right?“, Nesta

These last few years, the political climate in the UK has been rather turbulent. As the latest election seems to have brought a sense of new-found stability, the country is shifting its focus to the domestic issues that it has neglected for a long time. Topics such as health, a stronger UK economy, and safety are bound to return to the top of the priority list.

But what do the British people want? Which problems do they identify, and which solutions do they deem fitting? In this report, Nesta has identified a few recommendations for the UK government in rethinking its innovation agenda. Spoiler alert? Involving citizens in meaningful debate through participation is one of the main things on the list.

A must-read for UK citizens and civil servants.

3. “You Can Vote. But You Can’t Choose What Is True“, The New York Times

Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, philosopher, and author of ‘Sapiens’, the best-selling deep dive into the history and nature of humankind. In this opinion piece, he explores, among some other interesting ideas, the fundamental difference between truth and desire in the political sphere.

“Elections are not a method for finding the truth,” Harari states. “They are a method for reaching peaceful compromise between the conflicting desires of different people.” When this dichotomy is applied to pressing and often polarising dilemmas, such as Brexit, Harari deems it important to keep in mind that this vote was a matter of desire, and not of truth. This means that everyone’s vote is (and should be) equal.

That being said, the truth should also be protected, and according to Harari, the government is not the right societal body to do so. “The government is already the most powerful institution in society, and it often has the greatest interest in distorting or hiding inconvenient truths.”

In this lengthy thought piece, Harari makes a few very interesting points about the nature of our electoral democracy. A must-read for those who like to think outside the (ballot) box.

4. “Renewing democracy in an age of complexity and disillusionment“, Participo

That democracy is facing a crisis is not new. Deep polarisation has lead to the surge of populist groups, citizens have little faith in their governments, and identity and cultural anxieties haven taken flight.
“The project that was launched over three centuries ago, of trusting elite individuals to know, report and judge things on our behalf, may not be viable in the long term, at least not in its existing form,” quotes this article.

But how do we cope with these challenges? How can we move forward with our democratic system? Well, the rise of new tech brought along new possibilities to empower citizens and build “a more open, equitable and participatory world.” In this article, Claudia Chwalisz from the OECD addresses some of democracy’s main challenges and explores “the paradigm changes already underway towards a more inclusive governance.”

A must-read for everyone who believes that the glass is half full.

5. “Democracy tech will be the next hot investment space“, Wired

A few years ago, people had barely heard of GovTech or Civic Tech. Nowadays, they’ve become buzzwords, albeit within a specific political niche. But according to this article by Robyn Scott, Co-founder, and CEO of Apolitical, the space of democracy tech will continue to grow, as it’ll attract the attention and capital of investors in 2020.

It’s about delivering democracy, this article states, citing online voting, candidate fundraising and citizen engagement as just a few of the many examples. And it’s just as much about delivering on democracy – for example, “through efficient government, accessible citizen services, and pragmatic regulations.”

A must-read for techies, civil servants, or investors looking for opportunities.

6. “A citizens’ assembly on climate is pointless if the government won’t listen“, The Guardian

In this opinion piece, writer Stephen Buranyi explores a pressing question when it comes to citizens’ assemblies: what can they truly accomplish if the government isn’t on the same page?

Last June, the UK launched a citizens’ assembly to tackle the challenges that come with climate change. But with a government in place that has no real plan to address this enormous issue, Buranyi sees little hope for this assembly to make a real change. “The climate assembly will likely confirm (…) that people are now ready to move further and faster on climate action than the minimal effort shown by the government”. And if the assembly’s advice isn’t taken into account, what value does it truly have as a democratic instrument?

A must-read for governments looking to launch a citizens’ assembly, engaged citizens, and all other earthlings.

More of our Civic Tech reads: