Crises often lead to reflection: should we be doing things differently? What changes can improve our democracies?

The ongoing pandemic has shaken things up and forced democracies worldwide to function differently. Although some countries are seeing a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases and, consequently, are loosening up restrictions, others are still struggling to fight the virus. Alongside ongoing protest, the question remains: how will we move on from these challenges as a community? How can we use deliberation and technology to ensure democracy represents everyone?

That’s why share these reads with insights, examples or experiments, outlining how democracy could develop. We curate a selection of interesting articles, reports, and opinion pieces from the fields of Civic Tech, GovTech, and digital democracy every month. Missed the last one? Read it here.

1. “Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave” by the OECD

This brand-new OECD report analyses how representative deliberative processes (like Citizens’ Assemblies) are used for public decision-making. Based on 289 cases the report identifies twelve models of deliberative processes, evaluated what a ‘successful’ process entails, developed good practice principles, and explored three routes to institutionalising citizen deliberation.

The report shows that communities benefit from deliberation. Well-executed deliberative processes prove to be an effective way of overcoming polarisation and finding consensus on complex policy dilemmas.

2. “A Council of Citizens Should Regulate Algorithms” by Wired

That deliberation can solve complex policy issues, seems to a widely supported opinion nowadays. This article highlights the potential of deliberation to address the thorny topic of algorithms. Citizens should have a say in this debate to ensure all the societal trade-offs become part of the equation, rather than resolving it with merely technocratic solutions.

The article makes a case of how citizens’ councils date back to ancient Athens and provide an opportunity to enhance democratic accountability, citizen participation and learning within our communities.

3. “Combining crowds and machines: Experiments in collective intelligence design 1.0” by Nesta

How can artificial intelligence (AI) harness collective intelligence in new ways? Nesta funded 12 experiments tackling this question, and we’re proud CitizenLab led one of them! In our experiment, we used natural language understanding (NLU) to analyse unstructured input on our platforms and managed to optimise the flow of processing high volumes of citizen ideas. We found that the human aspect in the process truly matters: by giving admins better tools to process the input, the rate of ideas that received feedback increased and the delay for official responses was decreased.

All 12 experiments analyse different roles of and improvements by AI for our (digital) democracy. A must-read for anyone curious for developments and research in Civic Tech.

4. “The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed why we urgently need to re-imagine democracy” by Democratic Audit

The pandemic is just one of many crises that are challenging our institutions. We should re-imagine democratic institutions to be more inclusive, participatory and deliberative by providing new spaces for citizens to revisit the meaning of democracy itself.

This article is a call to action for deep transformation in our democratic system, by outlining that social institutions are not sufficiently addressing global challenges. The solution? New democratic practises that empower citizens to influence policy.

5. “Designing an online public deliberation” by the Democratic Society and New Democracy

Deliberation is clearly the way to go. But, in the light of COVID-19 crisis, the question is: can we also facilitate these processes online? This report outlines the challenges of online deliberation, in particular, one being the importance of building relationships, and shares how the same quality can be guaranteed. Citizens should work together around a shared problem, hear each other’s views and find common ground around solutions.

The report shares practical guidelines for councils looking to implement online deliberation. We also discussed this topic with the Democratic Society in our latest webinar on online deliberation.

6. “Democracy isn’t working: five ideas that are already helping to fix the problem” by The Correspondent

What are democratic innovations that bring the power back to the people? This article dives into five successful examples of involving citizens can be involved in political decision-making: (1) Participatory budgets, (2) citizens’ initiative reviews, (3) representative population samples (such as citizens’ assemblies), (4) crowdsourced democracy and (5) non-state efforts.

This read provides a good overview of 5 different practices that are already happening today, have proven their success and hereby offer an opportunity to continue improving our democracies if they are implemented on a larger scale.

More of our Civic Tech reads: