Crowd Democracy: how civic innovation can transform the decision making system.

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I recently came across an essay published by Social Space Issue, the flagship publication of Lien Center for Social Innovation ( Written by Julie Simon and Anna Davies both with the Young Foundation, a social innovation think tank, the piece offers evidence and new under standings based on EU funded research ( ) on links between social innovation and civic engagement.

The essay is mainly focused on how to harness the collective insights of people to solve common problems and create new solutions through crowd sourcing and co-designing, therefore contributing greatly in making the society a better place to live and prosper.

Despite the sexy and appealing terminologies, crowd sourcing and co-designing are not entirely new concepts but no doubts they offers a stronger, out of the box framework to enhance the level of participation and active involvement of beneficiaries and recipients: rather than been passive bystanders waiting others to solve their problems, individuals can be part of the solution.

But limiting the discussions around the power of civic engagement only to social domains with outright developmental goals would be probably a mistake.

Here we have the potential to re-define the power’s relationships between individuals and the way we are governed, influencing the unfolding dynamics that create and sustain local “demos” by strengthening citizens’ bonds with the state.

In short by looking at civic engagement and social innovation in the political and decision making sphere, different and new forms of citizenships could emerge by changing the patterns at the foundations of the existing social contract between the people and state.

Hardly any topic can be hotter. Every day we are witnessing the consequences and implications of people’s power from the Middle East to Ukraine and Thailand plus all the forms of civic protests going on in India, Europe and North America.

By reading any international news pages, it seems clear that the real foundations of the liberal democratic framework are at risks.

Empowered by a multitude of social medias and bolstered by streets sit ins and manifestations, whose impact is echoed by internet and other news platforms, protestors all over the world are demanding profound changes to the way politics is run.

While it is becoming obvious that casting a vote to elect formal representatives is not enough anymore, how to deal with these increasingly louder protesting voices? How to ensure the legitimacy of democratically elected institutions will not be swamped by furious and uncontrolled voices of dissent? How to positively engage them and avoid that a protest turns into a revolt?

Can the democratic framework be changed in better in order to incorporate and legitimize different forms of people’s power? Look at the current situation in Thailand where the protestors are not simply asking for the government to step down but they demand its removal with the nomination or appointment of people’s councils.

Are we back to the old way of direct democracy exercised by the city states in old Greece?

I am not entirely sure about it though politically there are a couple of tools that can be enhanced to offer new leverage to the people: referendum on hand end and the so right to recall on the other, offer practical ways to empower citizens.

Referendums can be called to ask citizenry to express their opinions in particularly divisive and often controversial issues. They are probably the best expression of democratic practice, allowing voters to take a stand by themselves instead of leaving the issue to their democratically elected representatives.

Right to recall is more controversial as it allows the citizens to confirm or vote down legitimately elected representatives. I feel that this right to “strike down” should be envisioned only and exclusively for the rarest of cases.

Are these forms of expressions so effective in the same way they claim to be so inclusive? Surely if abused and practices in circumstances with weak rule of law, they risk bringing the decision making process to a standstill, seeding more chaos and instability.

To me the real solution goes back to real, grassroots civic engagement, with crowd sourcing and co-designing not only of new developmental goals but also with new innovative forms to re-engineer and organize the political decision making.

Decision making, especially at local level, should be made as comprehensible as possible as well as easier and simplified so that citizens not only will more likely get involved with but their role will be enhanced.

People should be motivated and encouraged to take an active role in the local “demos”. As part of this new co-designing, the role of political parties should be reassessed and revaluated. Often described as beacon of democracy, political parties can be also an obstacle to this new civic renaissance.

On a similar line, are elections, especially local ones, a prerequisite to foster new forms of political participation? Not necessarily but surely they would do no harm to enhance a new wave of civic engagement especially if individuals are encouraged to participated as independent candidates.

There are many ways to revamp local democracies: City halls meetings, public gatherings, participatory budget are all small ingredients to redesign and revamp a local democracy agenda. Mobile technologies can also enhance the democratic experience.

But political engagement is not enough to improve our living standards and here we go back to the thesis sustained in the essay that civic engagement plays an essential role to improve the way development is conceived and implemented, therefore playing a central role to foster social innovation for positive changes.

It is not only about social but also about citizenry led democratic innovation. The two are together and inseparable: they will be key constituents of a new form of governance shaping the way we live, the way we are governed and most importantly how actively we will govern and take a stand. Call it crowd democracy.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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