I recently wrote a long post about new institutions to support democracy, but I thought a three-minute version might be handy…
Update: This post is 4,000 words long. A very quick summary is available here.
This time four years ago, Sym Roe and I found ourselves working from the converted cellars of Somerset House, alongside the Thames at Waterloo Bridge. Nice spot. We’d joined the Bethnal Green Ventures programme for ‘tech for good’ startups, having decided that Democracy Club — the organisation that Sym had woken from hibernation for the 2015 general election — was worth throwing ourselves at, full-time, in an effort to make something happen.
I’m back in the UK (is that still a thing?) now — but I have two more EuroTrip stops to blog about.
First, Berlin. As you may know, Berlin is excellent. It also has a bit of a reputation for tech startups. And for doing interesting political things with tech.
It seems a long time ago that there was excitement about ‘Liquid Democracy’ — the German Pirate Party software that was going to revolutionise representative democracy. It allowed constant ‘delegative democracy’: you could choose to delegate your vote to someone on a certain topic, but take it away from them again or choose a different delegate at any time. In addition, your delegate could delegate your vote, and so on. Hence the ‘liquid’ bit — power would flow as voters chose and changed their representatives at will. The software made this practically feasible for the first time. There were some excitable blogs about it. But the revolution never came. I wondered what became of it — my trip to Berlin revealed the answer.
And there’s much more happening in Berlin today — in a way that is perhaps more realistic and more understanding of how most people want to engage.
By-elections strike me as ideal occasions with which to experiment to raise turnout or just make elections better.
Here’s my ideal list of what happens next in Witney.
Halfway down the Adenauerallee in Bonn, the city that was home to the West German government from 1949 to 1990, there’s an anonymous modern office building, notable only for some sort of bookshop on the ground floor.
The building is home to a fascinating public body, the kind of which has no equivalent in the UK. It’s called the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. The BpB for short. In English: the Federal Agency for Civic Education. On a rainy Thursday afternoon in July, I met Daniel Kraft, Director of Comms at BpB, who kindly took time out to explain the institution to me.
In this blogpost, I try to capture some of what it is and what it does. I then suggest that we need something similar in the UK, and I’m keen to hear ideas for bringing this about.
The French are precious about French. It’s fair enough. Gotta watch that creeping Anglicisation. Courriel, for example, is the officially designated French translation for email.
So I’d imagined that they wouldn’t go in for ‘civic tech’ so much. But they love it! People instantly knew what I was on about — even folks not in the tech or civic sector. Vive la France.
And there’s a lot of civic tech going on. Paris’ civic tech scene is thriving — and represents only some of what is going on across France. Here’s what I learned, between scoffing baguettes and incredibly good fromage, and pottering around the Canal St Martin.
Démocratie Ouverte creates its own projects, such as Parliament & Citizens, described below, but I think what’s exciting is that they’ve gone meta and positioned themselves as an umbrella membership organisation for every civic tech project happening in France.