Berlin does civic tech. Großartig!

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.  Continue reading Berlin does civic tech. Großartig!

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In Brussels. (PDFs, lobbyists, votes and that pesky democratic deficit.)

Our mini-civic-tech-tour-of-Europe* begins in Brussels, the great beating heart of the bureaucracy.

Of course Brussels is far more than a bureaucratic playground: it’s a genuinely lovely city. It’s easy to skip the European quarter and the Eurocrats — though harder to miss the amazing melange of languages and nationalities that mix in the streets and bars of this cosmopolitan city. Even ignoring the amazing Grand Place, there is beautiful residential architecture scattered throughout the surrounding city. Certain areas reminded me of the oldest parts of Manhattan: narrow brick townhouses, often of varying heights, each in a different style, along long treelined streets ending in quiet gardens. 

Enough travel blogging. What’s happening in civic tech in Brussels? Mainly EU projects, it turns out. I didn’t meet a single Belgian civic technologist; apparently its bigger in the Dutch-speaking cities of Ghent and Antwerp. In this post, I’ll summarise the people and projects I came across — on who’s lobbying, how parliamentarians are voting, how voters are choosing candidates, and how people are engaging outside of elections. I’ll then look at what we might be able to borrow for the UK. Continue reading In Brussels. (PDFs, lobbyists, votes and that pesky democratic deficit.)

How I (probably) failed to register my neighbours to vote…and how I might succeed next time

A door.

Last weekend I posted some leaflets through the letterboxes of all the flats in my 1930s building near Waterloo. I was supposed to be knocking on doors and asking people whether they’d registered to vote. But I’d run out of time – and, feeling it was too late to disturb people, posted the voter registration pack – a letter and form from Join The Vote (a non-partisan, charity-supported, 38 Degrees-led coalition) through the letterboxes instead.

I went back several days later – this time earlier in the evening – and knocked on the relatively few doors into flats which showed signs of life. No answers. Well, one answer – but he was the local activist type, who is often whipping up support for some petition or other. Not surprisingly, of course he’d registered to vote.

And really, it would be a surprise if many of the building residents had failed to vote – this locale is easy-pickings for local party activists, particularly Labour and Lib Dems who are battling it out to define who is more useless, ‘barmy’ or wasteful in regard to running Lambeth Council. We’ve all had a lot of leaflets. A lot. Flats are great for the letterbox/minute ratio. And canvassing too – at least twice in the last few months – and that’s only counting the times I’ve been in.

So was it likely that many people weren’t registered to vote? Did it matter that I failed miserably to allow enough time to do several rounds of door-knocking?

Who knows, but it’s worth looking a little more deeply at the Join the Vote campaign. Continue reading How I (probably) failed to register my neighbours to vote…and how I might succeed next time

“Let them – let them read my frigging email. Because I’m going to belong to the real world.”

Brilliant, hilarious talk from fast-talking Douglas Rushkoff, on what digital media does to us, our perception of time, our institutions, the way we work, and what it does to our democracy.

Interrupted by the NSA/PRISM breaking news story just before going on stage, Rushkoff talks of the ‘perpetual state of interruptive emergency’ that digital media encourages us to live in: ‘present shock’. What appears to be a pessimistic talk – he even complains about Game of Thrones – is turned around as Rushkoff dreams of a culture of activism.

I’m not convinced his position is really consistent – I’m not sure you can complain about the Obama campaign just using digital for fundraising, about nobody having goals anymore, before claiming a bright future of local a peer-to-peer economy and always-on activism: I don’t see how the latter creates longer-term goals either. But it’s still a great watch.

Salim ‘Singularity University’ Ismael’s talk from the same forum is also excellent – some ‘wow’ statistics in here:

Reimagining global democracy: from world parliament to global digital deliberation and participation

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

I recently completed my main research paper for the MA Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

It’s published in full below, but I wanted to provide a quick summary for anyone interested. It features all your favourite digital public participation projects, but tries to set these in the context of global governance, as an answer to the problems of the ‘global democratic deficit.’ Continue reading Reimagining global democracy: from world parliament to global digital deliberation and participation

The next generation MDGs or SDGs – it’s not what, but how

The Millennium Development Goals were supposed to be met by 2015. There have been some successes, some failures. Whether the goals actually caused the improvement in some of the indicators is unknowable, but Claire Melamed and Andy Sumner argue that they certainly changed the debate, and that they changed aid spending and political priorities. 

And the thousands of people assembling at Rio+20 this summer will be discussing the idea of sustainable development goals, with the idea of merging social, economic and environmental goals. At Rio they’ll have to agree on some basic priorities. But post-Rio, agreeing on indicators to measure performance on these goals is not going to be easy.

But in all the talk about what should follow in the second round of MDGs or SDGs, nobody’s grasped that the world has changed since the late 1990s when the first goals were drafted.

First – are goals the most appropriate tool for what we’re trying to achieve? See Melamed and Sumner again for a thoughtful range of questions on this subject.

Second – assuming they are – this time they’re likely to be global goals. They will be universal – applicable not just to poor nations. This time, environmental and social goals must be tackled alongside eradicating poverty. Or goals should be found that satisfy all three elements of sustainable development.

So we all have a stake in the goals, and we all have a responsibility to help meet them. Does it not follow that we all should have a say in them?  

Ergo – let’s crowdsource the next round of development goals.

Charles Kenny, top aid-protagonist at CGD, actually referred to the next round of goals as MDGs 2.0, without going into the 2.0 aspect. Ben Leo, of the ONE campaign, used the same phrase to argue that the poor must decide on the next round of MDGs. 

The debate is underway across twitter and the aid blogosphere. But it has to go beyond the experts, practitioners or academics. Everyone should be invited to think about the “future we want” and have the opportunity to contribute.

So, UN, this is your task. Your website frontpage says ‘it’s your UN’. The first line of the Charter says ‘we the peoples’. Let’s live this – get the world together online to start talking about what the next round of goals should be. Build a platform that allows for drafting, commenting, voting. 

This is an amazing opportunity for public participation and engagement with the goals. The greater the participation, the greater the buy-in from the global public, the greater the chance we’ll meet the goals next time. 

The UN could combine digital crowdsourcing with offline participation opportunities to host the world’s greatest participative agenda-setting event. This would help the UN position itself as the go-to platform for global participative governance. 

We’ve got 3 years to go.

(Start by following #SDGs and #MDGs on twitter)

Flickr credit: MT_bulli