Democracy Disrupted

Paper folding experiments by Josef Albers and Students, Black Mountain College, New Haven, 1946

You are invited — to a funeral!

It’s time we move on from our current democracy. From snail paced bureaucracy and coded jargon to the endless line around your local public library on election day (if you make it!) — exercises in citizentry feel like time machines that catapult us back to the past. And in fact we are — we are dancing with democratic systems that are hundreds of years old. Or as Pia Mancini says,

1. Transparency powered by blockchain

Whether it be misuse of public funds, housing projects going to shambles or electoral fraud, politics has always been vulnerable to corruption (especially in less stable countries). Blockchain platforms, made up of incorruptible ledgers that bypass censorship, may be part of the solution that help pull the veil off the black box. We are already seeing signs of Crypto Voting. For example, the city of Denver has piloted Voatz, a smartphone voting mobile application, for military and overseas voters during their 2019 Municipal Election cycle. In other parts of the world, Agora, a startup building secure and transparent digital voting, acted as an international observor, providing a blockchain-powered independent count on ballots for 2018 presidential election in Sierra Leone.

2. Engagement powered by civc tech communities

Today we are seeing a new kind of volunteer rise up. Tech savvy citizens are rallying behind their laptops and writing lines of code as their way of supporting causes they care about. Coders For Sanders collective helped to fuel the Sander’s 2016 campaign with a suite of apps to help volunteers work better on the ground. On the other side of the world, Taiwan’s g0v movement are building open source digital tools to improve civic participation in public affairs, whilst making government data more transparent.

3. Accessibility powered by mobile access

Not everyone has the money to travel to voting polls, time to wait in line to vote on election day, not to mention access to information to make informed decisions when voting on policies that might affect them. New political parties are springing up throughout the world breaking through the jargon and reaching citizens in a way that makes sense — straight at their mobile phone. We are seeing the first steps to redesign civic participation in a way that is aligned with current lifestyles and norms. In Australia, Mi Vote is an information platform that presents users with a variety of perspectives on all major issues up for debate in Australian Parliament to enable voters to make informed and well-rounded decisions of where their country is going.

4. Decentralisation powered by liquid democracy

The rise of peer-to-peer networks makes us question the need for political intermediaries and representatives at all. Liquid democracy is gaining traction as an iteration on direct democracy in the internet age, with new parties like Partido del Red in Argentina springing up alongside growing movements like the open source platform Democracy.earth. In liquid democracy, citizens can vote for every piece of legislation, and also have the option to pass their vote onto proxies whenever they do not use it themselves. This means that power is no longer concentrated in political parties with leaders restrained to party dogmos. The leaders of tomorrow are rather a close colleague, respected friend or community leader.

Conclusion

We are witnessing signals pointing to a democracy that could very well exist in its purest form, with transparency, engagement, accessibility and decentralisation being enabled by technology in ways we have never seen before … and still can not anticipate.These signals are showing us that politics is no longer existing outside the technological transformation that is happening across every industry, and that disruption appears to be well underway.

Paper folding experiments by Josef Albers and Students, Black Mountain College, New Haven, 1946

Questions to spark ‘future of democracy’ thinking:

  • What is democracy in a world where the internet and communication technologies have necessitated borderless interactions and deemed the nation state increasingly … irrelevant? On that note, with a future where we might expect mass displacement of people’s due to climate change, what does democracy look like for refugees in stateless states? (ie. The New World Summit)
  • There are over 6,000 formally unrecognised nations around the world, mostly consisting of indigenous communities (Lo-Tek by Julia Watson 2019). What is the role of politics if micro-communities are controlling decision making rather than a centralised power?
  • In a future where civic participation is designed around the citizen (ie. coming to you, respecting time), would you be OK for your civic app to curate your voting content? For example, being required to vote on legislation based on your browsing history and data trail?
  • What is the responsibility of multinational corporations that are already spilling into de facto local decision making, like Google’s Sidewalk Labs Project in Toronto? What is the role of the Apple’s and Facebook’s that are generating more GDP than multiple countries combined? Would you be OK giving your proxy vote to a brand you trust (ie. Home Depot on urban planning in your community)?
  • While we are seeing that the open source ethos is nestling its way into emerging movements, parties and platforms with the promise of breaking down silos and inviting ‘anyone’ to adopt and continuously improve… is it really ‘anyone’ who has the know-how to translate their ideas into tangible contributions? How do we inclusively build and design future governance systems and platforms?
  • If the embodiment of a party has historically been with a specific persona (“Mr. President”), in the future would you be comfortable with an intelligent cyborg that captures and echoes the thoughts of thousands of followers (or leaders)? Or no leader at all?
Paper folding experiments by Josef Albers and Students, Black Mountain College, New Haven, 1946

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Giuliana Mazzetta

Exploring alternative routes forward through strategic design, speculative design, business design and more.