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In the run-up to International Democracy Day, celebrated every year on 15 September, EU4Democracy's campaign this year is entitled "CivicTech4Democracy", a global competition for citizen-led projects using new technologies to promote democracy. The campaign will run from June to September 2018, and will finish with an Awards Ceremony on 14 September in Brussels, on the eve of the International Day of Democracy.
Barriers to entry are low, access and reach globally disseminated, financing and interest increasingly abundant, and effects almost instant. It goes straight to the core of Democracy and serves, by means of widely available software, the interests of the many, not the few.
This is precisely what is so exciting about the emergence of a global civic technology scene, and this is also why we are so happy to organise, on behalf of the European Union, the CivicTech4Democracy global contest. It is a unique, and moving, opportunity to see how democratic values are shared across cultures and regimes and how it all just works.
Civic tech, indeed, is about civil society taking its destiny in its own hands and figuring out how to plug holes in democratic processes to ensure better accessibility and representation, higher transparency, or distributed and fair accountability: technology adapted to the democratic needs of the people, by the people.
It is a collective endeavour that only requires a minimum of software literacy and a lot of imagination. Civic tech is a true global movement that demonstrates the impressive power, determination, creativity and impact of the general will.
As such, and as the first projects we have received so far demonstrate, it heralds an era of massive, if gradual, change in the ways we manage, monitor and handle the public life that concerns us all.
In Tunisia, for instance, Imen Ghedioui, founder of the Laboratoire d’Appui Aux Transformations des Politiques Publiques, is proving how public policy, decision-making in particular, can considerably be accelerated and enhanced with chatbots, dramatically increasing impact. Building on the insight that a more complex world slows policy-shaping down and makes for more tedious parliamentary work, she shows how AI and crowdsourcing better structure access to information and improves representatives’ performance.
Complexity also begets corruption as the Philippines Center For Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has tried to demonstrate since 2016. Better tracking and collating contracting data about ongoing governmental projects (looking for inconsistencies and gaps) PCIJ has developped a highly original expertise in data consistency and disclosure that is promising to increase governance’s visibility and transparency paving the way for true Open Contracting in the Philippines and better accountability.
Elsewhere, in Senegal, at the Observatoire Citoyen de l’Assemblée Nationale du Sénégal, the ASUTIC association is acting on the insight that availability of information about the legislative process in Parliament (Commissions’ agenda, for instance, or attendance data) is likely to dispel negative perceptions in the public and grow the interest of the people, and its willingness to participate in policymaking.
In The Philippines, Layertech Software Labs has developed a similarly hybrid approach to bridging the gaps between civil society and the State, mitigating typhoons effects with an easy to understand cloud-based information system designed to empower vulnerable communities to improve disaster management. Since its creation their Balangay program has officially been adopted by the municipality of Legazpi, in recognition of its usefulness.
What these, and other great initiatives currently being reviewed, show us is that civic technology delivers on its promises in a fascinating variety of ways and, most importantly, that it works.
Scale and money do make a considerable difference in a project’s success, but it is mostly fuelled by social energy, courage, the determination to change, to participate, to correct, to fix, to tinker and experiment everyday to make the system better for you, for them, for everyone.
Civic tech is proof that to make a difference, one just needs to act, tool up and engage other citizens and strengthen the ties that weave the fabric of a healthy and strong polity in the interest of all.
Please visit us at www.civictech4democracy.eu and, more importantly, submit initiatives of your own, or projects you’ve heard about that you deem relevant and enter our competition.
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The more initiatives, the merrier…