How to build democracy with technology away from elections

There is a lot to be said for a British general election. It is brutally fast in delivering the people’s verdict. It uses technology that everyone can understand and is impossible to hack remotely. And in returning to Rick Wakeman’s prog-rock classic, the BBC has given it back its theme music.

But elections alone are a pretty thin form of democracy. Those who shifted from Labour to vote Conservative did so because of Jeremy Corbyn, because of the party’s far-left manifesto, because of Brexit, because they like Boris Johnson or a mix of these and others. The reasons will come out in surveys and interviews, but aren’t a formal part of the results and the government can ignore them.

Just over a decade ago, Iceland had a huge political crisis when its three main banks collapsed. It voted out the government, but it also built ways for people to take part in democracy online, such as participatory budgets where people in Reykjavik post ideas, the city council costs them and then everyone votes on which ones are funded.

For Computer Weekly, I have explored participatory democracy technology work also including Sweden’s ClimateView, an ingenious visual way to let people explore data on greenhouse gas emissions and plan how to reduce these. As great as elections are, these kinds of projects can give voters more of a say more often.

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