17 February 2023
The issue of citizen centric campaigns looms large as we look towards a range of local, national and supranational elections in 2024, throughout Europe. “When it comes to elections, we believe that tech can support existing processes but can also create new spaces of participation and engagement,” said President of ACTE, Adrien Duguet. He warned too that one should not underestimate the driving role of data-driven tools used by large political parties today.
Fellow speaker and president of the Democratic Society, Antony Zacharzewski raised the issue that continues to challenge all who work in this field – how we can bridge the gap between democracy and tech. He also admits that many organisations supporting digital participation on the ground are still struggling to find a sustainable business model. Yet he is hopeful about what he describes as “the definite change in attitude from big institutions” including the European Commission and the Parliament toward participatory approaches.
“Civic tech is focused on two things that tech does well – words and numbers,” says Zacharzewski. But added that he is interested in the human and the network aspects. Camille Dobler, Head of Research at Mission Publiques, agrees with Zacharzewski on this last point. And emphasizes the need for more focus on social innovation rather than a purely technical perspective. She is concerned first and foremost with how civic tech europe can be used to bridge the gap between what she terms the ‘mini-public’ and the ‘maxi-public’. “How does one move from the individual to the collective?” she asks. Dobler argues that this question is a key concern for elections. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a case in point she say. It got just 53 000 participants out of a possible 447 million EU citizens.
A general consensus on the importance of bringing both the social and the technological sides together for optimal participation was clear. Founder and Director of Brussels-based firm, Saper Vedere, Nicolas Vanderbiest, pointed out that one of the biggest challenges for those working in public services is simply to know where to get the information they need. Using the European Parliament as an example, Vanderbiest highlighted how difficult it is to navigate its website. Not least because the majority of information is provided in 24 different languages. From a technical perspective – this is a real challenge in terms of functionality.
Bottom line – there is still much work to do for civic tech Europe. But interest in participatory democracy and digital solutions to it are definitely growing across Europe. Led in part, by impetus from the European Institutions. The challenge: how to get more citizens involved, while ensuring that the technical side is robust enough to withstand the malign influences designed to derail democratic processes. Watch this space…