How Online Democracy Can Change Everything

Ed Dowding
Tuesday, 5th May 2015

'Represent' - a place to give your political opinions, express what is most important to you and find out what your local citizens feel too!

There is a quiet revolution taking place in democracy, bringing new thinking to how we take decisions together. For the first time ever, what you want  -  your preferences, values, and ideas  - can be heard locally, nationally, and globally. People power is coming of age on the internet, and it’s changing how we live and work. Is it time to get involved?

Represent has big ambitions. Not only is it changing the way we do democracy, it uses people power to help companies be more responsible. Within seconds of signing up you’re having your say about interesting issues you care about. It’s fast, intuitive, and really quite addictive  -  and it’s deeply satisfying to be treated like an adult.

After about a minute (28 questions) it says “You’ve already voted twice as many times as you’ll ever vote in a General Election”. It’s a shocking truth.

Democracy is ripe for a renaissance.

Even Russell Brand has refined his position, from “don’t vote” to “politics isn’t something for every five years; democracy is for every day”. The Swiss vote about 1,250 times in their lives and they’re the happiest country in the world. Maybe we should be voting MORE?

In a real democracy everyone takes part as equals, discussing and continually checking our goals and trying to improve our trajectory. And this works. When involved in important decisions, more of us are happier with the outcomes, fewer people feel hard done by, and no one brings back hanging (quite the opposite, in fact).

Until recently, measuring public opinion has been hard and expensive. But in the 30 seconds you’ve been reading this article there have been about 3.2 million likes and 300,000 status updates on Facebook, and about 400,000 tweets. The technology exists to completely nail this one.

Let’s look at eight ways it’s going to change how we make decisions, for good.

1. You can have your say on anything you care about, whenever you like

Your phone bleeps and shows you the first of today’s votes:
– Then come three more. How would you answer these?
– Do you think that the NHS would be better for patients if it were privately run?
– Should the government be stricter in regulation of financial services?
– Would you like more bike lanes near where you live?

Imagine if you answered just a few of these each month  -  it would completely change your relationship with government and everyone around you. We can finally represent ourselves! YOUR values and priorities actually count for something! People ACTUALLY want to know what you think!

And as we all answer more questions we can create an increasingly detailed vision for the society we’re creating together. It’s goosebumpy!

The internet is great at giving individuals a voice.

2. You are heard: locally, nationally, and internationally

As the world around it has changed, governments have evolved to be very good at just one thing: running countries. That’s to say, providing the rule of law, and mostly functional infrastructure.

We despair when governments are too big to care about us as people  - and too small-minded to take on the big issues.

Devolution isn’t just a whim  -  it’s people wanting to have civic leadership at the human scale. We want governance which listens to the needs and ideas of real people, and has the power to make them happen quickly.

Using Represent, we can pose a question to a city, see what it wants, and take action. Take the question about more cycle lanes: residents can organise cycle-to-work groups, organisations can deliver local cycle training, and the mayor can fund cycle lanes. And with more information (age, car ownership, etc.) we’d be able to see more patterns and create even better solutions.
What if we applied this to the international level: Would it be legal to import goods made in unsafe factories? Would we wage the same wars? Would climate change be more robustly addressed? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is clear: the current system does not represent you as it could. And that’s changing.

The internet is great at connecting people to each other, and to the world.


3. You can see what everyone else thinks, and why

Politicians say things like “there’s no public demand”, or put reasons into our mouths  -  people who object to spending billions on a train line are "obviously just NIMBYs".
Well we have the tools now  -  let’s not take the politicians’ and lobbyists’ word for it, let’s just ask people and find out.

Generally speaking, humans are friendly and intelligent and have plans which go beyond the next election. So when it comes to big decisions we like to be involved.
When we’re involved we can think, share our reasons, and suggest ideas. A good idea backed by strong and popular reasons and the support of most of the people involved isn’t just more fun to do, it’s more likely to happen.

The internet is great for open conversations

4. You can help your MP do a better job

Many politicians are smart people who really do (or at least did) want to make things better for you. But we expect so much of them that it’s basically impossible for them to satisfy us.
Rather then flood them with e-petitions, we can take all the answers from our constituency and show our MP what we care about, and how much. We can have an organised dialogue with each other, and with our MP. They can ask our views, and take your answers to better represent you in Parliament.

With enough support they can even be brave enough to push back against the party whips.

The internet gives us the power to organise ourselves online.

5. You can set the agenda

Why do we allow politicians and lobbyists to set the agenda? Democracy isn’t just answering questions, you need to be able to ask them, too.

The internet gives us the power to organise and represent ourselves at all those levels where governments don’t.

If you want to see who else thinks selling off the local council houses is bad idea, ask your neighbours  -  or everyone in your town or city. Or if you think that no government should be able to leave the climate change negotiations without agreeing to a binding agreement, ask everyone in the world.

Let’s deal with issues at the scale they need to be dealt with  -  and let’s put the power back in our hands.

The internet is great at building support for new ideas.

6. You can become a trusted expert

We don’t want to have to vote on everything all the time. It would get boring, and we’d have to be massively informed about everything if we wanted to do it well.
So it’s odd that we elect MPs to do exactly that. We send them to Westminster to make informed decisions on EVERYTHING, whilst at the same time ALSO taking care of all the local issues. It’s probably not the smartest idea.

UK citizens share about 1,000,000,000 years worth of education, and many billions more of diverse, life-long learning. And we’re not making any use of it! To take all of your wisdom and passion for things you care about and let it be represented by just ‘x’ on a bit of paper every five years? That seems like terrible waste.

The internet gives us an unprecedented opportunity to involve more experts and people we trust. Topic by topic, area by area we can include hundreds and thousands of scientists, educators, health care professionals, engineers, thought-leaders to help us make better decisions.

The internet is great at helping people connect to solve problems.

7. Your wallet holds real change

Business plays a huge role in modern society. We need to help those companies who are working to make things better, and resist those who aren’t.

There are some quick wins here. It turns out that a lot of your money goes  -  completely unintentionally  -  to businesses who don’t share your values. For example, more than 50% of us object to fracking, and yet 97% of us buy energy from the companies who fund it.

We could be using this voting opportunity to vote with our wallets too, and find business who share our values, so that we can buy from them if we need them, and support them in making change if they need us.

Two-thirds of us want to help businesses create better products and solutions. Our votes can create new opportunities, speed innovation, and demand greater responsibility. And if enough of us get together, we can get a better deal in return.

The internet is great for innovative businesses.

8. You’ll realise that citizenship feels good

Participation feels great. Knowing that you’re having your say, and being listened to, and actually deciding on how things are is, well it’s revolutionary! Being part of something that’s bigger than each of us and represents all of us  - those are the times when humanity feels at its best  -  all pulling together towards shared goals that take us forwards.

It’s easy and rewarding and you can do it as much or as little as you like  - just the important stuff a few times a month, or 20 times a day on your bus journey.

The internet is great at reaching people everywhere.

What can you do now? Join the Heard

This is no longer about choosing left or right and then sitting back to see where we end up. This is new. We’re taking turns at the wheel, checking our bearings, fixing the tyres, shouting directions from the back. All of this activity  -  this participation  -  means one incredibly obvious (and up ‘til now incredibly elusive) thing: we’ll get where we want to go.

Get involved with Represent  -  you can start with a question on transport, society, health, or just take pot luck. Visit here: https://represent.cc

P.S. naturally we’re walking the talk: If you would like to answer questions that determine Represent’s future we’d love to know your thoughts.

This article originally appeared here: https://medium.com/@eddowding/8-ways-online-democracy-changes-everything-13a871db9a3f

Further resources

What is behind the green surge?

10 Changes the Green Party Needs to Make to Get Votes

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