Published on November 20, 2013

World Forum for Democracy

By Tim Hughes

Tim is director of Involve. He took over leadership of the organisation in January 2017, having previously led Involve’s open government programme and the UK Open Government Network (OGN).

World Forum for Democracy
Next week I’ll be taking part in the World Forum for Democracy, hosted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. It promises to be a fascinating three days of discussion on democracy, public participation, deliberation and digital. Here’s the blurb:

Social networks, blogs, and online media offer citizens access to public life in an unprecedentedly direct way. Is the internet revolutionising democratic practice?
This topical question will be raised this year during the World Forum for Democracy, organised by the Council of Europe with the support of the French government, the Alsace Region and the City of Strasbourg.

Over the past few years, internet has become a stimulating space for democratic innovation. Every day, participatory websites are created by parliaments, governments and local authorities, allowing citizens to contribute directly to decision-making processes, to debate political options in real-time, and thus to influence the decisions made by their representatives. Is this an answer to the so-called ‘crisis of politics’ which manifests itself through citizens’ disaffection from political parties and representative institutions?

Should these new online forms of public participation be simply considered as technological advances or do they demand, on the contrary, to re-define democracy? The rapid growth of internet challenges the traditional functioning of representative democracy, but does it lay the foundations of a “democracy 2.0”? Do our institutions, political parties and modes of political participation need to be reshaped accordingly?

Members of civil society, elected officials, political leaders and journalists from more than 100 countries will come together in Strasbourg for the second edition of the World Forum for Democracy. They will discuss these trends and assess not only the opportunities they bring but also the possible risks they carry for our fundamental freedoms. Is there a digital remedy for democracy in bad health?

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be invited to be a discussant in one of the Lab discussions, which will be asking:

Will intelligent software and platforms which are able to extract a dominant narrative from unstructured conversations remain prototypes or will they be mainstreamed by democratic institutions to include citizens in deliberation and decision-making?

The specific innovation I’ve been asked to respond to in my comments is called CiviQ, which is described as follows:

The goal of CiviQ is to enable fair and transparent engagement of all social perspectives during consultations and deliberations on a policy issue in order to enhance the sustainability of the outcome. The process captures and analyses a broad stream of naturally expressed opinion on an issue (e.g. in newspapers, radio interviews, interviews etc) and opinions expressed during consultations. A small number of participants are asked to subjectively evaluate the statements by ranking them in a particular grid. From these data they extract the main narratives or social discourses on an issue. During live deliberations, this method is used to support visualisation of opinion positions and changes during the course of the meeting.

I’m just beginning to pull together my thoughts, but from what I’ve read so far CiviQ looks to be a very interesting initiative.

I’ll be tweeting during from @TimJHughes and watch this space for a more detailed report.

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