Civica: For digital democracy to flourish, it must be built on the right foundations
From online shopping to home working to virtual GP appointments, there are few remaining aspects of our daily lives which have not been digitised in some way. As a society, we’re more digitally-savvy than at any point in history, and our appetite for digitally-enabled public services – across every age category – is on the rise according to research published by Civica earlier this year.
Embracing the opportunities of digital democracy
Digital technologies are not only transforming how we live our lives; they’ve challenged our basic assumptions as citizens. From education to health to local councils, the debate around digitalisation has shifted rapidly from why to why not?
Elections are no exception. Earlier this year, we published key findings from a Future Thinking workshop, run through our NorthStar lab, which revealed a growing assumption that public elections by the year 2040 would include some form of digital voting. That same workshop however, raised important concerns about the potential threats posed to our democratic processes, ranging from deep fakes to disinformation campaigns.
The prospect of more accessible voting or simplified, transparent decision-making illustrates that digital democracy has the potential to renew and reinvigorate the relationship between citizens and governments. To do so however, it must be rooted in solid foundations.
Trust, Integrity, Innovation
The crucial building blocks for that solid foundation are Trust, Integrity & Innovation.
Let’s start with trust. The bedrock of any thriving democracy is the total trust and confidence of citizens in the legitimacy of elections, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the results. Election outcomes, whether for the local parish council or Parliament, must always stand up to the highest levels of scrutiny.
Going hand in hand with trust is integrity. The explosion in digital media channels has given rise to ever more elaborate forms of election interference, from deep fakes to disinformation campaigns. Voters, however, must be entitled to take for granted that every single election, whether it involves a ballot box or a touchscreen, has been conducted in a manner which is honest, transparent, and fair.
Trust and integrity, however, are not enough. Digitisation is not a ‘giant leap’; it is a journey. A journey which is steadily gathering pace as our insatiable appetite for new technologies continues to grow. This is as true for parliaments, councils and trade unions as it is for high street retailers and TV streaming services. It isn’t enough simply to acquire and roll out digital technologies; organisations must embrace innovation, adapt to change - seamlessly and securely - and be open to new technologies and ways of doing things.
From national organisations to local community groups, large parts of our society have already taken the first steps on the journey towards digital democracy. By embracing the right technologies rooted in the right foundations, we can continue that journey in a safe and secure manner and, crucially, take citizens along with us.