The main problem our project tries to solve is the crisis of representative democracy which is exacerbated by the Covid crisis. Individuals and society as a whole suffer from the lockdown, isolation, which is disrupting social life and civic participation, possibly for more than a short time. We don’t know yet what the future will be like and the policies that are to be decided will shape our lives. In these circumstances, a prime task is to provide the means to empower people. This implies designing ways for people to safely get together for sharing experiences, concerns and expectations, for confronting ideas at the community, national level and beyond, for getting reliable information, for speaking out, and offering inputs before final decisions are made. The demand for democratic participation is increased, if anything, with this crisis, and the resilience of communities is at stake. The communities need to find possibilities and resources on how to influence the political agenda to meet new challenges.
The problem is that we lack a unified popular interface, which contrary to commercial social networks, has been specifically designed for civic and democratic purposes, and that would make it possible for ordinary citizens to access, participate and be in control of a collective digital space. It is the epitome of democratic Internet, enabling government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The solution takes the form of an operational forum, at the European level and beyond, which allows us to co-build our future by collaboratively making those political decisions that affect citizens’ lives and prospects when the pandemic is over. It will necessarily be a space to address questions and open debates on policy issues. It will help communicate on political reality, including agendas on upcoming decisions, policies and programs, as well as existing regulations, to interested parties and the civil society at large; it needs to provide ordinary citizens, formal and informal groups, and organizations, access to experts’ opinions that help them build political efficacy through connecting them to policy and decision centers; and it needs to be a working space for collective decisions, campaigns, petitions and citizens’ initiatives in general. It may as well become a common space to build coalitions between citizens, civil society, the private sector and administrations, connecting people and the civil society among themselves and with their governments and political institutions. The solution is an open access platform to which users can connect as they wish on three different levels: targeting a specific political idea and proposal, searching according to their sociocultural background and related concerns, or socially meeting other members of their community.
What you have done during the weekend Inspired by the extraordinary necessity for a common collaborative sphere for interaction and decision-making, a project to found a platform for the people was born, under the framework of the EU vs Virus pan-European Hackathon. A team of individuals with different backgrounds grew during a long weekend, under extreme locked-down situations in many countries, incorporating different tasks and responsibilities, social, political, psychological, strategic and technical, defining the experience, necessities and potential of that platform.
A questionnaire was developed to introduce the user into the platform. Moreover, after comparing other initiatives, we defined our strategy through the web tool Canvanizer and we were continuously assessing the project via the Slack application and the open source video conferencing solution Jitsi Meet. Collaboration in the framework of a hackathon was possible with the use of open access online tools, ending up in producing a concrete text and a video pitch slide regarding the platform-project OurVoiceMatters, uploaded onto the hackathon platform Devpost. Prototype - During the weekend we created from scratch the logo, taking colors like blue and green to define our goals, our values, blue comes with trust and green with environment, for the prototype in draft 1 we used a free platform www.proto.io,
The solution’s impact to the crisis The platform mobilizes the new digital technologies for civic participation and engagement in the political realm, during and after the pandemic crisis. Upholding the values of democracy and human rights and the principles of inclusion and equality, the platform provides a channel for interaction in communities, even in the post-lockdown period, where a number of restrictions and measures might still be in place. The democratic deficit has been a burning issue for decades and our platform will still be urgently needed after the Covid crisis.
Of course, the platform cannot solve all the problems of democracy, nor all those connected to COVID, but social political and civil action will almost certainly be transformed because of the pandemic. The internet most certainly will gain a central role, because of a higher probability of failure of the conditions that worked until now. And such a role for the Internet needs to be intently considered and designed to correspond with democratic principles and principles of inclusion.
Proactively preventing major disruptions in civil society and in social movements from the possibly repeated experience of restricted movements, if not lockdown, of civil society, is a need. It’s not sure that we can expect a world totally free from COVID for some time. Designing a system that, along with existing social networks, will ensure that continuity, whatever the scenario, is an urgency.
During the crisis, the platform allows to connect people, for them to express themselves, get informed, deliberate but also find resources and policy initiatives that match their concerns. It will be used by different agents in this public space, either at the local level, or via larger programs for community projects. For example, how inappropriate housing of temporary workers in some sectors may make them and the larger community more exposed. Complementary Specific services could be added to meet more urgent community needs, for example, a time bank; a meeting place between job seekers and job providers, legal and social security advice for workers and employers.
After the crisis, the platform will go on complementing representative democracy processes and social movements. It will support participatory and deliberative democracy as well as civic action and alliance-building for facing uncertainties of the potential long-term social and economic change brought by the pandemic.
What we need to continue the project The project Our Voice Matters will need to be technically developed, based on an existing platform like Decidim. It needs to set its organigram. It also needs to set the rules of procedures for the platform users. We need to elaborate common working methods that keep the project in a united concept and facilitate the overall workload. In parallel, we need to set the legal aspects and regulations so that the project is compatible with the national and European law, in consultation with legal experts. We also need to safeguard cybersecurity issues regarding personal data, and ensure that the platform is compatible with relevant privacy laws, including the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In due time, the platform will include appropriate provisions for the initiators of ideas, the facilitators and rapporteurs of projects and users at large. The project will also be an organization of people, with specific roles and responsibilities, compatible with the platform’s architecture, which can technically and scientifically address urgent pandemic-linked and other global-scaled concerns, with the view on the UN sustainable development goals, as well as according to their local impact.
This is a new project. The challenges ahead are to find civic-minded programmers and to build a team with anyone who is interested (researchers, ordinary citizens, students, journalists, teachers, designers, translators etc.).
The value of our solution after the crisis The platform is urgently needed during the Covid crisis and its aftermath to allow ordinary citizens to shape the post-virus world through a collaborative and deliberative platform that is simple to use. In fact, programmers and researchers have been expressing their wish to update democracy to the Internet era and the 4th industrial revolution for years. New technologies make it possible to deliberate on a wide scale. This project is there to last and will hopefully unify previous projects which have not managed to scale up.
The URL to the prototype : https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1sxnvGgNSXmw3IOlmuQVpeOriC8HZfTDW
The URL to the pitchvideo : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RChg_D8uZWM&feature=youtu.be
The team Emilie Frenkiel, Juan Arana, Vasilis Ellinas Kiliaris, Michalis Lianos, Paul Bonea, Maria Breda, Leyla Karaha, Fredrick Wahome, Damien Duca, Justin Vekinis, Viktoria Pato, Gunta K, Luca M, Yves Lechermeier