Digital democracy: Is the future of civic engagement online?

05-02-2020

Digital innovation is radically transforming democratic decision-making. Public administrations are experimenting with mobile applications (apps) to provide citizens with real-time information, using online platforms to crowdsource ideas, and testing algorithms to engage communities in day-to-day administration. The key question is what technology breakthrough means for governance systems created long before digital disruption. On the one hand, policy-makers are hoping that technology can be used to legitimise the public sector, re-engage citizens in politics and combat civic apathy. Scholars, on the other hand, point out that, if the digitalisation of democracy is left unquestioned, the danger is that the building blocks of democracy itself will be eroded. This briefing examines three key global trends that are driving the on-going digitalisation of democratic decision-making. First are demographic patterns. These highlight growing global inequalities. Ten years from now, in the West the differentials of power among social groups will be on the rise, whereas in Eastern countries democratic freedoms will be at risk of further decline. Second, a more urbanised global population will make cities ideal settings for innovative approaches to democratic decision-making. Current instances of digital democracy being used at local level include blockchain technology for voting and online crowdsourcing platforms. Third, technological advancements will cut the costs of civic mobilisation and pose new challenges for democratic systems. Going forward, democratic decision-makers will be required to bridge digital literacy gaps, secure public structures from hacking, and to protect citizens' privacy.

Digital innovation is radically transforming democratic decision-making. Public administrations are experimenting with mobile applications (apps) to provide citizens with real-time information, using online platforms to crowdsource ideas, and testing algorithms to engage communities in day-to-day administration. The key question is what technology breakthrough means for governance systems created long before digital disruption. On the one hand, policy-makers are hoping that technology can be used to legitimise the public sector, re-engage citizens in politics and combat civic apathy. Scholars, on the other hand, point out that, if the digitalisation of democracy is left unquestioned, the danger is that the building blocks of democracy itself will be eroded. This briefing examines three key global trends that are driving the on-going digitalisation of democratic decision-making. First are demographic patterns. These highlight growing global inequalities. Ten years from now, in the West the differentials of power among social groups will be on the rise, whereas in Eastern countries democratic freedoms will be at risk of further decline. Second, a more urbanised global population will make cities ideal settings for innovative approaches to democratic decision-making. Current instances of digital democracy being used at local level include blockchain technology for voting and online crowdsourcing platforms. Third, technological advancements will cut the costs of civic mobilisation and pose new challenges for democratic systems. Going forward, democratic decision-makers will be required to bridge digital literacy gaps, secure public structures from hacking, and to protect citizens' privacy.