The Blog

Is It Time for a Bottom-up Approach to Digital Democracy in UK Politics?

Is the political sphere moving fast enough to keep up with the needs of the people who live in the world?

With the looming EU referendum approaching do British young people feel confident enough to make a decision on what will probably be the biggest decision of their short lives?

In The Black Country I am leading on a smart city project that concentrates on empowering people who live in urbanised communities outside of cities, which will look to help citizens make decisions within their Local Council and attempt to hold their decision makers accountable through civic technology.

The Dudley Smart Region Hub has given me the opportunity to speak to normal people who live in regular households and in usual neighbourhoods, far away from the politicians and bankers of the City of London.

Unsurprisingly, it's not just young people who are confused, a lot of the debate in the community is around the referendum and it's clear Mr and Mrs 'Every Person' does not feel confident about making a decision on Britain's European future, but they will go to the polls none the less. Is the Government doing enough to support these people and could they do more to mobilise our young people in regards to involve themselves in shaping our democracy?

I think there is a real opportunity for digital democracy to improve knowledge around important democratic issues and also encourage open dialogue with normal people which can be evidenced and presented through digital platforms for everybody to see.

In 2015, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP launched a commission on how technology can improve parliamentary democracy in the UK by using digital practice and technology. The report recommended that the House of Commons understood what digital democracy is and secure online voting by 2020.

But is this really relevant to people who live in marginalised areas? Considering the creation of civic digital platforms is far cheaper than launching staffed information programs, the central Government should be building from the ground up instead of the city minded top down mentality.

Even though I find it very welcome Bercow is raising these issues, it could be a case of 'too big, too quick' and I feel our Councils should have more support in regards to engaging with its citizens to collect consultation, especially with Local Authorities who are facing more cuts, the people who live in those communities could be the answer to a lot of headaches such as allocating community funding and asset closures.

This May there are elections sweepings across the UK but here in the West Midlands we'll be heading to the voting booth to elect a wave of new Councillors and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner. This is a perfect opportunity to create and test civic participation platforms, and I will putting my money where my mouth is through the #SmartDudley project by creating a community owned digital platform, hopefully this can be something other parts of the country can access and utilise.

Digital democracy could be one of the biggest impacts in participation governance in a generation, let's take into account the expansion of acts such of the 'Snoopers' Charter' giving the Police powers to access your web browsing activity and even hack you mobile devices.

If people understood their civil rights clearly and if they could hold open dialogue in a public place to clarify issues, would they support a lot of the polices that get passed in Britain? I'm not entirely convinced they would.

It's time to give the power of policy change to the people who live in our neighbourhoods and I think looking to digital democracy is a start; it's just a case of finding the right people to be involved.