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Published October 14, 2019

Models from around the world: how to engage, activate and inspire citizens

A new survey by Sitra and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs highlights several international examples of new models for political parties, non-governmental organisations and digital platforms.
Writer
Leading Specialist, Communicatons, Sitra

One of the problems for democracy is that political parties are viewed as being distant from the daily life of citizens and that instead of being popular movements, they have become part of the governmental machinery.

A central objective of the study presented in the recently published memorandum A report on prevailing social mobilisation models around the world was to provide an answer to the question “How can political decision-making be brought closer to citizens and how can citizens engage in decision-making more easily?”

One of the focus areas of Sitra’s Updating Democracy project is to improve the conditions for citizens’ engagement in the decision-making process by developing the operation of political parties in Finland.

Innovation yet to establish its position

Sitra produced an international overview to provide benchmarks to support the efforts to develop political parties. The aim of the overview was to consider what kinds of operating practices political parties could adopt to reform their operations.

The memorandum comprises 13 case examples: five political parties, three non-governmental organisations and five digital platforms (see selected case examples below).

The examples feature very innovative solutions and solutions that have already been integrated into the “official” decision-making processes. However, it was not possible to find examples in which both of these qualities were combined.

Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Finnish embassies around the world carried out a preliminary assessment of examples from across the globe. Sitra selected a number of the most interesting examples and in-depth interviews were then carried out with them by Deloitte.

Can political parties find the enthusiasm to reform themselves?

The foundations of democracy are under strain around the world. The rapid changes taking place globally are testing people’s trust in representational democracy, decision-makers and political parties. Party systems are either undergoing major transformation or are changing considerably, in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

“International phenomena often reach Finland after some delay,” says Antti Kivelä, Director of the Capacity for renewal theme at Sitra. “It is therefore high time the political parties in Finland reflected on how they should reform their operations if they wish to remain operational and up to date with the changes in political engagement, decision-making and politics.”

An example political party

Flux: A pioneer of liquid democracy

Flux is a political party that aims to change the entire political system in Australia to adopt the principles of liquid democracy. In a liquid democracy, voters can either vote on matters themselves, as in a direct democracy, or delegate their vote to another person, such as a professional politician.

By reforming the decision-making system, the party aims to increase voters’ opportunities to participate in decision-making, reduce the influence of political interest groups, enable the use of expert knowledge as part of the decision-making process and avoid the risk of polarised voting campaigns sometimes seen in direct democracies.

Apart from reforming the decision-making system, Flux does not have any ideological political goals. Flux representatives who become elected commit themselves to acting in accordance with the views of the party’s members. Members can use the Flux app to express their opinions on all bills submitted to the parliament. However, groups with a political agenda can be formed within the party.

An example of a non-governmental organisation

Bancada Ativista: An advocate of collective representation

Brazil’s Bancada Ativista seeks activists who are willing to run for political office as part of a collective candidacy fighting for democracy, human rights and social justice. In 2018, the movement nominated a collective candidate for the Sao Paulo state council on the lists of the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party).

Bancada Ativista’s collective candidate received 150,000 votes, 0.72% of the total, and was elected to the state council. The seat is shared collectively by nine people, seven women and two men. All of the individuals participating in the collective are political activists, such as defenders of women’s rights or advocates of the rights of sexual minorities. They either have a political background in one of two parties, the PSOL or the REDE (The Sustainability Network), or are politically neutral. Listing under PSOL was therefore a compromise made by the collective.

An example of a digital platform

Accropolis: Creating a political dialogue with an existing audience

Accropolis is a French media channel that streams political events such as the president’s briefings, parliamentary sessions and its own political talk shows on the Twitch live-streaming video platform. Accropolis uses Twitch for discussions and communication of political information, despite the fact that the platform was originally created for e-sports. The organisation strives to increase interest in politics among young men and to create a new, modern format for following politics.

Like the programmes of other channels on the platform, Accropolis’s broadcasts are mainly followed by young men, each programme typically attracting between 100 and 1,000 people. The channel has a large number of permanent followers, but the majority of those who watch the programmes live stumble across Accropolis’s programmes by chance, for example via the Twitch front page. The channel is almost entirely run by volunteers. The majority of these volunteers had no interest in politics before Twitch and often discovered the channel by accident.

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