1 August 2019
If local authorities want to know what the burning issues of the day are for the people in their region, the usual way to find out is via public assemblies or surgeries with councillors. And yet, analogue events generally reach only a small proportion of the citizenry - and often don’t give people enough space for their own ideas. It’s for these reasons that more and more towns and cities are turning to digital platforms for civic participation. For example, to Civocracy, a platform founded by Chloé Pahud along with her comrades-in-arms. The idea behind the platform is this: only when all perspectives and ideas are heard can better decisions be jointly made for the benefit of everyone.
Co-founder and Co-CEO
What is Civocracy?
Civocracy is a CivicTech company focused on the digital participation of citizens. In short, Civocracy works to update governance structures to be more collaborative. We predominantly do this by empowering local governments to co-create projects and policies with their citizens to improve communities, but we also work with large organisations on stakeholder management and cross-departmental decision-making structures. We provide an online platform and consultancy services to ensure systematic, effective and efficient transformation within organisations.
The world needs Civocracy because ...
We need to build societal structures that are more inclusive and are updated for the world that we live in. We should be using technology in a more productive, beneficial way, in a way that allows people to feel heard and that they matter. Decisions that affect us should take our point of view and expertise into account. At the same time, we should help those making decisions - whether they be governments or corporate managers - to harness technology so that their jobs become easier and they are able to have a more positive impact. It’s this systemic change that Civocracy is working for, and that’s why the world needs us.
Liquid Democracy and digital citizen participation were seen as the royal road to a more direct democracy at the wedding of the pirate parties. In the meantime, eParticipation has become much quieter. What does a participation platform have to offer to meet the expectations of citizens and municipalities?
Having a participation platform for the sake of serving a political agenda or for PR purposes is a really negative thing. As I’ve said, participatory decision-making should be a mindset shift and place people at the heart of our institutions. A participation platform should create a transparent way of working and serve a purpose. Managers and governments (the decision makers) need to be clear about why they want people to participate, for what reason, and how long the process will last. This ensures that contributions are constructive and people don’t get disengaged when there isn’t immediate action as a result of their inputs. We know that this serves a rising need, and decision makers can benefit hugely from cross-sector ideas. We see people talking about what they want from their city and places of work online all the time, but Civocracy offers a space to do this constructively and in a way that benefits all those involved.
"It’s up to our clients to connect with their communities directly, as they are the ones who people will connect with more easily - rather than an organisation they haven’t heard of."
The success of participation platforms stands and falls with a critical mass of active users who bring in, discuss or evaluate proposals. How are citizens being made aware of Civocracy, how is dialogue between users being promoted?
It’s up to our clients to connect with their communities directly, as they are the ones who people will connect with more easily - rather than an organisation they haven’t heard of. That said, a large part of what we do is to work closely with clients to co-create communication strategies and timelines, each tailored specifically to the project and context of the place. This ensures that there is a critical mass of users from a broad range of demographics. This reflects our belief that a tool without knowledge is useless, so we work hard to empower clients with the expertise they need to manage, grow and maintain a constructive community.
What initiatives and ideas have already been initiated and implemented via the platform?
We’ve been in business since 2015, so there are lots of initiatives across Europe which have been implemented as a result of Civocracy. Recently, we worked with the region of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes in France to map the infrastructure challenges facing the region, set targets for development for the next decade, and to develop a unified regional identity. The consultation involved over 60 key associations and stakeholders, as well as thousands of citizens, and the issues discussed ranged from landscape preservation to economic development. Ideas generated during the consultation are being included in a development policy document for regional implementation. We’re also working with the European think tank Friends of Europe on the issue of international security challenges and have helped them produce reports on recommendations which have been shared with the EU Commission, the UN and NATO. Through the Civocracy platform, we’ve empowered clients to implement new school agendas (Strasbourg), change biodiversity policy (North Holland), and redevelop urban spaces (Lyon).
Civocracy’s biggest challenge is...
Ensuring the true institutionalisation of participatory ways of working. In order to prove the tangible benefits of participatory decision making, we’re developing impact measurement frameworks, which will quantitatively showcase the societal effects of collaboration.
In 5 years, Civocracy will be…
Ubiquitously used across Europe, and participation will be a matter of course for many citizens and cities, as well as within large organisations.
Which five apps can’t you live without?
Google maps, Twitter, Ebay small-ads, the reminder app, Duolingo.
What digital product would you like to see invented?
That’s a tough question!
What digital products could you do without?
My phone! I’d like to be a little more offline throughout the day, as constant notifications can distract me - especially when I’m meant to be having down time.
Which technical application will always remain a mystery to you?
Snapchat! I just don’t get it.
When was the last time you were offline for 24 hours?
Last July, during a family holiday in Portugal - it was bliss.
Vacation without WiFi: dream or nightmare?
In the #explore format we’re giving a regular voice to exciting and inspiring people from the digital scene - to researchers, bloggers, start-up founders, entrepreneurs, hackers, and visionaries.