What might mobile democracy look like?

I’ve often said that the problem with participation in local democracy is that it just isn’t convenient enough. Meetings? Pah! I’m too busy trying to earn a living, quite frankly.

So mobile offers a really interesting opportunity. After all, the smartphones that sit in the pockets of an ever-growing number of people have a level of ubiquity that could make it work. You could also bring in some other recent developments (don’t say buzzwords) like gamification to further boost engagement levels.

Here’s an idea on how something could work.

It’s based on a pretty old e-democracy principle – e-panels! Rather than have a citizen panel of say 50 people, you develop an online group of hundreds or even thousands. Then you give them things to do, which are suitable to a mobile device.

The key to this is making the activities short, simple and reasonably interesting. If you look at the really popular games on smartphones, things like Angry Birds, Temple Run, World of Goo and so on, they are all games that can be picked up and played for a couple of minutes. They don’t tend to be long, drawn out strategic affairs.

So, some of the things that the mobile democracy app (or mobile friendly website…) could do might be to choose between several options. Perhaps something really blunt like “Libraries or lolly pop ladies?”; or between two images, one with a housing development in it and one without. Maybe ask people to take and submit a photo along a theme.

These aren’t referendums or anything like that, of course. But by regularly asking large numbers of people to respond, an organisation can build up a picture of what people think, which ways they lean on various issues.

By having a big group to work from, it wouldn’t matter if not everyone responds every time, and again, it’s about developing that database of people and their views.

Gamification might provide another way of increasing levels of participation – I’m always nervous about rewards – but perhaps leaderboards with badges would encourage people getting stuck in. There’s a danger that doing such things reduces the quality of responses – people would just respond with anything rather than thinking about it, just to get that top spot – but hopefully having large enough groups of people involved would minimise the impact.

I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts on this as always. Seen anything out there in terms of using mobile to promote and encourage democratic participation? Or perhaps you think I’m barking up the wrong tree?

Original post

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Peter Sperry

I think mobile computing will give us the ability get to the heart of democracy by increasing voter participation with even greater ballot security than currently excercised today. Communities using public data available from local, state and federal data bases could draw up lists of all potentially legally eligible voters in their jurisdictions. They could than send canvasers with mobile devices to register as many of these as possible, 100% is not an unrealistic goal. The mobile devices could incorprate fingerprints, retinal scan and facial recognition to confirm identity, citizenship status and legal eligibility to vote beyond all reasonable doubt. Once the legal citizens are registered and id data stored, voters could be empowered to vote using any personal mobile device, at libraries or designated voting centers. Votes could be held open for as long as needed to promote full participation with little increased expense or risk of fraudulant voting. Although there could be a remote risk of comuter hacking the id file to cast fraudulent votes, it would be much more difficult than getting around the current system and more easily detected using intrusion monitoring procedures. By registering 100 percent of legally eligible citizens and making voting more convenient, communities could drastically increase voteing participation which would benefit all.

Elizabeth Fischer Laurie

This is a really interesting idea. I know, as silly as this sounds, the Nintendo Wii had a survey channel. The problem was it was one or two questions a week, the questions were pointless, and it was easily forgotten after a few weeks in our household. An app, however, would allow for push notifications, emails, etc. that would help to keep people engaged and it sounds like you are suggesting much more relevant and thought-provoking questions.

John Hays

I think your idea would work at the local level. Part of the problem will be that sometimes the issues require very specific knowledge that may not readily available, and on those issues, it tends to be the emotional reactions that seem to win the day.