eDemocracy: an emerging force for change

Published on May 27, 2021

E-democracy is the use of ICT (information and communication technologies) to enhance and, in some accounts, replace representative democracy. Many theorists of e-democracy agree that some of the traditional limits to citizenship in contemporary liberal-democratic policies, such as problems of scale, scarcity of time, and lack of opportunities for policy deliberation, can be overcome by new forms of online communication.

eDemocracy uses 21st-century ICT to extend community engagement, expand suffrage and citizen involvement, create real-time decision making, paving the way for a shift from representative to more direct forms of democracy, and rapidly aggregate opinion data.

Three main challenges for eDemocracy

eDemocracy has the potential to improve and deepen democratic practices and systems of governance. However, there are some significant challenges to overcome before an Internet-based, democratic system can take root.

On the other hand, what is reassuring to see is that a number of private sector startups are emerging that are creating the platform for better citizen involvement and participation in the running of a country. One such startup is Civocracy that is focused on improving the relationship between governments and their citizens through using digital methods. Chloe Pahud, the CEO and Co-founder of Civocracy, believes that this platform is creating a new form of governance and one that will transform the world as we know it.

1. Participation

One of the significant advantages that eDemocracy promises are universal and real-time participation in the political process. However, there is still work to do in this matter. As of January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide – 59.5% of the global population. This statistic has a growing trend, and the time of universal access for all will be upon us in a matter of years. The United Nations (UN) has projected that we will reach universal Internet access (defined as 90% of the global population) by 2050. 

2. Validation

eDemocracy relies on the technology of vote counting. But voting machines are secure only when they aren’t connected to the Internet. As we all know, anything connected to the Internet is a target for hacking. But validation is not only about developing a hack-proof voting machine. An eDemocracy system must match or enhance on a whole range of protections our current voting system has evolved over the centuries, including:

  • Identify verification
  • Data security
  • Vote privacy
  • Duress protection
  • Auditability

3. Deliberation

Traditional processes are single-channel, where one person can speak at a time. That is workable for small group communication, but the number of potential conversations grows exponentially with the increased number of participants. That is one of the most significant challenges to group decision-making.

ICT and social media provide multi-channel communication, but the power of those solutions has, in itself, created other problems. We are now facing the impacts of “siloization” and the spread of fake news throughout social media.

For a democracy to function properly, it isn’t enough to have multi-channel communication. We need deliberation. There must be an exchange of different ideas and reasoned argument and debate. What distinguished Athinas democracy from other forms of government wasn’t merely voting but also the oratory and rhetoric that preceded voting that served to inform and influence citizens.

eDemocracy investment criteria

To tackle all the challenges mentioned above, some considerations and criteria investors need to keep in mind.

1. Inter-operability

Investors should encourage and support strategies for integration with other technologies, such as public application program interfaces that allow software platforms to communicate with each other and open source licensing. 

2. Financial viability

The journey to e-democracy is a marathon, not a sprint. It may take 20 to 30 years or more before all pieces come together into a package that citizens are willing to put their faith in. Technology innovators important for this to happen may have to find unique ways to sustain themselves financially till that stage arises. That does not necessarily mean a commercial business model; nonprofit models have also shown a growth capacity. 

3. Market validation

Many apps, sites, and academic papers are proposing new technology-based solutions to the challenges of e-democracy. To be successful, governments need to establish a value proposition, a customer base, and strategies that will enable them to improve their tools.


About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022