Given the continuing impact of technology on the political arena and the growing perception that big tech has become big brother. This piece considers democracy innovation and the potential return of social led engagement.

Scanning across various countries and their experiments in direct democracy it calls out that not all the experiences can be seen to be progressive. As the range of start-ups operating between commerce and politics continues to grow the opportunity for innovative business models could go either way.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen new and exciting experiments in direct democracy emerge: the Open Ministry – Crowdsourcing legislation site in the Finnish Parliament; the Icelandic e-democracy and participatory budgeting website Better Reykjavik; Podemos, the new decentralised Spanish political movement and the municipal citizen-led coalitions Barcelona en Comu and Ahora Madrid.

You could also include Italy’s Five Star Movement in the range of options that have sprung up that use technology to engage directly with people. Since the Brexit decision in the UK and the Trump presidential election the world of politics has got a little potty and if the craziness continues you can expect a further proliferation of options.  The most recent high profile transformation came to prominence this week in France, according to the IMF, the sixth largest economy in the world, where Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement can go from nothing to the vehicle to take him to the presidency.

Clandestine political meetings

Following the Brexit vote I was introduced to one such option in clandestine circumstances, under the guise of hearing Paddy Ashdown’s post Brexit views on the tech sector.  Imagine my surprise when we were given an early introduction to More United.  This being a platform that aims to influence politics without being a political party. The concept being that the world of politics needs to innovate to bring everyman back into the centre, rather than the extremist or populist end of the spectrum. A key aim is to enable people to participate in and change politics in a way that has never been possible before. One of the principals of More United is for A United Kingdom that welcomes immigration, international co-operation and a close relationship with the EU.

A crowded space in the new world of politics

One aspect I did find interesting was how More United (if it’s not a political party) positions itself next to and Steve Hilton’s Crowdpac, a Silicon Valley political tech start-up.  He was formerly a visiting professor at Stanford University and the senior advisor to David Cameron and played a leading role in the modernisation of the Conservative Party and the implementation of its government reform programme.

Hilton also recently wrote More Human, in which he argued that the frustrations people feel with government, politics, their economic circumstances and their daily lives are caused by deep structural problems with the systems that dominate our world – systems that have become too big, bureaucratic and distant from human scale.  He was also a prominent supporter for the leave team in the referendum.

Other start-ups in this space are the likes of Brigade which pitches itself as the world’s first network for voters. One of Brigades backers is Sean Parker, of Napster and early Facebook investor fame, and like many apps in the space the user can dial in seamlessly with a Facebook plugin. Nothing untoward there really. However, when you consider the power and use of the data the mainstream political parties apply when targeting us in one of the many electoral campaigns.

According to Gerry Gunter, the Campaign Strategist for the EU Referendum Leave Campaign and Gary Coby from the Republican National Committee, the application of this insight and tools from Facebook was a gamechanger. The ability to micro target messages to fishermen in Scotland and factory workers in the Midlands goes to underscore The Consumers World theme and trend I have written and researched often.  This is the situation where the consumer will become THE most important asset of a company rather an anonymous entity. The scenario when you will have the capability to target down to market of one.  We all become walking barcodes.

When we start down this road this feels more like a capitalist dystopia where the language about technology is darker. A world where the technology industry is a winner take all economy and a worker’s nightmare, with the rise of robots, the destruction of jobs and the erosion of employees’ incomes and rights. I touch on these challenges in my recent Leaving the robotics labs and coming to a workspace or home near you, and Robots and artificial intelligence in the shape of us, pieces.

Decentralised Citizen Engagement Technology

Bring a more positive lens back to technology and its ability to drive political change. It’s worth considering Francesca Bria’s Europe-wide project D-CENT. The project investigates opportunities for technology to re-energise democracy and politics. D-CENT gathers citizen-led organisations that are transforming democracy and looks to help them develop the next generation of open source, distributed and privacy-aware tools for direct democracy.  These tools, innovative in both the commercial and public sector domains, are spreading across the political spectrum, governments, parliaments and the public shaping the new political institutions of the 21st Century.

Do good. Make Money

Whilst I’ve been unpacking the rise of new open social democratic platforms this trend cross pollinates into the rise of the mission-driven business, where purpose and something of meaning is part of the powerful draw to start and create innovative solutions across the world to deliver change.

I welcome your feedback and comments and would love to hear from you.  If this was of interest you can sign up and subscribe to not miss out of future posts