Citizen Democracy – making it work for Australians

This appears to be the most opportune time in modern history for citizen based democratic processes to become more prevalent. As perhaps illustrated by a rise in populist politics like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, that pay little regards to complexities, citizens are seeking answers that they are yet see from mainstream politics.

However, this potential comes with limitations. To date, many significant citizen democracy processes have come with a caveat. Participants either need to have, or to learn details about the topic at hand. The first largely excludes those who may not be proficient or have a desire to research topics (consider individuals from a CALD background, people with learning disabilities or those who are simply not passionate about a topic). The second takes time to achieve outcomes, time to educate and ensure informed decision making and also time to run, providing a challenge for working people, parents or students to be involved as they are simply too busy with their lives to participate.

If we want to ensure that that we as strategists can design civic engagement that is available to all then we need to adjust expectations on how people think about politics. Tools and processes that foster engagement need to be designed for real people and there is not just one tool that can address that.

Lately we have been working on a number of projects that encourage active community participation. From using a mix of web based tools like online surveys and avatars, to more traditional tools like forums and pop-up stalls we have found that the mix of approaches is needed to address complexity. The common denominator is building time in processes to learn from communities and adapting to ensure that reach extends beyond the usual suspects.

So if your organisation has been stretching the boundaries of engagement beyond the usual suspects, what’s your key learning? And how do you build time and flexibility into your processes to ensure that you still meet your engagement goals?