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?

3 thoughts on “What might mobile democracy look like?

  1. Matt

    Mobile is probably the best medium for Democracy to truly flourish. The ‘social contract’ has been largely one sided until now, but with social networks becoming such great platforms for the voice of the people, mobile is the catalyst to finally balancing out -and hopefully tipping – the scale in the favour of the people.

  2. Becky Faith

    Interesting post!

    This looks a bit like the programme UNICEF have done in Uganda with Ureport http://ureport.ug/

    “Ureport is a free SMS-based system that allows young Ugandans to speak out on what’s happening in communities across the country, and work together with other community leaders for positive change.”

    I think part of what they have achieved is exactly what you say – ” developing that database of people and their views”.

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