Apps for democracy

pia manciniPia Mancini, a 33-year-old Argentinian woman, who has worked for thinktanks, in public policy and on a range of political campaigns, has  devoted her time recently to launching non-profit organisations and collaborative projects that could change the way citizens engage with politics all over the world.

Younger generation
‘There’s so much that is out of sync between the state, the government and the younger generation,’ she says. ‘A huge divide exists between how we organise and communicate in our everyday lives, and how these old institutions expect us to interact with them.’ As a young person, Mancini often finds herself defending her generation against accusations of apathy and disinterest towards democracy and politics. ‘If there’s something that we’re not as a generation, it’s apathetic,’ she says. ‘We are not engaging with the current political systems, but that’s not the same thing as being apathetic. The avenues that political institutions propose for us to engage with are extremely poor. We have a system where voting once every couple of years is the input that you give to politics. Or you have an alternative: come down to a public hearing – except it’s usually at 11 am on a weekday, somewhere downtown,’ she says. ‘Solving these problems is a matter of understanding that we don’t want or trust a system that behaves in the current way.’

DemocracyOSDirect democracy
One of Mancini’s central projects, DemocracyOS, provides a platform for citizens to engage with politics away from those outdated structures. When a new piece of legislation is brought to congress in Argentina DemocracyOS is used to immediately translate and explain it in plain language. ‘Political institutions provide a lot of incentives – negative and positive – for us to interact with one another.’ On the platform therefore, citizens are also able to discuss and directly ‘vote’ on these new bills using the site or desktop app. Within two years after it was created, the platform is already being used by the federal government in Mexico to gather feedback on policy proposals, and by an NGO called iWatch to give voice to the Tunisian public in political decision-making.

Mancini has gone one step further in Buenos Aires, however. In 2012 she and some other activists founded a political party, the Net Party, whose goal is to elect representatives to congress who will vote in accordance with citizens’ wishes. Citizens can express their views via DemocracyOS and the Net Party politicians will act according to these. After running their first-ever candidate in the 2013 Buenos Aires local elections, they hope to elect their first representative to congress in the 2017 elections.

Transparency in politics
Alongside her roles with DemocracyOS and the Net Party, Mancini is working on other projects to improve representation, transparency and accountability in politics, as well as to create opportunities for citizens to collaborate on projects in new ways. One of these projects, Open Collective, allows groups who collect and spend money together to operate in full transparency, from collecting membership fees or donations to reimbursing expenses with one click. Anyone who contributes funds to the collective can view all of the group’s transactions at any time. Her newest project, Democracy.Earth, launched last month and centres on smart contract technology, computer protocols that automatically execute the terms of a contract and will allow decentralised governance of any organisation – from cities to corporations; student unions to football teams.

Mancini may be young, she is ambitious: ‘What we’re doing is building a new set of institutions, or at least the scaffolding for new institutions to be built,” she says. “I think this is the challenge of our time – not only for my generation, but for all global citizens that know things can be done better.’

Source: The Guardian

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