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Social Tech for Civic Change

Social Tech for Civic Change

April 15 2016

By Nominet Trust

This decade began with an Arab Spring, which is now turning into a cold winter as movements like #Occupy and supporters of Edward Snowden in the US and The Pussy Riot in Russia continue to fight for civic and representative rights for the 99%. We have steadily been seeing more and more activism shift online, and are beginning to understand the potential of technology to effect politics at a local as well as international level.

In compiling the 2015 NT100 we looked at public-facing tools working towards furthering democracy and equal representation for those who don’t always have ready access to governance. From the US to the Middle East, to Africa, we were astounded by how effective social tech tools and online activism have been in giving a voice to those who usually go unheard.

CrowdVoice.org is a platform founded in response to regional social movements during the early days of the Arab Spring. When a nation is under threat, disinformation is rife, and an NGO called Mideast Youth sought to counter this by developing an independent nexus of citizen imagery, video and reporting to collect, store and present content. The community embraces open source values and encourages independent fact-checkers. They seek to chronicle change and promote accountability, and have now grown enough to host content from around the world.


Image courtesy of CrowdVoice.org

Democracy OS is an open source online tool that hosts proposals, sections for commentary, and voting mechanisms in a collaborative community. It is the first civic platform that allows the public to engage with governments online and through digital technology, to ensure that civic representation is in step with how people communicate today. The OS was born in Argentina and moved to Palo Alto following funding from VCs Y-Combinator in 2015. The platform was successfully adopted by the Mexican government in an effort to form more open and accessible government policy, which is an encouraging sign of things to come.

Another project with a home in California, USA, is Labor Link. Set up as a non-profit to help protect the rights of workers around the world who make our clothes and electronics, Labor Link is a mobile tool that allows for two-way anonymous text conversations. The process is simple: workers receive surveys and can provide answers straight through their phone, without fear of penalisation from their employers. Over 300,000 workers have engaged with the tool in 16 countries so far, and Labor Link aims to expand that number to 1 million workers by 2018.


Image courtesy of Labor Link

In Africa, U-Report is a messaging platform that engages young people in political decision-making. UNICEF set up the platform to host a debate via SMS, and later Twitter, which encouraged young people to take part. Starting in Uganda, where 55% of the population is 18 years old or younger, and 48% of people have access to mobile phones, U-Report is now available globally. Subscribers to the platform get potentially lifesaving information on disease outbreaks, HIV/AIDS and more, and in Uganda, a direct line to decision makers on topics which are important to them.


Image courtesy of U-Report

Supporting democracy is a goal that translates into little financial benefit for a startup. Technology however holds amazing promise to revolutionise the way democracy is conducted and provides us with more direct agency. We need platforms to carry this out, and their success will be measured through citizen engagement, debate, constructive dialogue and response metrics, rather than profit.

These 2015 NT100 projects have all created tools to support us in these goals. They’ve achieved network effects that have paid dividends in granting a larger populace access to decision making, and allowed people to engage with their representatives as never before—as well as hold them accountable. By definition they need our personal engagement, so take a look at the projects above and others in the NT100 that are supporting grassroots efforts around the world, and have your say.

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