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Digital Social Innovation for Democratic Engagement

Author: SIE
Published Date: 26 September 2013

Lack of democratic engagement is an issue that affects countries across Europe. Communities have become disaffected with the democratic processes that affect their day-to-day lives; according to the European Commission, the average voter turnout in national and EU parliamentary elections is less than 50%. Even in today’s globalised world, governments are failing to establish effective lines of communication with their citizens. 

In the current political and economic climate however, it has never been more important to promote democratic engagement. Awareness campaigns, such as ACT. REACT. IMPACT. by the European Parliament, have already begun but more innovative methods are required to forge meaningful connections between citizens and their governmental bodies. We must empower communities to address social issues by promoting awareness and understanding, only then can we achieve real engagement.

DSI, the use of digital platforms to tackle social issues, provides creative solutions to social needs that can reach an active, extensive and diverse online audience. The use of digital technology allows projects to transcend traditional limitations, such as location and demographic, and facilitate genuine interaction. The following examples highlight the capabilities of DSI and its potential for substantial, positive impact:

Avaaz – Using DSI to unite citizens around social issues

Avaaz is a global web movement which aims to “organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want”. It has created a model of internet organising which brings together individual efforts into a single, collective force. Unlike other social movements, Avaaz is an international online community that is not bound by a specific issue which allow its campaigns extraordinary nimbleness, flexibility, focus, and scale. Campaign ideas are polled and tested online on a weekly basis to random member samples. Avaaz empowers its community and consequently creates active and sustained engagement in social issues.

Engame: Syria – Using DSI to educate citizens about social issues

Engame: Syria is an online game that provides an interactive exploration of events unfolding in Syria today. From their own living room, users become participants in distant, foreign problems and have to critically engage in the debate in order to progress. As Tomas Rawlings explained in an article for the Huffington Post, digital games “are a great way to explore a dynamic situation with multiple outcomes as they let the user explore many paths in different ways”. Unlike traditional educational platforms, DSI can inform disengaged audiences about complex social issues in an accessible and engaging format.

FixMyStreet – Using DSI to allow citizens to solve social issues

FixMyStreet is an online portal from mySociety that promotes community engagement to tackle social issues such as graffiti, vandalism and fly-tipping. It is a civic tool that provides a line of communication between citizens and their local government, encouraging people to become invested in the democratic processes that affect their communities. mySociety engage in DSI as they believe that “the internet can meaningfully lower the barriers to taking the first civic or democratic steps in a citizen’s life, and that it can do so at scale”.

DSI is an accessible medium that can capture the interest of a broad demographic and create a united voice. It brings large, complex issues to scale and provides a gateway to the democratic process. With turnout in the last EU election at the lowest recorded level for direct elections for the European Parliament (Gallup, 2013), the demonstrated potential of DSI to gather, inform and apply citizens to engage in social issues is more pressing than ever. It is through these personal interactions that citizens will become inspired to actively participate in the democratic process. 


A summary of this article is available in Greek:

Η Ψηφιακή Κοινωνική Καινοτομία, είναι ένας όρος που περιγράφει τη χρήση ψηφιακών πλατφόρμων για την αντιμετώπιση κοινωνικών ζητημάτων. Η χρήση ψηφιακής τεχνολογίας επιτρέπει συμμετοχή και την δραστηριοποίηση των πολιτών, υπερβαίνοντας τα παραδοσιακά μέσα δημοκρατικής συμμετοχής. Τα παρακάτω παραδείγματα υπογραμμίζουν την προοπτική της Ψηφιακής Κοινωνικής Καινοτομίας να επιδράσει θετικά στην κοινωνία.

Avaaz – Κοινωνικές εκστρατείες σε πραγματικά διεθνή κλίμακα. Το Avaaz είναι μια διεθνής ιντερνετική κοινότητα η οποία σε αντίθεση με την παραδοσιακή δομή των κοινωνικών οργανώσεων, δεν περιορίζεται σε ένα συγκεκριμένο πρόβλημα. 

Engame: Syria – Πώς ένα πολεμικό παιχνίδι μπορεί να διδάξει για τον πόλεμο. Το Engame: Syria είναι ένα δωρεάν παιχνίδι το οποίο παρέχει μία διαδραστική εξερεύνηση των γεγονότων που εκτυλίσσονται στη Συρία σήμερα, καθώς οι χρήστες οδηγούν τους αντάρτες προς την επίτευξη της ειρήνης σ’αυτό τον πόλεμο. 

FixMyStreet - Κοινωνική συμμετοχή με στόχο την αστική βελτίωση. Το FixMyStreet είναι μία διαδικτυακή πύλη του mySociety, η οποία προωθεί την κοινωνική συμμετοχή για την αντιμετώπιση αστικών ζητημάτων όπως γκράφιτι, βανδαλισμούς και τα πεταμένα μπάζα.