Electronic democracy’s primary idea is getting more citizens involved via the Internet. Until now, security concerns have been an obstacle. Now, blockchain enables new encryption technology that makes online communication and information storage more secure. Around the globe, blockchain solutions are in the process of advancing e-democracy, meaning processes become more transparent and citizens can get involved more directly. Trend and Internet expert Verena Dauerer introduces five groundbreaking projects.
An E-democracy Toolbox
2013 to 2016
Francesca Bria, on behalf of the European Union
Direct democracy and economic independence
Researching usage scenarios for e-technologies in democracy, carrying out pilot projects, and developing a digital toolbox
Everyone can use this digital toolbox
D-CENT (Decentralized Citizens ENgagement Technologies) is a research project that was funded by the European Union between 2013 and 2016. Italian social scientist and innovation economist Francesca Bria headed a team that developed electronic tools for EU citizens to drive direct democracy and economic autonomy. D-CENT also ran three pilot projects with communities in Spain, Iceland, and Finland. It used blockchains to try to promote political and social engagement—developing a system of financial incentives and rewards for political participation in Reykjavik, for example, and supporting small businesses through an interest-free online currency system in Barcelona. A third project in Helsinki, the Urban Cooperative Farm—an urban company promoting cooperative and participatory farming—introduced a decentralized reward system to incentivize engagement for the common good. The projects in Iceland and Spain are still running.
Using the lessons learned from these pilot projects, D-CENT created a digital toolbox that can be downloaded for free. It’s a software bundle for civic participation groups and initiatives like voting tools and communication platforms. In 2016, D-CENT received a special mention in the digital communities category at the renowned Ars Electronica festival. The scope of D-CENT ’s future impact entirely depends on how widespread the toolbox becomes.
D-CENT is a good idea. Even if it was originally intended for experts, its results should not be dismissed. The fact that most of the pilot projects are still running is a testament to its success.
Christoph and Simon Jentzsch
Democratizing the sharing economy
Decentral interaction without a middle-man; the sharing platform returns data control to those using it; users can negotiate rental conditions directly
All platform users
Demos is all about democratizing economic power relations. The company was founded in 2015 and awarded the German Mobility Prize the following year. Set up by the RWE subsidiary Innogy with brothers Christoph and Simon Jentzsch from Mittweida and Stephan Tual from London, this project tackles the sharing economy from the other side. The platform gives users control over their own data, allowing them to advertise their own mobility services.
Using blockchain technology, participants can interact directly without having to go through a platform. The economy is democratized, and everyone retains control of their data. Contracts and payments are processed directly between participants via smart contracts. These computer protocols review the contracts, ensure the terms are fulfilled, and offer support for the transactions. The user gets to decide who can access what information. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Christoph and Simon Jentzsch and Stephan Tual show that economically successful projects can and should be democratic.
Vision for a Global Democracy
Internet activists Pia Mancini and Santiago Siri
Open-source platform for democratic voting
Developing digital voting tools to boost citizen participation with a mix of direct and representative democracy (liquid democracy)
Everyone can use the application
A group of Internet enthusiasts formed the Argentinian Democracy Earth Foundation; the founding team, headed by activists Pia Mancini and Santiago Siri, also developed the open source platform DemocracyOS. Through their browser-based app, the activists want to use a mixture of direct democracy and representation to encourage participation in a liquid democracy. Citizens can use the app to express opinions to representatives who actually represent them and not the interests of, for example, lobbyists. Crowdsourcing will make legislative proposals easier for everyone to understand. Voters can even transfer voting rights to institutions or experts they trust.
Their idea of a blockchain-based election is revolutionary. Everything is transparent, but voter anonymity is safeguarded. Every vote is assigned a Satoshi, the smallest Bitcoin currency. Every transaction with Satoshis is saved in an accounting system that is both decentralized and open to the public, meaning that anyone is free to hold a recount. The system had its first trial run in 2013 by the Net Party (Partido de la Red), also cofounded by Mancini and Siri, in the Argentinian municipal elections.
By now, 200 people are working to promote DemocracyOS. Fall 2016, the app was successfully used in Colombia during a referendum on issues including peace talks with the FARC guerrilla movement. Six million Colombians living abroad would otherwise have been excluded from the referendum; young people under age 18 were also allowed to participate. Without the new platform, the referendum might have had different results. As a next step, Democracy Earth hopes to start working with organizations like Occupy, according to recent comments by campaigner Virgile Deville. That would at least be a good place to start because DemocracyOS is user-friendly and easy to operate on a smartphone. This means that everyone can get involved in a community and participate in decision-making processes.
Kaspar Korjus, on behalf of Estonia
Ten million digital citizens by 2025
Digital citizenship for people around the world, to bolster Estonia’s economic development
Everyone can apply for digital citizenship online
Estonian native Kaspar Korjus just turned 27. As team leader of the e-residency project, his mission is to attract around 10 million new e-residents to Estonia by 2025. Digital citizenship is not only for Estonians, but is also directed at transnationals; foreign citizens can more easily start companies online, which will in turn boost Estonia’s economic development. Thanks to e-residency, foreigners from EU states can found companies in Estonia and carry out their banking transactions there, too.
E-residency is part of the comprehensive e-Estonia project that the country sees as a path to becoming a digital society. Estonian citizens equipped with digital ID cards can already access 600 governmental e-services. The card allows them to pay for public transport, get prescriptions online, pay parking fines, register new companies, and even vote online in minutes.
All transactions are carried out on X-Road, the foundation of the Estonian digital services. X-Road is an open, decentralized system that uses blockchain to guarantee safe data exchange between citizens, public authorities, and the private sector. It was first set up in 2001. The system has no central hub, which makes it immune to digital attacks and well-equipped to deal with high volumes of data. It’s been smooth going so far. For a while now, Estonian citizens living within the country have been reaping the rewards of their digital IDs, and the project to offer digital citizenship to non-Estonians is also promising. So far, around 12,000 digital citizens have signed up—admittedly still a long way off the target of 10 million. Through this concept of digital citizenship, Estonia is test-running a future in which states and nationalities are no longer based on geography.
E-Estonia is a project with a promising future, and will one day be rolled out in other countries. People are eager to find out whether the “e-residency for everyone” project passes the test.
5 Government Digital Service
Transparent Administration of a Democracy
Online since 2012
Ben Terret, on behalf of Great Britain
A new perspective on e-government, digital state administration for citizens
Reorganizing administration and its services to ease citizen access and comprehension
Citizens of Great Britain
In the United Kingdom, more than 200 experts are currently radically rethinking the state administration and its services. Ben Terret, who specializes in transforming digital space, has been one of the key players in this design team from the beginning.
Paperwork is tedious, whether it’s a trip to the registry office, filing a change of address, or applying for benefits. It’s stressful and unnecessary work not only for 62 million citizens, but also for the 24 institutions providing 700 different services in 331 departments. Until now, forms and administrative procedures have been designed so relevant authorities can easily process them, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) project is looking to radically shift this perspective.
The administration and its services will be redesigned to prioritize easy access and understanding for citizens; ending unnecessary complexity. All applications will be available online, with security safeguarded by blockchain technology.
In addition to e-participation, transparent e-governance is an important tool for involving all citizens in democratic processes—as long as user needs take priority.