Around the world, people are asking how we can make democracy work in new and better ways. We are frustrated by political systems in which voting is the only legitimate political act. We are concerned that many republics don’t have the strength or appeal to withstand authoritarian figures. And we are disillusioned by the inability of many countries to address the fundamental challenges of health, education and economic development.

We can no longer assume that the countries of the global North have ‘advanced’ democracies, and that the nations of the global South simply need to catch up. Citizens of these older democracies have increasingly lost faith in their political institutions. Northerners cherish their human rights and free elections, but are clearly looking for something more. Meanwhile, in the global South, new regimes based on a similar formula of rights and elections have proven fragile and difficult to sustain. And in Brazil, India and other Southern countries, participatory budgeting and other valuable democratic innovations have emerged. The stage is set for a more equitable, global conversation about what we mean by democracy.

How can we adjust our democratic formulas so that they are more sustainable, powerful, fulfilling – and, well, democratic? Some of the parts of this equation may come from the development of online tools and platforms that help people to engage with their governments, with organizations and institutions and with each other. Often referred to collectively as ‘civic technology’ or ‘civic tech’, these tools can help us map public problems, help citizens generate solutions, gather input for government, coordinate volunteer efforts and help neighbors remain connected.

If we want to create democracies in which citizens have meaningful roles in shaping public decisions and solving public problems, we should be asking a number of questions about civic tech, including:

  • How can online tools best support new forms of democracy?
  • What are the examples of how this has happened?
  • What are some variables to consider in comparing these examples?
  • How can we learn from each other as we move forward?

Public Agenda developed this research brief to help democratic innovators explore these questions and examine how their work can provide answers. Click here to download the full research brief.

About this Publication

This briefing note is one of three that were written as background notes for the Making All Voices Count Learning Event on Transformative Governance, held in Manila, Philippines, in February 2016. The other briefings are:

Aceron, J. and Isaac, F. (2016) Getting strategic: vertically integrated approaches, Brighton: IDS

Halloran, B. (2016) Accountability ecosystems: directions of accountability and points of engagement, Brighton: IDS

The report of the Learning and Inspiration Event is:

Making All Voices Count (2016) Transforming governance: what role for technologies?, Brighton: IDS,

About Making All Voices Count

Making All Voices Count is a program working towards a world in which open, effective and participatory governance is the norm and not the exception. This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions to transform the relationship between citizens and their governments. The field of technology for Open Government is relatively young and the consortium partners, Hivos, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Ushahidi, are a part of this rapidly developing domain. These institutions have extensive and complementary skills and experience in the field of citizen engagement, government accountability, private sector entrepreneurs, (technical) innovation and research. Making All Voices Count is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Omidyar Network, and is implemented by a consortium consisting of Hivos, IDS and Ushahidi. The program is inspired by and supports the goals of the Open Government Partnership.

Download the Full Report

Transforming Governance

How Can Technology Help Reshape Democracy?

Media Type: PDF

One of three research briefs written as background notes for the Making All Voices Count Learning Event on Transformative Governance, held in Manila, Philippines, in February 2016.


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