Rethink Democracy: When design meets politics
When democratic decisions dominated international headlines in 2016, a small group of Fjordians in Madrid started to discuss whether there might be a role for design in rethinking the way our election campaigns and voting systems operate. Many of them have been in place for centuries, so it seemed like now might be a good time to re-evaluate where we are and whether they’re still the best solutions in today’s connected world.
This passion project has since grown into a broader discussion. We took it to Cannes Lions 2018, and ran two workshops to gather ideas, opinions and perspectives from the world’s leading creatives. We’ve summarized what we learned below, but first, a little context:
Polarization and apathy
Across the world, polarization seems to be rife – there is inspirational intensity on all sides of every argument. However, in many cases, people’s enthusiasm to stand up and vote is weak, often because they don’t feel sufficiently informed or because they don’t believe their vote will make a difference. Current voting systems are designed to identify the most popular option, rather than the option that will offer policies to satisfy the most people. It’s often more about personality than substance, which leads to polarization rather than a shared desire to find the best group decision.
Our team of designers started considering how we can create new processes that will help citizens to make fully informed decisions, and to know that it’s absolutely worth making the effort to vote for the greater good.
Let’s talk about it
We should make one thing very clear: we don’t claim to know what is right for the common good. We believe in true democracy – in letting everyone speak and in respecting opinions that differ from our own.
Current voting systems don’t allow for convergent decision-making, where most people will be satisfied with the result. Campaigning has become more about personalities than policies, interpretation rather than information, political agendas rather than visions for a genuinely better future. Furthermore, we believe voting systems themselves could be reimagined so that they’re reflective of – and fit for – today’s world.
Our primary desire for this project is to inspire debate and prompt people to re-evaluate our voting systems so that we can be confident in the decisions we make for our societies. We take a “design for innovation” approach, where we apply our knowledge and experience to ideate, prototype and – we hope – one day implement voting systems that are adapted to the connected, digital world we occupy.
Cannes Lions: What did we learn?
We worked with some of the world’s most respected creatives from across the world: Sri Lanka, Switzerland, India, Romania, Spain, Greece, USA, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, UK, Colombia, Argentina and Lebanon.
We presented them with a series of challenges designed to garner their thoughts and ideas around the future of our electoral systems. We learned a huge amount from them that will color the next phase of our project, including insight into their experiences of voting:
1. Our workshop attendees came from different countries but had one thing in common: they don’t live in the town where they were born. Some live a long way from home – sometimes in a different country – and they need a voting system that enables them to participate from wherever they are: digital, safe, fast, connected.
2. Even the countries that are most advanced in terms of digitizing their voting system (e.g. Brazil) still demand that people cast their vote from their home town.
Together, we worked through a series of tasks and several fascinating ideas arose:
We could create a global standard for voting, including school-level education and practise votes for first-timers, where they could see the impact of that vote and reflect on its value.
We could create a ritual around voting that would generate voters’ interest – perhaps involving food.
We could design a “truth seeker” system whereby politicians would be measured against specific KPIs during their term.
We could have citizens and politicians prototype initiatives to determine their real impact and value.
It was fascinating to see some of the insights we had gathered previously aligned with and complemented by conversations we had in the two Cannes workshops, namely:
Bias and manipulation are everywhere
From the way the question is asked to the way the winning choice is defined, bias and manipulation are ever-present.
Technology can help us make better decisions
…when combined with human intelligence – not as a stand-alone tool.
We should vote for ideas, not for people
Rather than relying on personalities, we should understand voters’ needs and concerns, so we can create a brief for candidates to campaign on and act upon.
Allow voters to “shape the brief”
Activating people beyond voting, allowing them to contribute and shape the solution they want to support. A lean-based philosophy for voting (bottom-up approach, with feedback loops to ensure constant improvement)
We should vote continuously.
A “test > measure > ask again” approach would help to mitigate skewed results generated by one-off voting.
See the evolution of the results live
The voting process should be live, so citizens are able to retroactively change or adapt their vote considering the live results. (swarm intelligence).
Creating a convenient model whereby people can vote remotely, electronically, on their mobile devices or similar.
Different scales make different voting processes. Context matters. There is no silver bullet. Stretching voting processes from local to global is the real challenge.
Data security is central
Avoid fraud, and corruption of data.