French non-profit Voxe.org has just launched an online initiative called Hello 2017 designed to rekindle citizen engagement with the political process by shedding light on key campaign issues and enabling users to question the candidates directly.
Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” However, it appears that the rise of the digital society has helped to bring about disaffection and disengagement of citizens and engender widespread mistrust of the political apparatus. During France’s presidential election in 2012, despite the importance of the outcome to the country’s citizens, the abstention rate was around 20% in both the first and second rounds of voting. And the blame for this fell on the excessive media hype and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of a political system that had run out of control. Nevertheless, US economist and political theorist Anthony Downs regards abstention as an entirely rational phenomenon when you consider the ‘intellectual investment’ required, i.e. the time and effort needed to get to the bottom of all the campaign issues. After all, politics is not as inclusive as it is supposed to be. Politics can seem far too elitist, leaving in its wake the silent majority, who sometimes simply give up on elections altogether.
Based on this observation, Voxe.org, a French non-profit organisation which describes itself as ‘the citizen’s connected toolbox’ has set out to encourage people to re-engage with the political process and take part in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections this year. Voxe.org has created Hello 2017, an online initiative designed to make it easier to follow the public discourse and get everyone involved in the debate. Indeed the team has developed an artificial intelligence tool that enables direct interaction with the citizen and allows him/her to easily obtain the information s/he needs. A team of Hello 2017 volunteers has also been set up to help site visitors quiz the incumbent elected representatives and candidates by relaying questions raised.
Set up in 2012, the basic goal of Voxe.org is to get everyone to make the necessary ‘intellectual investment’ in the political process by running neutral information campaigns and providing comparisons between the various electoral programmes put forward. The French non-profit has already reached out to 3 million people in around 15 countries and its work has met with praise from such organisations as Open Society Foundations and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Web giant Google has also been impressed by Voxe.org, honouring the initiative in the 2015 Google Impact Challenge, whose purpose is to promote and support innovative projects likely to have a “positive impact on the world”. Voxe.org certainly appears to be doing this by shaking up the political process and striving to give citizens back their full freedom of choice.
The growing popularity of CivicTech initiatives is now encouraging further development in this field to make political discourse a less top-down and more person-to-person process and – who knows – perhaps lay the foundations for a system of government just waiting to emerge: cyberdemocracy.