Civocracy provides an interface with attractive design and functionality to stimulate and facilitate online debate on social and political issues.
Who can citizens go to if they want to discuss a plan to build a motorway with the various parties concerned? Or to give their opinion on the status of homeless people and take part in a lively exchange of views? Tweeting a photo to the address of a locally elected official might have some impact, but today the few places you can go to for an online discussion about civic matters often convey a rather austere impression. Moreover, such forums usually concentrate on a single theme – such as the environment – and only allow a limited range of actions, which means that you will have to surf other sites and blogs if you wish to go beyond the debate and obtain extra information on the topic. ‘Civic tech’ is certainly in serious need of a facelift. Civocracy, a Berlin-based startup with whom L’Atelier met up during the Startup Europe Summit event on 12-13 February in Berlin, sees itself as part of this movement. Civocracy is basically an interface which puts citizens in touch with all types of players involved – local authorities and politicians, businesses, charitable organisations and NGOs – to discuss matters of civic and social importance ranging from huge problems such as poverty to far more down-to-earth issues such as the proposed closure of a neighbourhood school.
Example of a dialogue on Twitter between a citizen and elected officials
Algorithm to rate a participant's reputation
‟We want to become the natural venue for this type of discussion,” explains Civocracy founder Benjamin Snow. On the platform you can look back through the chain of a debate and find relevant arguments for or against a project or an idea. Civocracy also provides additional services: access to extra information such as press articles and online courses, and information on how to get involved in a given cause. ‟Many platforms tackle the problem the wrong way round,” argues Snow. There are of course a good many sites that help to collect signatures and then go and rap on the door of a company or politician. Civocracy takes the opposite approach, inviting all stakeholders to take part in the debate from the very outset. Not only activists but companies have the opportunity to initiate a conversation on a relevant issue or a development project. In order to refine the quality of the debate, the Civocracy team has in recent months been working on an algorithm to enable a participant’s reputation to be assessed by tracking his/her activity on the site. Who can take the lead on a given topic? Who is an expert on this issue? ‟It’s not about quantity. We won’t be showcasing the people who participate most often or who publish long commentaries; instead we’ll be focusing on how relevant people’s contributions are,” Snow underlines.
The Startup Europe Summit, a conference on the innovation ecosystem in Europe, took place on 12-13 February at The Factory in Berlin
An evolving business model
With a view to improving the user experience, Civocracy is determined to provide an attractive, user-friendly site “in order to encourage people to create quality content.” Accordingly, Civocracy will be adding a system of recommendations to the next version of the platform, which is due out this spring. Depending on his/her profile, a user might put forward other related topics or point to influential people whose ideas s/he finds interesting. In the longer term, the startup intends to sift the data collected on the platform so as to publish useful statistics. This should help to refine its business model, which at this ‘early stage’ takes a B2B approach – i.e. companies wishing to initiate a conversation on a given topic are charged a fee. Meanwhile the voice of Civocracy is starting to be heard and might well grow louder as the startup team is scheduled soon to take part in a programme at one of the biggest accelerators in Europe. A number of cities and local governments in Europe, especially in Germany and Denmark, have given the initiative an enthusiastic welcome. The future could well be highly promising for the Berlin-based civic debate platform.