Citizen-focused platforms for closer collaboration and decision-making
EU-funded researchers with the D-CENT project are analysing new online tools and platforms to facilitate direct democracy and citizen-centred economic empowerment.
Real citizen empowerment and participation in decision making can only happen if there is genuine democratic involvement and a system in place that fairly recognises contributions to the collective good. The EU-funded D-CENT project, launched in October 2013, has built upon innovative new online tools and platforms to provide citizens with a decisive voice and a fairer means of recognising social value.
While the internet has enormous potential to facilitate new forms of social interaction and grassroots cooperation, it has also become increasingly centralised. The D-CENT project has sought to counter this by developing alternative means of online organisation – through pilot projects and the development of new online tools – to create new open platforms where real grassroots cooperation can take place.
D-CENT began by addressing the issue of citizen engagement in the decision-making process, looking at some of Europe's most innovative experiments in direct democracy in Finland, Iceland and Spain. These projects have shown how millions of citizens can become empowered and engaged in day-to-day decision-making if the right tools and platforms are in place.
In Iceland for example, citizens have been asked to contribute to a new wiki-constitution, while the Open Ministry in Finland is an experiment in crowdsourcing legislation. Additionally, some of Europe’s most dynamic online social movements can be found in Spain.
A common characteristic shared by many of these projects has been the need to strengthen the democratic debate and to take into account social value. This is especially true for projects with a social impact. To help facilitate this, D-CENT has introduced Freecoin, a new digital social currency based on Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a virtual payment system released as open-source software.
The goal of Freecoin is to encourage the sharing economy by placing a ‘value’ on social utility. In Finland for example, a decentralised social remuneration system has been introduced to reward contributions of members of an urban cooperative farm who perform in the common interest of the cooperative.
Exploitation of Freecoin could also run in parallel with new governmental innovations for the post-recession recovery of national economies, or help improve trust management dynamics in the financial services industry by better taking into account social value. D-CENT believes that Freecoin could become a building block for a new economy that better values the collective good.
D-CENT researchers are due to take part in a roundtable discussion with citizen activists, social movements and developers of new open source democracy tools from 7 to 8 July in Brussels. The discussion will focus on the kind of online tools and self-governance models needed to empower citizens. The event will also enable the project to take stock of the advances that have been made.
Ultimately, D-CENT will provide civil society with useable digital tools for social innovation and sustainability, and help to establish longer-term alternatives to current centralised online platforms. The project is due for completion in May 2016.