How Covid-19 Is Accelerating the Rise of Digital Democracy

Blog post by Rosie Beacon: “Covid-19 has created an unprecedented challenge for parliaments and legislatures. Social distancing and restrictions on movement have forced parliaments to consider new methods of scrutiny, debate, and voting. The immediate challenge was simply to replicate existing procedures remotely, but the crisis has presented a unique window of opportunity to innovate.

As policymakers slowly transition back to “normal”, they should not easily dismiss the potential of this new relationship between democracy and technology. Parliamentarians should use what they’ve learned and the expertise of the democracy tech and deliberative democracy community to build greater trust in public institutions and open up traditional processes to wider deliberation, bringing people closer to the source of democratic power.

This note sets out some of the most interesting examples of crisis-led parliamentary innovation from around the world and combines it with some of the lessons we already know from democracy and deliberative tech to chart a way forward.

There are five core principles political leaders should embrace from this great experiment in digital parliamentary democracy:

  1. Discover and adopt: The world’s parliaments and legislatures have been through the same challenge. This is an opportunity to learn and improve democratic engagement in the long-term.
  2. Experiment with multiple tools: There is no one holistic approach to applying digital tools in any democracy. Some will work, others will fail – technology does not promise infallibility.
  3. Embrace openness: Where things can be open, experiment with using this to encourage open dialogue and diversify ideas in the democratic and representative process.
  4. Don’t start from scratch: Learn how the deliberative democracy community is already using technology to help remake representative systems and better connect to communities.
  5. Use multi-disciplinary approaches: Create diverse teams, with diverse skill sets. Build flexible tools that meet today’s needs of democracies, citizens and representatives.

Approaches From Around the World

The approaches globally to Covid-19 continuity have been varied depending on the geographical, political and social context, but they generally follow one of these scenarios:

  1. Replicating everything using digital tools – Welsh Assembly, Crown dependencies (Jersey, Isle of Man),Brazil
    • Using technology in every way possible to continue the current parliamentary agenda online.
  2. Moving priority processes online, deprioritising the rest – France National Assembly,New ZealandCanada
    • No physical presence in parliaments and prioritising the most important elements of the current parliamentary agenda, usually Covid-19-related legislation, to adapt for online continuation.
  3. Shifting what you can online while maintaining a minimal physical parliament – Denmark, Germany, UK
    • Hybrid parliaments appear to be a popular choice for larger parliaments. This generally allows for the parliamentary agenda to continue with amendments to how certain procedures are conducted.
  4. Reducing need for physical attendance and moving nothing online – Ireland, Sweden
    • Houses can continue to sit in quorum (an agreed proportion of MPs representative of overall party representation), but certain parts of legislative agenda have been suspended for the time being….(More)”.