Meeting notes for 20th March 2019: Starting a Democracy Forum / Think Tank - Is it needed? What's required for one?

#1

Designing Open Democracy Meeting notes for 20th March 2019: Starting a Democracy Forum / Think Tank - Is it needed? What’s required for one?

Summary written by Sylvia Poliaková and Nick Merange. Composed, edited and reviewed by Brian Khuu.

  • Event Title: Starting a Democracy Forum / Think Tank - Is it needed? What’s required for one?
  • Date: Wednesday the 20th of March 2019
  • Time: Starting at 6pm
  • Location: Melbourne Business Centre, Level 9, 440 Collins Street, Melbourne Victoria 3000 (melbournebusinesscentre.com.au)
  • Event Link: https://www.meetup.com/DesigningOpenDemocracy/events/259288812/

Participants

  • Brian Khuu
  • Nick Merange
  • Alexar
  • Fernanda
  • Robert Crouch
    • Devising better preferences voting system
  • Zoe Ryan
    • Solarpunk Musican and storyteller
  • Paul Ross
    • Founder of The Citizen’s Dividend Party
  • Kathern Phelps
    • Organising “Remake the future” conference
  • Paul Ken Coghill and Julia Thornton
    • Involved in the “Accountability Round Table”
  • Eric Doriean
    • Confest/Burning Man Australia
    • Not for profit organisation
    • Started a Multi-stakeholder organisation
  • Sylvia Poliakova
    • Part of think tank in Slovakia which started as a small uni group
    • Wrote articles in magazines
    • Interviewing high-profile people
    • Invited academics to have discussions about democracy w/citizens

Overall Summary

Designing Open Democracy met on the 20th of March 2019, on a quiet Wednesday. The main purpose of this meeting was to discuss the priorities and goals of the new Open Democracy organization.

After a general overview of Designing Open Democracy was given, the group was suggested to discuss potential vision and the mission scope for this organization.

This is since the topic of democracy is very broad and can be realized in many ways. Thus it is necessary to define a more concrete goal to improve the organisation’s focus and ability to tackle the overal objective of improving democracy.

At the moment the current active objective for Designing Open Demoracy is to assist members to meet and network together in the democracy reform space.

However a current goal is to find an unmet gap in society, that Designing Open Democracy is in the best position to contribute in a positive manner.

One suggestion of a potential opportunity is that the grassroots and the political leaders could and should be more interwoven. For example the unemployed, farmers, scientists, business owners, etc… may reflect on democracy differently from each other and thus may be more interested in one aspect over other parts of a society.

Another aspect to consider is also the potential opportunity for NGOs and political leaders to cooperate more effectively, and Designing Open Democracy could possibly be a neutral space to promote such cooperation.

Later discussions was about the fundamentals of how a democracy can be more open and transparent to the public as well. This could take the form of a technical reform or fundamental structural changes to the govement.

Submission of recommendations papers and lobbying the goverment on potential reform opportunities is some capabilities that this organisation can perform. However considering the mainly volunteer nature of this organisation, it is important to work within the capabilities of our existing member bases.

Some of the different activities we can push for can vary from increased govermental transparancy to buiding a stronger connection between the government and the community.

Ultimately the role of Designing Open Democracy is to assist Govermental systems to produce outcome that is more aligned with the community interests and desire.

Organisational Suggestions:

  • Vision-Mission relationship can be implemented. Vision as our target, goal and Mission as the concrete steps we will do. (Fernanda)
    • Vision = “what would you like to see?”
    • Mission = “What will the group do?”
  1. Avoid replication. There is a lot of different democracy groups. It is nearly always better to collaborate instead of competing.
  2. Contribute to the Australian Public Service discussion paper on “Enhancing civil society engagement in decision-making processes”
  3. Enhancing civil society engagement in decision-making process.
  4. Find what can be done instead of what has to be done.
  5. Find the goal of the Open Democracy project.
  6. See Tom Daly’s “Democratic decay”, is that something you could operate under?

The meetup participants agreed that each one will add two issues (provided online) which could be the main focus.

General Organisational Comments

  • Our current approach is more as a networking space for those working towards a more open democracy. Helping members to discuss and work together on each other projects. (Brian Khuu)

  • It is necessary to create a framework for Designing Open Democracy. This can be done based on these questions: (Julia Thornton)

    • Are we creating software OR education OR better democracy
    • In what way?
    • Where is the gap in the market?
  • People deal with problems at the level they can – reduce the complexity so it can be grasped. This can lead over arguments over petty detail. Instead of asking what must be done, ask what can be done in terms of framing the opportunity. (Julia Thornton)

Identified Problems In Democracies

  • It is important to realize that many citizens are currently experiencing alientation towards their representative democracy. We can look for new tools which can be used to enhance existing democracies, but it may also be timely to focus instead on creating a new form of governance instead. But there is also a public participation spectrum angle we need to observe as well. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • The accountability roundtable functions well thanks to experts who are members but it lacks the grassroot and civil society representation. This is an aspect of a wider problem of the lacks of trust in the government from the public. (Julia Thornton)

  • Democracy 25 report released by ANU
    • Lack of trust
    • Lack of knowledge
    • Demographics: Poor people know less about democracy and less engaged than rich people

What we should commit to:

  • Civil society engagement
  • Proposals presented

Main Questions

  • If we will pick 2 issues to be our main focus and 2 main question we would like to answer, it will give us an idea of what are the prospective for a better democracy. (Zoe Ryan)
  • What is the gap in the current system which can be covered by Open Democracy?

  • What is the main purpose, mission and or priority of Open Democracy?

  • What tools can be used to bring Open Democracy closer to public?

General Comments

  • We need to work out if we really need a Think Tank or is there other organisation structure that is more suitable. (Brian Khuu)

  • At the moment we are mostly discussing about democracy and providing general model of different ways of democracy. Could be instead be more active in Lobbying the authorities to take a more proactive stance towards democracy reform? (Brian Khuu)

  • We can involve more actors as well as studying, publishing or researching more about democracy as there is definitely a space for a potential think tank. (Fernanda)

  • The reason behind an opaque or malfunctioning democracy is partially also due to the ill defined understanding of what democracy is within the public. Extremes exist on both sides such as a fascist government calling itself democratic. Democracy can be seen as a target, horizon or/and an achievable perfect goal. (Fernanda)

  • Liberal democracy is currently the most efficient system. The current challenges can be tackled within the system. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • There are currently research on whether the compulsory voting is a good process, due to prevalance of apathetic and disaffected voters disinterested in politics even though it is compulsory. (Fernanda)

  • The most vulnerable people are the unemployed citizens who are not having an equal say in democracy in comparison with other members of the society - a lack of voice in the democracy system despite the compulsory voting. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • The small groups of society should not be underestimated; structures and especially structural toxicity can be an issue to the organization. There are different ways that work in different types of organization. Open Flow- everything should be open, collaborative as much as possible. (Eric Doriean)

  • There is a formula for failure and success in political actions. Formula is: (Robert Crouch)

    1. “What needs to be done, what is going to be done” - nothing need to be done
    2. “What can be done” - more as asking yourself.
    3. Asking what has to be done is a risk of failure as it connects with duty.
    4. Asking for what can be done is a prediction for success.
  • One potentially interesting topic for a discussion panel is about how a public discussion on a controversial political topic can be more effectively moderated. (Brian Khuu)

  • Main goals can be a reflection of concrete needs of the public. (Sylvia Poliaková)

  • The democracy reform spectrum can range from more governmental transparancy to full community empowerment. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • Take note that Australia has recently joined the Open Government Participation partnership. The goal of OGP is to enhance cooperation between government and community. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • New Democracy foundation facilitated this process of more connection between politics and society. (Nick Merange)

  • The University of Canberra has created a journalistic portfolio of Deliberative Democracy called the Accountability round table - In 2006, concerns appeared that ministers on federal and Victorian state level were not held accountable. Several groups were created and were successful with the implementation of some reforms. They are still active by making submissions to the public enquiries and became incorporated. Afterwards, the structure, funding and further incorporation were created and needed. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • There is a real gap in the market within the grassroots and activist organisation and community groups, in terms of access to experts with the skills to navigate the necessary steps to create more submissions and recommendations to the government. This involves coordinating activities that needs to be done with the people who has the capabilities to do so. This can be done. (Julia Thornton)

  • What can be specifically done to promote more connection between groups of society and to be involved in the community activities? We can decide what specific steps we will do. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • Who would be the audience, who we will attract and what brings us together? These are important questions. Journals may be solution to bring more attention but it must also be specified on what sort of journal or expertise can be fruitful for Designing Open Democracy. (Kathern Phelps)

  • We can fulfil the gap between expertize and grassroots level- identifying issues which are discussed at the expertize level and bring attraction from the grassroots level to involve political authorities for an action or consideration. (Fernanda)

  • Reports of the reforms of the federal public service made reference for a community engagement and were asking for public submissions or comments. A suggestion: to look at the report and make a submission regarding that report with practical suggestion. (Paul Ken Coghill)

  • We need to find out what is the problem, what we can focus on. (Julia Thornton)

  • We can facilitate the way in which people can stress out their issues. How can public policy influence citizens participation? The findings are that the more neoliberal the government is the more apathetic the public becomes. What impact can have for example Universal Basic Income for e.g. a higher political participation? (Fernanda)

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#2

We are still gathering answers for this question “What are the two issues relating to democracy that needs public traction?”. If you have any to respond, please reply in this thread What are the two issues relating to democracy that needs public traction? (The Main Question After the 20th of March 2019 Meeting)

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#3

There are 2 broad areas that need to be discussed are Education and Engagement

Education focussed on the possible alternative democratic approaches. The ongoing research on the level of trust in systems of government around the world shows the Australia has very low levels in trust in particular with our political system. People feel they have very little control and trust. The mindset however is still focussed on the concept of political parties being the established process. The aim should be to enable people to see alternative ways in which their views could be truly represented. Given todays technology if we designed a political system from scratch now there is no way we would end up with the concept of elected representatives within a party political system. The plebiscite is a good example of how people can express their views. We need to liberate people’s minds to the opportunities.

Engagement could be focussed on the major issues facing the country. I dont want to talk about the mechanisms by which this engagement can occur but again the technology is available by which everyone in the country could be engaged with a high level of confidence and security. I would also propose using our national broadcasters (ABC and SBS) in a formal role to facilitate the rich conversations on policy. I would also propose that climate change be a good initial topic given that there is a gap between public perception and current government policy in this area.

I suspect the major political parties would not support these ideas as it could diminish their ability to direct policy. It would however engage the voting public and allow them to influence government decision making.

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What are the two issues relating to democracy that needs public traction? (The Main Question After the 20th of March 2019 Meeting)