In Strasbourg we are discussing democracy at the Hémicycle of the Palais de l’Europe. We are at a physical space with a specific objective, in a few years we are probably discussing democracy in a multiple conference setting in 3rd space.

Opening of the World forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. The big Hémicycle fills up with 80% dark blue suits. That makes you wonder. Aren’t we celebrating democracy and searching for step stones and new paths to renew democracy so it fits the 21th century?

When we notice the increasing rate of voters staying at home, we might speak of democracy in blue(s). But I am a strong believer in evolving systems that adapt and make the correct progress when needed. The only thing you need is that minimum of 1% disruptive people in the system. The people that make you re-think and wonder about what it is that makes democracy tick.


Blue but hopeful

I got a mixed feeling. On the one hand, when looking at the gathering, it’s great that so many people made the trip to Strasbourg in favour of democracy. On the other hand, we could colorise it. If the quest is to rethink democracy and to get some answers on connecting it to even the outskirts of society, then we should get the outskirts into the debate with us. Maximise on diversity, because when rebuilding modern democracy diversity could be one, or maybe the best asset to build it on. So spice it up a bit! Connect to the outside world and make the Hémicycle the focal point of renewal! Make it a 3rd space!


Democracy in 3rd space

We are used to think and live in a physical world that surrounds us (the 1st space), and nowadays most of us are used to go into the web and live in a virtual world (the 2nd space). We go out there to work, play, and get our daily information. But now we are coming to an age where we will integrate both worlds and enjoy the 3rd space. This 3rd space is a fusion of both worlds, where we use all virtual possibilities while dwelling through the physical world. 3rd space is the result of the technological blurring of the dichotomy between real and virtual. It integrates the first and the second space and gives all the opportunities of both at that moment in time. So for instance, we meet up in the Hémicycle, debate, and connect to the world in real time. Not only do we stream the debate to the world (one way), the world is there to debate with us (reciprocal).  Real time two way interaction with other conference rooms, with citizens in their offices, or using their mobiles out there in the field.  Get the grassroots into the room, voting, pushing proposals forward, thinking about questions, giving us detailed information to spice up the discourse. That’s where we are going now. So, if we discuss rewiring democracy in a digital age, discussing democracy in third space is one of the most important issues to get an opinion on!


3rd space – the new Hémicycle

If we take a minute, to understand the possible consequences and deep redefining opportunities, the first thing that comes to my mind is that we need new skills. But maybe even more important, we need a change of culture. We have to get rid of the fear for real time mass participation and the possible ‘mob effects’ and ‘wisdom of the crowds’. It al starts with stepping into the cold water and take the first steps and get a feel of it. Don’t be afraid to prototype, to learn of all the small steps you take. Dare to take that high road of investigation of the unknown!

In 10 to 15 years, there won’t be 2000 people gathering for the debate, but the whole world might be attending. But we all know, quantity is not quality. Shared values underlying the rethinking of democracy are of utmost importance.  Restoring trust, using a new language of democracy to connect to everybody, transparency, and a strong focus on education can revive democracy and upgrade it in the 21th century. The 3rd space is only ‘the container’, the Hémicycle of the future.