During one session at the World Forum for Democracy, the question was raised whether or not electoral risk management tools can contribute to a better democracy. To answer this question, two initiatives were presented, first of all, the International IDEA’s Electoral Risk Management tool, and secondly, the iHub initiative from Kenya.
IDEA’s Electoral Risk Management Tool
The IDEA’s Electoral Risk Management tool is an action-oriented software application which aims at researching good practices, analyzing them and using them to become active. Any user can utilize the software to understand how election-related violence arises by looking at a summary of internal and external risk factors. Furthermore, they can learn how such issues can be prevented. The first try- outs were taking place in Columbia, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and since October 2013 it is globally available. The presenter of this initiative, Sead Alihodzic, stressed during the lab that these kinds of initiatives are very cost-effective as they can help to prevent malpractices instead of stepping in when it is already happening.
The other initiative, iHub in Kenya, provides the necessary technologies to citizens who want to participate more actively. They were involved in developing tools like Uchagozi which is a platform where citizens can report on cases that take place during election involving, for example, bribery, intimidation, or violence. In the eyes of Mark Kamau Kamotho, who is the user experience lead at iHub, it is really crucial to have a human centered design and to try to understand the contexts and needs of the people. According to him, we need an “anti expert” attitude in order to be able to listen to people and to learn from each other. Technology can be used to enable this, but “having an electoral monitoring tool is not the end of the problem” in his opinion. He thinks that the essence of a good approach is to consistently listen to each other, to analyze, to learn, and to design solutions as problems are always changing.
Can these tools also re-establish trust in political institutions?
One of the discussants, Alex Wirth, who is the chair of the US Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, provided a different perspective on this question. On one hand, political parties can be held more accountable and people who did not have a voice before can get heard via these tools. However, on the other hand, he thinks that such tools are only focused on malpractices. They might influence people to lose their confidence and the trust in the government when being only confronted with the negative aspects. Most participants agreed that it needs the government and authorities to recognize what is happening on a civil society level. They need to start to care about it and to response to civil society initiatives; any problem solving processes “get faster when we engage people” is what Mark Kamau Kamotho added to this. If that happens, people will start to trust their political representatives again. According to another discussant, Steven Wagenseil, “confidence is all that matters” to make a democracy work. He sees it as problematic that we talk about where, when, and who to vote, but less often we talk about “why to vote”. One last word on that from the lab’s moderator Josef Huber was that we need to “make elections meaningful again”. This might involve new technologies, but those do not represent the one and only solution.